Nebraska's third-biggest city has a big problem. It is time for Bellevue officials to resolve it.
For more than two months, some City Council members and Mayor Rita Sanders have been at odds over picking a replacement for Councilman Scott Houghtaling, who resigned his seat earlier this year after taking a job out of state.
The mayor appointed businessman Mike Hall to fill the vacancy. City Council President Don Preister, along with council members Carol Blood and Steve Knutson, blocked the appointment, saying another Olde Towne businessman, Dave Compton, is more qualified.
The council members also proposed an alternative: a special election to fill the seat. The mayor and two other council members, Kathy Saniuk and Paul Cook, nixed that idea, citing the cost, with estimates ranging from $6,000 to around $10,000.
This week, the council asked Secretary of State John Gale to step in with a formal ruling on the process for picking an appointee. Gale, Nebraska's chief elections officer, says such a request is a first.
“If this can't be resolved,” he said, “then I fear for Bellevue to be able to function as a city.”
Gale also warned that someone from Ward 1 could sue and get a judge to force the city into a solution. That would cost the city government money, too, as well as being an abdication of elected officials' responsibilities.
Meanwhile, residents of Bellevue's Ward 1 are still without a council member to represent them (other than Blood, who serves at-large and represents the entire city).
As World-Herald staff writer Roseann Moring reported this week, “Ward 1 residents have been coming to every meeting and pleading with the council to get the matter resolved.”
They're right. City officials should listen to them.
Preister said in a letter to The World-Herald that “Ward 1 residents are fully represented by a mayor, five council members and all city staff.” But that's a little like saying Nebraska doesn't need its own congressmen since the state's citizens, as Great Plains residents, also are represented by congressmen from Kansas and South Dakota.
This prolonged fight between the mayor and the City Council isn't doing anybody any good.
After more than two months without a councilman and no end to the dispute in sight, the voters in Ward 1 are the aggrieved party here.
They deserve to have a representative on their City Council, and they have gone without one long enough.
If neither side will bend, then both factions should abandon their current choices and compromise on a new candidate.
If they can't agree on a compromise candidate, then it's time to call a special election and let voters do the job.
If concern for voiceless Ward 1 voters isn't enough, then city officials also should be worried about the damage such prolonged bickering does to their city's reputation.
Bellevue is a dynamic, growing, vibrant place. But the continuing inability of elected officials to resolve a political dispute undoubtedly will begin to raise questions about city governance.
As the secretary of state correctly asked while noting the possibility of a lawsuit: “Why should a judge have to run the City of Bellevue when you have politicians there who should be following the fine art of compromise?”
It is in the best interests of Ward 1 residents and all of Bellevue to end this stalemate now.