A1 A1
$250,000-a-year consulting deal for former NU President Hank Bounds draws both concerns, praise

Hank Bounds resigned as the University of Nebraska’s president in August, saying that he was tired and that his family wanted to get back to the South.

But the NU system, with the support of the NU Board of Regents, has brought Bounds back as a consultant and fundraiser for some University of Nebraska athletic department construction projects.

Bounds’ pay as a consultant: $250,000 a year in donor money for up to three years. The recipient officially is One Team LLC, a company Bounds has set up and will manage. It’s not clear whether other people will serve on his consulting team. He didn’t return calls or respond to a text late this week.

Bounds now works at the University of South Alabama, where he is paid $110,000 a year as a professor of educational leadership.

Some regents say it’s a win for Nebraska to bring Bounds back because he is a good fundraiser who knows and cares about the projects involved. Some observers say they are perplexed by the amount One Team will receive, and by the fact that Bounds will be here at least part of the time while NU selects a new president.

“I thought that was odd, why they kept him around,” said State Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, chairman of the Legislature’s Education Committee. “That doesn’t happen in free enterprise. ... For the common man, it don’t look good.”

Sign up for The World-Herald's afternoon updates

Receive a summary of the day’s popular and trending stories from Omaha.com.

Groene is a sometime critic of public colleges and universities. “There’s just way too much money floating around in higher education,” he said.

Paul Landow, an associate professor of political science at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, called the contract “astonishing” and “a bad idea.”

Landow was critical of the amount of money involved, which he described as “eye-popping.” Landow also wondered if it might affect the NU system’s ongoing search for a new president.

He said talented candidates for the job “will hesitate when they hear the old president is still around.”

The primary project involved is the recently announced $155 million NU football and sports operations facility.

UNL said that will be funded with $100 million in private money and the rest from athletic department money. A UNL spokeswoman said Friday that public money wouldn’t be used.

Regents note that the complex will benefit all athletes, and not just football players, with counseling, academic support facilities and other features.

Bounds’ contract also mentions construction of track and field facilities. Existing facilities for track and field are expected to be affected by the footprint of the $155 million building.

Regents Chairman Tim Clare of Lincoln said Bounds already knows the project, has great relationships across the state and is “a team player.”

Clare said this hasn’t affected the ongoing presidential search because the pool of candidates is large and strong. None of the candidates have been named and the process might end by late this year.

NU will “capitalize on those strengths and those relationships that he’s built,” Clare said of Bounds.

Asked if Bounds might advise a new president, Clare said: “That’s up to the new president when that time comes.”

Bounds was president for four years and four months and shepherded the NU system through some budget cuts.

The NU Board of Regents treated Bounds with respect. The board decided this year to give Bounds $300,000 in deferred, privately funded compensation. Technically, he was entitled to a portion of that deferred money only after five years of work as the NU system’s president.

His base pay at NU was $510,400, plus a $20,000 supplement from the NU Foundation, and a vehicle allowance of $9,600 that he received in cash. The total, then, was $540,000.

Bounds’ consulting contract calls for him to evaluate the University of Nebraska athletic department’s capacity for major construction projects; help fundraise for athletic department construction projects; and provide the university “service support during construction.”

Regent Bob Phares of North Platte said it was his understanding the latter element meant monitoring design and construction and “making sure people are dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s.” Phares said he was “grateful” for Bounds’ participation.

Regent Jim Pillen of Columbus said NU athletics have an urgent need for projects such as the operations center. “We’re thrilled that Hank wanted to help us and could help us, because we need all hands on deck,” Pillen said.

Pillen defended the decision to build the $155 million athletic complex, saying athletics are the “gateway to the University of Nebraska.” Husker football and other athletic programs are “a tremendous tool, a tremendous vehicle, to unite Nebraska,” he said.

Pillen played football for the Huskers in the 1970s.

He also heads the presidential search committee that is scouting for the NU system’s next president. He said he is thrilled with the pool of applicants and nominees so far.

UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green also thanked Bounds. “I very much appreciate what he’s doing to help,” Green said Friday in a written statement.

And Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer of Norfolk said that with Bounds’ contacts in Nebraska, it’s reasonable to bring him on as a consultant.

“I will tell you from my experience ... he seemed to have some very good relationships with people involved that I would consider donors,” Scheer said.

Kevin Hanrahan, UNL Faculty Senate president, said he feared that Bounds’ presence might “create sort of an awkward situation” for the next president.

