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Two-cart trash contract awarded to FCC in narrow Omaha City Council vote

Omaha residents, find some room for two large trash carts. And get ready to mark your calendars for yard waste.

The City Council, in a 4-3 vote Tuesday, awarded the city’s next 10-year trash-hauling contract to FCC Environmental of Spain.

This was the same bid and bidder the council rejected in June, the contract Mayor Jean Stothert and Public Works recommended then and now.

The measure passed Tuesday with the help of a supplemental yard waste plan that added some composting in the spring and fall. Many people who testified at public hearings on trash said they wanted yard waste to be composted.

The total package, at a cost of $24.2 million a year, starts Jan. 1, 2021. City leaders say they can cover the cost without increasing taxes.

FCC’s supporters, including Stothert and council member Vinny Palermo, said FCC would have fewer missed or delayed pickups than other bidders.

“I firmly believe, as does Public Works Department, that this was the lowest and best bid,” Stothert said after the vote.

Under the FCC deal, every Omaha home will receive two 96-gallon trash carts — one for trash and yard waste together, picked up weekly; the other for recycling, picked up every other week. Families of five or more will have the option of requesting a third cart — at the city’s cost.

As part of the trash package, the council, in a 6-1 vote, also approved a plan for eight to 12 weeks of separate unlimited yard waste service, split between the spring and fall. During those weeks of yard waste collection, residents will be able to put yard waste at the curb in familiar paper bags.

The yard waste collected during those periods will be hauled to the city’s OmaGro facility and made into compost. The rest of the year, residents’ clippings will be taken to the landfill.

Stothert and representatives of FCC said Omaha residents will need some time to adjust to the new system. Experiences in other cities show that people will get used to the new carts and enjoy using them, they said.

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Many of the City Council’s questions and comments Tuesday concerned the length of time FCC and Stothert were willing to commit to supplemental seasonal yard waste pickup. Some said they feared an early end.

FCC Environmental CEO Inigo Sanz testified that he would be willing to enter a 10-year contract for seasonal yard waste pickup that matches the broader trash bid. That doubled the minimum time the city had requested for seasonal yard waste.

After the vote, Sanz told The World-Herald that his company plans to honor that commitment. Stothert, asked directly, said her administration would not seek to end the extra yard waste contract early, despite OmaGro losing money.

The council Tuesday didn’t pick the trash contract’s low bidder, West Central Sanitation, a Minnesota-based company. West Central had offered three carts, with separate collection of yard waste, for $22.2 million a year.

West Central would have needed to roughly double in size to serve Omaha, and Stothert and Public Works officials had questioned the company’s ability to grow that rapidly without risking failed collections.

West Central owner Don Williamson argued Tuesday that his company’s bids were the city’s cheapest and best whether Omaha wanted to be frugal with two carts or wanted to be more ecologically friendly with three.

Council President Chris Jerram and council member Pete Festersen said before opposing the FCC bid that their constituents preferred a three-cart system that collected yard waste separately for 35 weeks a year.

They were joined in opposition to the FCC bid by council member Rich Pahls, the council’s strongest advocate for West Central. He voted no on the trash contract and the mayor’s supplemental yard waste plan.

FCC’s winning bid drew the support of Palermo, along with council members Ben Gray, Brinker Harding and Aimee Melton. Gray and Harding had indicated before the vote that they were leaning toward FCC.

Melton said she decided Tuesday. She said she spent the past several days visiting grocery stores, restaurants and shops in her northwest Omaha district, asking people what they wanted. Opinions were split, she said.

She and Harding cited similar reasons for their votes: the number of carts. Many people, Melton said, wanted no part of finding space for a third cart. Some were complaining already about getting two, Harding said.

For now, residents should expect no changes to their weekly waste collection. The city’s current $15 million-a-year contract with Waste Management runs through the end of 2020.

FCC says it will move aggressively to buy land and trucks and start hiring many of Waste Management’s current employees. For Gray, the FCC bid was attractive, in part, because it requires more people and trucks.

Assistant Public Works Director Jim Theiler said Tuesday that FCC’s decision to include more resources in all of its bids was a key reason the mayor and a committee including Public Works recommended picking FCC.

