Mayor Jim Suttle and City Councilwoman Jean Stothert stuck to themes from their primary campaigns Wednesday — generally avoiding throwing new punches at each other — as they started a run of election forums and debates.
At a lunchtime forum hosted by the Millard Business Association, the candidates tackled issues ranging from business development to gun control to property taxes. The event, held at Oak Hills Country Club, also featured candidates for the Omaha City Council’s Districts 5 and 6.
Suttle and Stothert are scheduled to appear in two forums Friday, along with a handful of others next week. The general election is May 14.
Both candidates told a crowd of about 40 people that they were supportive of Police Chief Todd Schmaderer’s handling of a recent, high-profile case of alleged police misconduct.
But on the issue of improving police-community relations, the two highlighted their different approaches. Each discussed the idea of reinstating a police auditor, which had become a leading issue toward the end of the primary campaign.
Stothert said she believes people would have more trust in the Police Department if they were represented by a citizens board that could review police regulations or disputed incidents.
“Community policing isn’t just a matter of getting your officers out in the community, driving by once or twice a day in a cruiser,” she said. “True community policing is when the community takes part in developing the policy.”
Suttle said he’s cautious about turning over that role to an appointed group.
Instead, he said he supports considering whether to hire a police auditor. He said the position hasn’t been filled because of issues of “priorities and funding” along with push back from the City Council.
“My concern on that is the appointment to such boards are political,” Suttle said. “People will be on these boards with power in their hands who really do not have an expertise when it comes to the personnel relationships or other relationships identified under the Constitution with due process, and so forth. And we have to be very cautious of that.”
The candidates also sparred on questions about the extent of Omaha’s problems with crime and offered dueling statistics.
Suttle, who called Omaha a “safe city,” noted that the rate of major crimes, including homicides, has remained relatively flat for the past few years. Stothert disagreed, arguing that crime is up and that despite higher spending on public safety, “we’re not seeing the results we’d expect.”
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