Hanrahan recalled briefly serving as executive director of a symphony orchestra near Pittsburgh. He said the prior executive director joined the board of the organization and “everything I did was second-guessed.” He said of himself, “You just never were in charge” with the former director around.

Pillen said Bounds will have nothing to do with running the university and will carry out only the tasks in One Team’s contract.

One regent, Rob Schafer of Beatrice, carefully considered his few comments about Bounds’ participation. Questions being posed about his consulting “are valid points that are worthy of discussion,” Schafer said.

“I will say that Hank did a very nice job for us,” he said of Bounds’ presidency.

Clare said it’s obvious that Bounds is helping because NU already has collected more than 50% of the private money needed for the complex.

Clare and Pillen emphasized that strong athletics, such as a good football team, can increase enrollment and revenue for the university and thus benefit all students.

The professor from UNO had another viewpoint.

Landow said this kind of contract is “exactly why people are so frustrated with government and politicians, and it sends a really bad signal to the rest of the state. It takes a regular Nebraska family over four years to earn what Hank Bounds will make in a year, and he doesn’t even work here anymore.”

Photos: Nebraska takes on Northwestern in Lincoln

Grace: Inspectors keep close eye on Gene Leahy Mall makeover's impact on nearby historic buildings

In a basement corner of the old Burlington Building downtown rests a toolbox. Inside that toolbox sits a small machine. Inside that machine is very important information, literally make-or-break information.

The machine’s measures of ground pulses will be crucial to maintaining the integrity of this 140-year-old structure as the park landscape around it gets remade. Again.

The machine, about the size of an old Big Mac container, is a vibration monitor. Its job is to collect the rumblings of a convoy of heavy equipment headed east as part of a $290 million “tri-park” project that includes the reshaping of Gene Leahy Mall.

The closer the big trucks get and the harder the jackhammers hammer, the greater the worry about anything happening to the Burlington office building at 1004 Farnam St., one of two still-standing remnants of Omaha’s architectural past that stand in the path of change.

The other is the Greenhouse, a 112-year-old, eight-story brick warehouse-turned-apartments at 900-912 Farnam St. It, too, has a vibration monitor in its basement.

Chris Koenig

“We’re doing what we can, you know, we’re trying to be as careful as we can,” said Chris Koenig, senior project manager of HDR Inc., one of the firms helping to reshape the massive six-block Gene Leahy Mall. “These two buildings, they’re just integral to this park. We can’t really have any damage.”

Still fresh in Omaha’s memory is Frankie Pane’s, the two-story home and banquet facility on 12th and Douglas Streets that was fatally damaged during an implosion-gone-wrong involving surrounding buildings during construction of the Holland Performing Arts Center in 2002.


Frankie Pane’s was fatally damaged in an implosion during construction of the Holland Performing Arts Center in 2002.

The mall project does not involve building demolitions. And the infill work — the park is being raised to street level — is significantly different. Still, Koenig shook his head at the memory of Pane’s losses and said HDR is working very closely with managers at both buildings in closest proximity to the construction work to ensure nothing goes awry.

He wants to make sure the public knows it will be noisy and messy, as construction projects are. Studies show that there’s a public perception that nearby construction projects will cause harm when strain levels can be smaller than normal ones caused by changes in temperature or humidity.

That perception is understandable given the tools: tandem dump trucks, semitrailer trucks, 3-ton excavators, a 6,000-foot-per-pound jackhammer mounted on a backhoe, bulldozers, front-end loaders and compactors.

Earthwork has started in front of the Burlington Building with lagoon wall demolition scheduled in the next month. Demolition work near the Greenhouse building is scheduled to begin this fall and continue through winter, Koenig said.

HDR is checking the vibration monitors daily, by staff who download the data and review it and by an on-site structural engineer.

Koenig, along with representatives of the Burlington Building and the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, which is managing the Riverfront Revitalization Project, sat down with me to explain what they’re doing and how.

The work, which started in March and is expected to continue for two more years, will be disruptive. Sidewalks are going to be taken out, the lagoon is being drained and filled in and then comes landscaping, walkways and amenities.

Koenig and Katie Bassett, MECA’s vice president of parks, stressed the need for open communication and desire to be “good neighbors” to one another.

Sign up for The World-Herald's afternoon updates

Receive a summary of the day’s popular and trending stories from Omaha.com.

