The newest member of the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority board faces questions over whether her Bellevue home disqualifies her to serve with the group, which runs Omaha’s marquee arena and baseball stadium.
Jamie Gutierrez Mora, owner and president of Midwest Maintenance Co., was appointed by the Omaha City Council in March.
While her appointment was being considered, Gutierrez Mora told city officials she lived in South Omaha. But public records indicate that she actually lives in Bellevue.
Gutierrez Mora has declined repeated requests by The World-Herald in recent days to say whether she lives in Douglas County or Sarpy County.
In response to questions from the newspaper, attorneys for the City of Omaha and MECA said her eligibility to serve on the board is worth examination.
City Attorney Paul Kratz said Friday that the city will launch an investigation into where she lives. “It is now appropriate for the Law Department to look into the matter,” Kratz said.
Said Robert Freeman, MECA’s attorney, “I will certainly have further conversation with the MECA board chair. And we will look at those issues and determine whether there’s anything else that MECA should do.”
Gutierrez Mora’s company has provided custodial services for the CenturyLink Center since the facility opened in 2003.
She has been involved with several local community and philanthropic groups, including the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben, United Way of the Midlands and the Women’s Fund of Omaha.
City Council members said Gutierrez Mora, 47, seemed to be a good fit for the board.
“She’s a very strong candidate and a very strong board member because of her business background,” said Council President Pete Festersen, who co-sponsored her nomination. “Because she’s a Hispanic woman, that brings diversity to the board, and she’s very involved in the community.”
Festersen, who said he hasn’t met Gutierrez Mora, said she had support from the Greater Omaha Chamber, business and labor union leaders.
Gutierrez Mora said she was approached late last year about serving on the MECA board. She said someone was recruiting her to the board but declined to identify that person.
Election records show that Gutierrez Mora was registered to vote in Sarpy County until Dec. 28, when she switched to Douglas County.
Less than two weeks later, the Greater Omaha Chamber’s CEO sent an email to Omaha City Council members backing Gutierrez Mora’s nomination.
When she was approached, she said, she asked several questions, including some related to the requirements to serve on the board and the potential for business conflicts of interest.
“I brought it up,” she said. “There was someone who was recruiting me to the board, asking if I’d want to serve. We talked about everything. I said: ‘What are the requirements? My business is in Douglas County, my ministry work is in Douglas County, I’m registered to vote in Douglas County.’”
MECA board members are required to be “resident electors” of Douglas County, according to its development agreement for the CenturyLink Center. City code says board members must be “qualified electors of the County of Douglas.”
Freeman said registering to vote is “one important factor” in determining whether someone is a resident elector. But he said it also has a broader definition that “requires an analysis of a whole host of appropriate factors that apply to an individual.”
Gutierrez Mora grew up in Omaha and runs her business in the city. She moved to Sarpy County several years ago but also owns properties in Douglas County and out of state.
She owns a home in Bellevue with a tax value of roughly $600,000.
That’s the home address listed on state records for her business and on court records related to a minor traffic infraction in March. A sign atop the Bellevue mailbox says: “The Mora’s.”
But it is not the address listed on the résumé Gutierrez Mora gave the council upon her appointment.
The résumé lists a multi-unit South Omaha house — worth about one-fifth of the Bellevue house and listed under her husband’s name — as her home.
She said her decision to change her voter registration was not suggested by anyone involved with her MECA nomination or prompted by it.
“When I moved to Sarpy County, my kids were little,” she said. “I was being pulled to get into politics, City Council, different political positions. I wanted to focus on my children when they were young. Now my kids are older, and it’s important to have voting rights in Douglas County. That’s why I eventually changed it.”
Gutierrez Mora has not voted in Douglas County, according to county election records.
Voters who have previously registered in Nebraska can register in a different county without having to provide proof of address, said Valerie Stoj, spokeswoman for the Douglas County Election Commission.
But applicants must sign an oath that “I live in the State of Nebraska at the address provided in this application.” The oath says applicants who knowingly provide false information are guilty of election falsification, a felony.
MECA board President John Lund said last week he was not a part of any discussions about Gutierrez Mora’s residency before her appointment. Board members Willy Theisen and Jim Vokal declined to comment.
Dana Bradford, the fifth board member, said he did know of some questions about Gutierrez Mora’s residency and voter registration.
Bradford said he believed that Gutierrez Mora was in the process of registering to vote in Douglas County or had already registered during the appointment process.
He said some people involved in the decision raised questions about an out-of-state home Gutierrez Mora owns, recalling a similar dispute over former board member David Sokol’s residency.
In 2008, then-Mayor Mike Fahey tried to oust Sokol after the corporate leader canceled his Nebraska voter registration and listed a Wyoming address as his residence.
Kratz and his staff concluded that Sokol no longer met the board’s “resident elector” requirement, and Fahey removed Sokol. At the time, Freeman argued on MECA’s behalf that resident elector does not mean the same as registered voter.
Fahey relented and reappointed Sokol to the board.
Former Council President Tom Mulligan interviewed Gutierrez Mora before her appointment. He recalled that questions came up about her residency, and the two discussed where she lived.
Mulligan said the council eventually confirmed that Gutierrez Mora was a registered Douglas County voter and that she had provided a résumé with a Douglas County address.
“At the end of the day, I was comfortable that she had fulfilled the requirement you’ve got to live in Douglas County.”