A member of Omaha's recently completed charter convention says he's frustrated by the mayor's assertion that the group didn't do enough during its eight weeks of deliberations.
William Gaughan, a retired senior clerk for Qwest Communications, said he and the other 24 people appointed to review the city's charter carefully considered each proposal on the agenda. For eight weeks the group discussed, debated and eventually voted on a long list of proposals suggested by the mayor, other city officials and convention members.
The group voted to send a shorter list to the Omaha City Council for consideration. That included proposals to change city budgeting from an annual to biennial process, to put city elections on the state election cycle and to boost the limit on the city's cash reserve fund.
The convention did not, however, give its OK to two notable proposals backed by Mayor Jean Stothert: one that would have removed civil service protections for the fire chief and another that would have changed the city's pension system from a defined-benefit to a defined-contribution program.
Stothert said that the pass on the pension measure was a “missed opportunity” and that the convention had chosen to focus much of its attention on decisions that “simply cleaned up outdated language and titles.”
A day after the convention concluded, Stothert said she was considering calling for a second one during her administration.
But Gaughan said the failure of some proposals wasn't about the group trying to put things off. He said he and other members carefully considered each discussion item.
“I didn't make these decisions lightly,” he said. “When I asked about the pension contribution plan, I asked that they bring in the actuary. They did. So my decision was based on what the actuary told me.”
About half of the convention's members were appointed by the mayor; others were suggested by council members. Gaughan was nominated by Councilman Garry Gernandt.
Gaughan said he doesn't believe that people voted up or down on measures based on support or disapproval of the mayor or for other political reasons. He noted that he, like Stothert, is a registered Republican.
“I felt that a lot of thought and concern was put into this process for the benefits of all people,” he said. “This was done for the continued benefit of the City of Omaha and the people who live here.”
Brinker Harding, the convention chairman, said he shared some of Stothert's concerns. He said he had hoped the convention would forward more issues for the council's consideration — particularly the pension issue.
“It's not something we can afford to keep putting off,” he said. “We will not be able to continue to do business as usual. It's not fair for the taxpayers of today and not responsible to burden taxpayers with the future of the liability. Issues like that should have more discussion and more deliberation.”
If the council wants to send any of the issues forwarded by the group to a vote in the spring election, it must pass an ordinance by the end of February.