The Burlington and Greenhouse buildings are survivors. They survived the 1970s-era urban renewal effort aimed at injecting an emptying Omaha downtown with beauty, energy and hoped-for economic drivers. That plan called for removing old buildings that stood along Farnam and Douglas Streets roughly between 14th and Eighth Streets.

The Burlington Building, constructed in 1879 and renovated by noted architect Thomas Kimball in 1899, was the home of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Co. until the railroad pulled out in 1966.

It was then used as storage for tires. In 1974, as downtown Omaha was turning into a ghost town, the City of Omaha moved to tear it down, lining up a demolition contract. Then, after the National Register designation, the city changed its mind and bought the building, pledging to save it.

Planners then envisioned restoring the Burlington and Greenhouse buildings.

The Burlington had a four-story atrium lit by a giant glass sunroof on top. It had stylish ironwork along each floor’s walkways. It held the promise of being an anchor for what was then called Central Park Mall.

Planners could see a basement restaurant with a patio facing the lagoon with a cafe and shops on upper floors.

The Greenhouse building was part of a sister-brother pair of brick warehouses originally called the Nash Block and later referred to as McKesson-Robbins for the drug company that once occupied it. One of the warehouses was demolished, but the other was left intact. Planners talked about an indoor ice rink and children’s museum.

But interest rates in the 1970s were in the double digits and developers came and went. The building itself was in pretty dire shape. The roof leaked. There were at least two dozen broken windows. A World-Herald reporter in 1979 wrote about how easy it was to get inside, “by lifting up a loose plank placed over a door.” Kids were using the Burlington as an indoor bike track.

Central Park Mall was completed in 1980. Four years later, a Wichita developer bought the property and renovated the Burlington for $3.1 million. Businessman Michael Yanney, a longtime tenant, wound up buying the building through one of his companies.

The Nash Block was designed by Kimball in 1907 and was the last remnant of Jobbers Canyon, the brick warehouse district that was torn down to make way for the ConAgra headquarters.

That building was named an Omaha landmark in 1978 and got listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. In 1989 it was renovated into apartments and renamed the Greenhouse.

Both then and now, the mall construction projects shared the aim of reinventing downtown Omaha. The 1970s park space was created as an escape from the busy world; thus it was situated below street level. The remake will elevate the park, aiming to create a giant public green space.

Then and now, the Burlington and Greenhouse buildings are seen as “jewels,” the term used by Koenig, the HDR project manager.

Marty Shukert, former Omaha planning director and now a principal at RDG Planning and Design, said he hasn’t felt any trembling in the Greenhouse, where his business sits. (RDG is moving to 11th and Howard streets).

He said the mall construction poses “no real threat,” though it was “good they’re being careful.”

“They should be fine,” he said.

Koenig said HDR is drawing on its institutional knowledge and past experience working with downtown projects involving sewer separation, flood prevention and construction. He credited the 1970s planners for excavating around the Burlington to see physically where they needed to draw the barrier to prevent building damage during mall construction. He said generally heavy work will occur at least 10 feet from the building.

For tenants and residents, the trade-off for the mess and noise of the project is the front-row seat.

Michelle Chapman, the Burlington building manager, credited HDR for its responsiveness. She said so far, the biggest building shakes come from routine truck traffic on 10th Street.

“Before any of this started, when a truck goes across the 10th Street bridge, you can feel the building shift,” she said. “I guess I’m just used to it now.”

Suzanne Wise, executive director of the Nebraska Arts Council, is a building tenant. The arts group is based in the Burlington basement. She said the noise and construction don’t bother her but she does miss the trees that were cut down. She said she hopes that the project becomes a welcoming public space and “another money shot” that strengthens Omaha’s identity and gives people a reason to come downtown.

Sue Lipsey, who works for the nonprofit Partnership for Kids, based in the Burlington Building, said the machinery noise has been “annoying but not unbearable.” She described how thick the construction dust could be. As for vibrations, none yet.

Just in case, Koenig and his team will be watching that little machine inside the toolbox in the corner of her building.

Photos: Omaha's Gene Leahy Mall through the years

Judge blocks trump expansion of disqualifiers for green card status

NEW YORK (AP) — A federal judge in New York on Friday temporarily blocked President Donald Trump from implementing a plan to deny green cards to many immigrants who use Medicaid, food stamps and other government benefits.

U.S. District Judge George Daniels' ruling came just four days before the Trump administration was set to start enforcing new rules that would disqualify immigrants from getting legal U.S. residency if they were likely to become a burden on public welfare programs.