Company officials said they will work to establish a local call center to field Omahans’ questions and complaints. They also plan to use Omaha as a Midwestern base of operations so FCC can offer trash service in nearby states.

“Omaha will become our home, just as it is your home,” Sanz said.

8 local mayors and their salaries

Latest wild party draws hundreds in Gifford Park neighborhood near Creighton

Some residents who live near 34th and Davenport Streets say they’ve endured a lot of wild parties in their neighborhood, and Friday night they lived through another.

A new fall semester of college has begun, and with it the parties in the Gifford Park neighborhood have begun.

Neighbors say an astonishingly big party Friday night at one house and at adjacent properties on both sides is emblematic of what they’ve put up with for years and what they fear will continue.

Estimates are that 200 young people, or even hundreds more, congregated behind those houses to drink and celebrate a new semester with something that has come to be known as the Denim Party.

A young woman who lives at the house admitted that the party grew “out of hand” in size and noise.

“I would just say I understand their complaints,” she said Monday night. “That will never happen again.”

She said the house in which she lives is known as the Denim House and that the party has taken place there annually for a while.

She declined to give her name but said she was a Creighton University junior in journalism. She and some other young people interviewed on the block said many Creighton students live in rental houses in the Gifford Park neighborhood.

Some young men interviewed said there also are University of Nebraska at Omaha students in the area. The young men, too, declined to give their names and did not say where they go to school.

“Yeah, it was pretty good,” one of them said of the party.

“I wouldn’t describe it as chaotic,” said another.

“It turned into sheer chaos when the cops got here,” said another young woman, who said she was a Creighton student.

Police were sent to the scene at 10:35 p.m. Friday.

“There were not any citations issued that night,” Omaha Police Lt. Sherie Thomas said. The department, she said, “is working with Creighton” on the matter.

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Chris Foster of the Gifford Park Neighborhood Association said he drove through the area late Friday. It was hard to get through on 34th Street because there were so many partyers and cars in the way, he said.

Several neighbors said the Denim Party is only one of a variety of parties in the area through the school year. St. Patrick’s Day is intense, they said, and so are parties accompanying some Creighton basketball games.

Foster and Anna Deal, who also is on the Gifford Park neighborhood board, said some of the college students add vitality to the area. They said the young people participate in neighborhood cleanups, help run a children’s Halloween party at the park and do other volunteer work.

They also said they know college kids will throw parties. That doesn’t excuse parties involving hundreds of kids packed into a concentrated area, they said. Those parties, they said, can be a safety concern.

“We’re a super diverse, super active neighborhood, and a lot of people care deeply about the neighborhood being a pleasant, vibrant and interesting place to live,” Deal said.

Creighton spokeswoman Cindy Workman said her university has informed students for several years that they have “personal responsibility and accountability when living off campus.”

Whether on campus or off, she said, the students must adhere to Creighton community standards. Students who oversee “house parties” that disturb neighbors are subject to review and may be referred, Workman said, to the Creighton Office of Community Standards and Wellbeing.

Another resident of the neighborhood said he and his family have lived there for 41 years. He called the rental units “the Creighton invasion.” The man, Mike Caban, said the students “do things in the neighborhood that they wouldn’t do at home, in Mommy and Daddy’s backyard.”

Caban said that years ago the residents worried about drug dealers in the area. That problem was largely conquered, he said. But increasingly, landlords have bought homes there and packed college kids into them, he said.

The owner of the house where the party was centered is TAB LLC, whose registered agent is Terry Penke.

Penke owns multiple properties in the area, and Foster said he has done a nice job of improving and making those houses more physically attractive. Foster also said Penke has attended at least one meeting involving residents, landlords and Creighton, to show concern.

Penke didn’t return phone calls Tuesday.

Somebody — landlords, Creighton, the police — must do a better job of tenant control, neighbors said. Some said they have seen young people urinating in public during the parties.

One neighbor, Bob Benzel, credited the party-throwers with cleaning up the area Saturday morning. That was one of the few positive things he and Gerry Sullivan, with whom Benzel lives, had to say.

“It’s a big problem,” Benzel said.

