The controversy surrounding the residency of a Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority board member has prompted City Council President Pete Festersen to ask officials to revise the requirements for serving on the board.
Festersen said Monday that he has asked City Attorney Paul Kratz to come up with a more clear-cut rule about eligibility — and one that doesn't necessarily require board members to live in Omaha.
The request comes three days after Kratz issued a legal opinion in which he said board member Jamie Gutierrez Mora was not a “resident elector,” as required by an agreement between the City of Omaha and MECA.
Gutierrez Mora, who was appointed to the board in March, has a home in Bellevue but listed a South Omaha multiunit rental property owned by her husband as her residence when she registered to vote and when she was appointed to the MECA board.
Festersen said that he believes Gutierrez Mora met the “resident elector” qualification but that he wants to prevent confusion when board members are appointed in the future.
He said the questions surrounding Gutierrez Mora's qualifications, along with a controversy over former board member David Sokol's residency, make it clear that changes need to be made.
Festersen said he believes the city needs to define what level of “connection to Omaha” board members must have.
“What those considerations are are that you pay taxes in the City of Omaha, work in the City of Omaha, are civically involved in the City of Omaha,” he said. “Clearly David Sokol and Jamie Gutierrez are examples of meeting all of those qualifications.”
Gutierrez Mora runs a South Omaha-based business, Midwest Maintenance Co., which holds one of MECA's largest contracts.
Sokol was briefly removed from the board after he bought a home out of state and changed his voter registration. He maintained a home in Omaha and later reinstated his Douglas County voter registration, and was put back on the board.
In his legal opinion, Kratz said the mayor and City Council could remove Gutierrez Mora from the board, but the mayor had not yet weighed in on the situation. The MECA board could act independently to take Gutierrez Mora off the board.
Festersen said he believes a majority of City Council members do not want to see Gutierrez Mora taken off the board. The council voted unanimously when she was appointed this spring. He said he believes officials should focus on finding officials who have relevant experience to serve with MECA rather than spend too much time on residency.
“We need to stay focused on what's important,” he said.
Still, Gutierrez Mora's appointment and her voter registration continue to raise questions.
Last week former Douglas County Election Commissioner Patrick McPherson filed formal complaints with the Douglas County Election Commission and the Nebraska secretary of state over Gutierrez Mora's voter registration.
Gutierrez Mora was registered to vote in Sarpy County until Dec. 28, when she registered in Douglas County using the South Omaha property as her address.
On her voter registration form she signed an oath that states: “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.
Douglas County Election Commissioner Dave Phipps said his office will send Gutierrez Mora a letter requesting that she fill out an affidavit much like the one she signed when she changed her registration. She'll have to send it back in before she can vote.
Phipps said his office does not investigate where voters live.
“We have to take the voter at her word,” he said.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said Monday that he was aware of the controversy surrounding Gutierrez Mora but that he had not been formally asked to look into the matter.