The Trump administration has said the new rules would ensure that immigrants who are granted residency are self-sufficient.

In his ruling, Daniels said Trump was redefining immigration rules that had stood since the late 1800s with a new framework that had "no logic."

Allowing the policy to go into effect now, he said, would have a significant impact on "law-abiding residents who have come to this country to seek a better life."

Almost simultaneously, a federal judge in California also blocked the policy from taking effect, but that order was more limited to jurisdictions involved in the case: California, Oregon, Maine, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia. Soon after, a third federal judge — this one in Spokane, Washington — issued a nationwide injunction.

The U.S. Justice Department, which was defending the administration's policy in court, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling.

The lawsuit in New York is one of several legal challenges nationwide to one of Trump's most aggressive steps to cut legal immigration.

Immigration advocates say the rule changes are discriminatory because they would deny legal residency and visas to immigrants who don't have money.

Federal law already requires immigrants seeking to become permanent U.S. residents to prove they will not be a burden on the country — a "public charge," in legal terms — but the new rules detail a broader range of programs that could disqualify applicants.

The policy is central to Trump's longtime goal to slash legal immigration and gear it more for people with employment skills instead of toward family members. Those ideas were part of his pitch for an overhaul of immigration laws during his first year, but negotiations faltered in Congress.

On average, 544,000 people apply for green cards every year, with about 382,000 falling into categories that would be subject to the new review, according to the government. Guidelines in use since 1999 refer to a "public charge" as someone primarily dependent on cash assistance, income maintenance or government support.

Under the new rules, the Department of Homeland Security has redefined a public charge as someone who is "more likely than not" to receive public benefits for more than 12 months within a 36-month period. If someone uses two benefits for one month, that is counted as two months. And the definition has been broadened to include Medicaid, housing assistance and food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Factors like the immigrant's age, employment status and English-language ability would also be looked at to determine whether they might become public burdens at some point.

Critics say the rule changes are discriminatory and would have the effect of barring immigrants with lower incomes in favor of those with wealth. They consider it a betrayal of Emma Lazarus' words on the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

Immigrants make up a small portion of those getting public benefits because their legal status often makes them ineligible. An Associated Press analysis of census data shows that noncitizen immigrants with low incomes have a lower rate of using Medicaid, food aid, cash assistance and Supplemental Security Income than their native-born counterparts.

Earlier this month, Trump issued a presidential proclamation that says immigrants will be barred from entering the country unless they are to be covered by health insurance within 30 days of entering or have enough financial resources to pay for any medical costs. The measure will be effective Nov. 3.

The White House said in a statement that too many noncitizens were taking advantage of the country's "generous public health programs."

The Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, said the order could prohibit the entry of about 375,000 a year, mainly family members who account for a majority of people getting green cards from abroad.

Meet the people willing — and wealthy enough — to fly to space

When Lori Fraleigh unwrapped the present her husband had given her for her 38th birthday, she found a curious surprise: a model of a spaceship. It was cool, sure, but a toy would be better suited for her young children, then 5 and 1, not her.

Then she noticed the ticket. It took Fraleigh, a Silicon Valley executive, a moment to realize what her husband had purchased for her: a trip to space with Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic.

"I went through a lot of crazy emotions, like, 'Did you really buy this?' " she recalled of the moment in 2011. " 'Do we still have enough money to remodel the kitchen?' "

Today, her children are 13 and 9. The kitchen remodel has long since been completed. But Fraleigh is still waiting for her trip to space.

For years, Branson has been pushing a quixotic vision for the future, where his spacecraft would ferry passengers off Earth as frequently as airplanes. But for all the talk about a new Space Age full of citizen astronauts, the journey has been fitful, and filled with setbacks, including the death of a test pilot in 2014 after a harrowing crash.

But now, 15 years after Branson founded Virgin Galactic, space tourism could be tantalizingly close to becoming a reality. The company has flown to the edge of space twice and says its first paying customers could reach space next year.

Another space venture, Blue Origin, founded by Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos almost 20 years ago, hopes to conduct its first test flight with people this year, though it hasn't announced prices or sold any tickets.

And NASA plans to allow private citizens to fly to the International Space Station on spacecraft built by SpaceX and Boeing.

That means Fraleigh may soon finally get her five minutes of weightlessness, a view that promises to be spectacular and a test to see if she has the right stuff.