“It’s the same problem every year,” Sullivan said. “It just gets worse and worse from year to year.”

Another woman who said she attends Creighton said parties on that block have “been going on for decades” and that Benzel apparently “didn’t know what he signed up for” when he and Sullivan moved in about seven years ago.

As it happened, members of the Gifford Park Neighborhood Association had scheduled a “meet-and-greet” session Saturday with the new renters from college. Coffee and doughnuts were served.

A police lieutenant showed up and gave advice on landlord-tenant issues and suggested that the neighborhood association research how other cities handle the problem.

The young woman at the house said Monday night that she felt bad about the huge Denim Party.

She added that two surprising guests showed up for the party — her mother and her 95-year-old grandmother.

“They’re like, ‘This is crazy,’ ” the young woman said. Her grandmother didn’t get a full view of the scene. She stayed in the car.

Weird World-Herald headlines from the archives that leave you wanting more

Audit claims more than $44,000 of fraudulent spending by former state adviser for DECA

LINCOLN — A former Nebraska Department of Education employee used a work credit card to pay for personal hotel stays, Uber rides, an Amazon Prime membership and a pair of Boston Duck Tour tickets.

A newly released state audit said the credit card purchases were among more than $44,000 worth of allegedly fraudulent transactions made by the employee, Nicole Coffey, between Jan. 1, 2016, and April 12, 2018.

The total includes more than $9,000 of travel expenses involved in what the audit labeled an apparent “double-dipping fraud scheme.”

The audit said Coffey paid for the travel with the work credit card, then claimed the costs on her personal expense account. That way she was able to get paid by the department for expenses she never personally incurred. Some of the expenses involved were for personal trips, the audit said.

As laid out in the audit, Coffey began working for the Education Department in 2004. Within two years, the department named her the state adviser for DECA, a nonprofit student marketing organization that is one of the state-authorized career education student groups.

In that role, she had use of a DECA credit card.

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Department officials began raising questions about Coffey’s reimbursement requests on March 30, 2018. She could not provide reasonable explanations, which prompted further digging by the department. She resigned on May 8, 2018, rather than contest their allegations of misconduct.

The matter was then turned over to the Nebraska State Patrol for investigation. The patrol enlisted help from State Auditor Charlie Janssen’s office in sorting out the financial aspects of the case.

The audit found 540 questionable transactions on the DECA credit card, with a total value of $33,617.

Education officials questioned some transactions, which were made on days that Coffey was off work or otherwise occupied. Auditor staff questioned others based in part on where the purchases were made. The audit said purchases at American Eagle, Vera Bradley, Dillard’s and Men’s Wearhouse did not appear to be for a reasonable DECA purpose.

Included in the total were 13 cash advance transactions, which were made in violation of the Education Department’s memorandum of understanding with the career education organizations.

In two cases, Coffey got cash advances that exactly matched the amount she deposited into her personal checking account the same day, the audit said. On June 9, 2016, for example, she got a $500 advance using the DECA card. The same day, she put $500 into her personal account, bringing the balance up to $503.35.

The audit said Coffey confirmed that some charges were made for personal travel. Coffey reimbursed DECA for one trip to New York City.

In a written statement Coffey gave the State Patrol, she said she charged some of the hotel and airfare to the DECA card accidentally. She said she had been lax in managing the card and in keeping her personal and professional expenses separate.

But she also said her intent was always to serve DECA, such as by buying food for volunteers or thank-you gifts for officers in the organization.

“I feel absolutely terrible about this whole situation and am eager to fix my mistakes,” she said. “I mean to say I served and lived DECA as if it was my company and thought I was encouraging involvement and fostering growth by taking care of our volunteers and officers.”

The audit made recommendations for education officials to increase scrutiny of expense reimbursement requests and for DECA’s board to beef up its review of financial transactions.

In a response included in the audit, state education officials said they had acted promptly in starting disciplinary proceedings against Coffey after discovering her apparent wrongdoing. They also said they had been proactive in referring the matter to the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office.

Our best photos, July 2019

Grace: NFL quarterback Andrew Luck says no. It's a hard word to say

Andrew Luck used a two-letter word, a rare word in our era. He said no.

