An awkward silence fell over the Gretna City Council chamber Tuesday when it came time to vote on the new mayor's appointments — including the replacement of longtime attorney John Green.
Green has been criticized for not doing more to stop former City Administrator Colleen Lawry's misuse of city funds, which came to light following a report by the state auditor. Lawry was sentenced earlier this month to six months in jail for misappropriation of funds.
Now, Mayor Jim Timmerman was asking the four-person council to appoint Omaha law firm Young and White as the city attorney instead of Green, who had held the job for 30 years. The switch came as part of a package vote on the attorney, auditor, engineer and new city administrator.
Councilmen Gregg Dahlheim and Jeff Wollenburg made it clear that they wanted to vote on each position separately. Wollenburg said he didn't think it was the right time to change attorneys because Gretna has several projects on its plate, including the redevelopment of the Nebraska Crossing outlet mall.
“We're not going to vote on them individually?” asked Dahlheim.
When Timmerman said again that it would be a package vote, as had been done in the past, there was a long pause as council members stared down or straight ahead.
“John Green has done a good job, but it's time for a change,” Timmerman said as he waited for a motion to approve his appointments. “I've had a lot of input from the community.”
Timmerman won election in November, replacing Sally McGuire, whom voters ousted during the May primary in the wake of the Lawry scandal.
During Tuesday's meeting, a Gretna resident told the council that Green should have known sooner about Lawry's actions.
Green responded by saying the city attorney is not responsible for auditing the city's finances.
“It wasn't (a reprimand) from the attorney general,” he said. “It was the auditor.”
Timmerman didn't refer to the misappropriations by Lawry. He said he simply wanted to go in another direction for his city attorney and said White and Young would save Gretna money because it would bill only hourly fees.
Green received a $3,500 monthly retainer and charged the city hourly rates for litigation. His pay was capped at $75,000 per year.
Finally, Councilman Doug Clark made a motion to approve the mayor's appointments. More silence ensued before Timmerman began trolling for someone to second the motion. Councilman Jason Stahr eventually did.
Stahr and Clark voted in favor of the mayor's appointments, while Dahlheim and Wollenburg voted against the package. Timmerman broke the tie, and Green was out.
When separate contracts for pay were considered, the voting followed the same lines on deals for city attorney, auditor, engineer and the new administrator, Jeff Kooistra.
Asked whether he felt undone by Lawry's actions, Green said the three men who voted against him would have to answer that.
Clark said he had no comment on the change in attorney, and Stahr didn't respond to a message requesting comment.
Timmerman declined to elaborate on Green's replacement in an interview, instead simply repeating what he said Tuesday: “It was time for a change.”
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