Fraleigh has dreamed of being an astronaut since she was a kid. But she didn't think she could become a NASA astronaut and instead became a tech executive in Silicon Valley, a career that meant her family could absorb Virgin Galactic's charge ($200,000 per ticket in 2011) without financial hardship.

A mother who spends weekends ferrying her children to soccer, baseball and music lessons, she doesn't look like a thrill-seeker. The most adventurous thing she's done? Driving a go-cart in college, and "I've been on some hikes up in Lake Tahoe that were on the strenuous side."

Now she's preparing for a ride in Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two, a sleek space plane with a rocket motor strong enough to send two pilots and as many as six passengers more than 50-miles high, where the Federal Aviation Administration says the edge of space begins. The spaceship is tethered to the belly of a large, twin-fuselage airplane that carries it to an altitude of about 40,000 feet. Then SpaceShip Two is released and rockets off through the atmosphere.

For decades, people have dreamed of such adventures. After the Apollo missions, Pan Am started a waiting list for tickets to the moon that by 1971 stretched 90,000 names long. CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite signed up, as did future President Ronald Reagan. In the '70s and early '80s, NASA was so convinced that the space shuttle would, as the name implied, offer regular service to Earth orbit that a committee was formed to sort out the problem of how to choose the first private citizens to fly.

For today's space companies, it's anyone willing — and wealthy enough — to pay the steep cost.

NASA said it would cost $35,000 a night for stays on the space station, and the price to get there is estimated to be $50 million. Virgin Galactic has said it may in the short term raise the price of its tickets, which today cost $250,000.

Despite the high costs, Virgin Galactic expects high demand from the wealthy. While it completes the testing phase of the spacecraft this year, the company projects flying 66 paying customers in 2020, more than 700 in 2021 and nearly 1,000 the following year. By 2023, when it expects to fly 1,562 paying passengers on 270 flights, it plans to have nearly $600 million in annual revenue.

Earlier this year, Virgin Galactic announced it would go public by merging with a New York investment firm, a move Branson said would "open space to more investors and in doing so, open space to thousands of new astronauts."

Already, 600 people have signed up for what Virgin Galactic describes as a transformative experience of seeing Earth from space, what astronauts call the "overview effect." That's more people than have been to space since 1961, when Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space.

Craig Wichner, who runs Farmland LP, an organic farmland investment fund in San Francisco, has been waiting for the opportunity for more than a decade. In 2008, he plunked down several thousand dollars as a deposit to ride on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two with a bunch of friends who thought it would make a great adventure.

But it wasn't just the adventure that attracted Wichner; it was the opportunity to help push humanity out of the atmosphere, he said. Buying a ticket was like casting a vote for Branson's spacefaring vision of the future.

In the years since, the dream has unfurled slowly as Virgin Galactic learned that building a spacecraft was not as easy as initially thought. But the repeated delays had an upside. They allowed Wichner to meet many of the other "future astronauts" who'd signed up with Virgin Galactic, space enthusiasts from 60 countries who now form a sort of exclusive fraternity. They meet occasionally, bonding over the prospect of a wild adventure.

"It was just this wonderful, eclectic mix of people from all around the world," Wichner said.

Now, as the company gets closer to flying and his number may soon be called, there are other factors to consider. Weighing on Wichner is the realization that spaceflight is dangerous. In 2014, during a test flight, the spacecraft came apart, killing Michael Alsbury, one of the test pilots and a father of two.

Wichner's reaction to the crash was "a general sadness at the cost." But he was also inspired by the company's perseverance, "the unwavering commitment to just keep moving forward," he said.

Now, however, the opinions of his own children, ages 13 and 8, matter. They're old enough to understand the consequences of failure.

"Sometimes they're excited about me going into space, and sometimes they're scared," he said. "And so it's not worth doing if they're scared."

Dee Chester, 62, a retired schoolteacher from Newport Beach, California, bought her ticket in 2017, when she came into her inheritance. She said she has no hesitation about going and can't wait for when her "little nose prints are on every window" of the spacecraft. "I want to do the Superman pose, and look at the Earth and see the very thin bands of the atmosphere. I just hope I'm not crying and miss it all because it's a big wet blur."

Now that his day of flying is getting closer, Wichner is getting excited as well. But he still needs to have the frank conversation with his children, who remain wary.

"I think they'll be fine with me going," he said.

Until they are, he won't commit: "I don't know that I'm actually going to go."