The now-former quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts said no to a job that brought more pain than joy, more grimace than glory, more risk than reward. His two-letter word was such a stinging rebuke that when news got out that he planned to announce his retirement, his fans booed him off the field after a preseason game, which he watched from the bench in street clothes. For this two-letter word, Twitter exploded on him. No one says no. Especially not a 29-year-old star in the midst of a $122 million five-year contract.

Luck apparently was supposed to let America’s national religion use him and abuse him.

Bias alert, and ready your arrows: I’m not a big fan of pro football. That’s another column for another time.

But what drew me to the story of Luck and the word “no” had nothing to do with the gridiron.

It had everything to do with two facts of life:

First, humans, even handsomely paid, famously famous ones, want agency in their lives and may decide the math doesn’t work in their favor. The reward is not worth the cost.

Second, it’s hard to say no, especially as we’re drawn into an ever-faster, ever-changing, ever-more-complicated world in which we’re constantly asked and expected to say yes.

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I asked Dr. Steven Wengel to make sense of this. Wengel is a psychiatrist and a longtime trainer of psychiatrists-to-be at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He’s also assistant vice chancellor of campus wellness, a role he got in 2018 after UNMC recognized burnout as a growing problem in the health care workforce and among medical students.

Dr. Steven Wengel

Now, you don’t have to be a quarterback taking hits like Luck, who has suffered a lacerated kidney, injured ribs, a concussion, a bum shoulder and an injured calf and ankle, according to the New York Times, to feel fried. Nor do you have to be a med student facing a demanding career.

What it boils down to, Wengel said, is a sense that time is not your own. That you have no time. That you’re stuck and have to muscle through.

Some of this is of our own making: Opportunities present themselves. We can’t say no because, FOMO. Fear of missing out. Or people are in so-called “helping” fields and are conditioned to lend a hand, even at personal cost, because that is what a good teacher, a good cop, a good nurse, a good minister, a good social worker, etc., does.

“We feel guilty saying no,” he said. “So we say yes.”

A second factor is this particular moment in time. We are living through a time of tremendous change and information overload. Wengel referenced a study showing that the fire hose we’re all drinking from is exactly that: The average adult is consuming three times the number of words and visuals that the average adult did three decades ago. Information itself isn’t bad. But the constant stream and pace have added to stress levels.

“Time gets eroded,” he said. “We all have so many tasks we have to do now. Seems like there are more of them now than there ever used to be.”

Take medicine. The amount of paperwork for doctors has increased so much that many doctors, he said, are spending more time on that than seeing patients.

Wengel cited a University of Colorado study that found that when doctors were given more time with patients and less paperwork, their patients liked it, the doctors liked it and burnout rates dropped to one-tenth the level shown before.

He cited another study from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore that uses donor money to, among other things, offset the cost of seeing fewer patients in a day. One measure? Patients with congestive heart failure got admitted to the hospital 71% less frequently. He said there are numerous reasons for this, including having members of the care team follow up with patients after being discharged from the hospital.

“It’s really simple,” Wengel said. “It comes down to time.”


Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck speaks during a press conference after the team’s NFL preseason football game against the Chicago Bears on Saturday in Indianapolis.

Luck’s burnout was physical and mental. The injuries had gotten him down. The prospect of cycling through more potential injury and more recovery was too much. He wanted to use his time differently.

Now, Luck, having earned tens of millions of dollars, is better positioned to say no than most mortals who can’t just hop off their job treadmill.

Yet even so, saying no wasn’t easy, he said in a press conference Saturday.

According to the ESPN transcript, Luck said he felt stuck. That he couldn’t live the life he wanted to live. And that the only way forward he saw for himself was to say no to football.

He knew it meant walking away, not just from money and glory, but also friends and a way of life and a sport he loved.

“I feel quite exhausted and quite tired,” he said, “and not just in the physical sense.”

Saying no offered this: “A weight was lifted.”

In acknowledging this, perhaps Luck will encourage more people to look at the X’s and O’s of their lives and realize that among the available plays is this one: leaving the field.

Photos: Huskers in the NFL, 2019