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More than 200 Hayneedle workers to be laid off; Omaha headquarters office to close

Another Omaha corporate headquarters is history as more than 200 Hayneedle employees were told Thursday that they’d be laid off and their home base closed.

Set to shut down is the main office near 90th Street and West Dodge Road and an off-site photography studio.

About 100 area workers will retain jobs and will consolidate at the online retailer’s Sarpy County call center. The Hayneedle brand also will stay alive, and customers can continue to shop for specialty home items on Hayneedle.com.

The changes come four years after Hayneedle was acquired by another online retailer, Jet.com, which shortly thereafter was acquired by Walmart.

Since then, Hayneedle had continued to operate as a stand-alone business with its own president.

But the time has come for Walmart.com to absorb the Hayneedle business and common roles, said Meredith Klein, director of public relations for Walmart.com Acquired Brands.

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“We are integrating the Hayneedle business and select functions within Walmart.com,” she said. “The Hayneedle.com website will continue to operate, offering specialty home items for customers while enhancing the diversity of assortment on Walmart.com, including access to Hayneedle’s private brands — Belham Living and Coral Coast.”

Employees were told Thursday of the layoffs. Klein said they’d be given at least 60 days’ notice, outplacement services and an invitation to apply for available roles within the Walmart network.

“Our focus foremost is on helping the associates affected, and supporting them through this difficult transition,” she said.

Just eight months ago, Hayneedle eliminated 239 workers from the company that at one time had employed nearly 700 workers in the Omaha area.

The Hayneedle operation began in 2002 as hammocks.com and evolved into a leading online home furnishings and décor retailer with a huge outdoor living selection. It posted sales in 2016 of more than $500 million. According to the Hayneedle website, “fulfillment centers” in California and Ohio deliver millions of products and more than 3,000 brands, including the in-house brands that “feature designer looks at a fraction of the cost.”

Klein said the California and Ohio centers will continue with business as usual.

Since 2016, Nebraska has lost corporate headquarters of companies including ConAgra and Cabela’s. More recently, TD Ameritrade announced that it was being acquired by competitor Charles Schwab and the merged headquarters would be in Texas.

Photos: Goodbye to these Nebraska businesses

Mayor Jean Stothert wants a vote on $200 million in Omaha street bonds this May

Coming off last year’s pothole explosion and her community outreach about Omaha’s streets, Mayor Jean Stothert now wants to put a fix before Omaha voters.

Stothert announced Thursday that she will ask the City Council to put a $200 million bond issue on the May 12 ballot as she tries to establish a long-term plan to address Omaha’s lagging street maintenance.

It would cost Omaha taxpayers — $35 more in property taxes a year for every $100,000 on your property valuation.

But Stothert stressed that it’s important for voters to decide the issue.

“We can stop the deterioration of our infrastructure,” Stothert said. “But it will take all of us to agree that it’s worth the expense.”

Omaha drivers have long griped about the state of Omaha’s streets. Thursday, Stothert said city leaders have shorted street funding in Omaha for at least 50 years.

She said Omaha spends $41 million annually on street repair — but needs to be spending more like $75 million a year. The bond issue would address what she says is a $34 million annual shortfall.

The $200 million in bond funding would allow the city to put $40 million into street repair each year for five years.

But that would cover only a portion of the city’s streets. Stothert said the city would need to come back with a series of bond issues — subject to approval from future voters — to keep going. Over a 20-year period, the city figures it would have the funding to resurface every street in Omaha.

Stothert said the city can accomplish that with just a one-time increase in the tax levy.

If voters turn down the proposal, Stothert at one point suggested the possibility of reevaluating and offering another proposal for voters in November. But without the bonds, the mayor said the city will continue with its inadequate road funding.

“We will never catch up,” she said, “and every year the roads are going to be worse and that gap is going to just keep on getting larger.”

Stothert already is offering the first proposed street projects from the new “Street Preservation Fund,” which would address neighborhood streets, arterial streets and unimproved roads — roads that were never built to city standards. Streets could be resurfaced, repaired or have concrete panels replaced.

The projects would be spread across Omaha’s seven City Council districts.

Among the dozens of potential projects: 72nd Street from Pacific Street to Mercy Road, Blondo Street from 108th to 132nd Streets, 60th Street from Ames Avenue to the Northwest Radial, 120th Street between L Street and West Center Road, and Eagle Run Drive west of 140th Street.

Separately, dozens of neighborhoods and subdivisions would get attention, including Westroads, Florence, Candlewood, Happy Hollow, Fairacres and Walnut Grove.

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Councilman Pete Festersen, who represents the Dundee, Benson and Florence areas, said he’s not opposed to letting voters decide the issue. But he said the proposed property tax increase is concerning when the city has worked hard to hold the line on property taxes.

Still, he said, “Clearly the condition of our streets is poor, and it will take a major investment to make a difference.”

Festersen also said he believes the street repairs need to be part of a more comprehensive plan that improves public transit and bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

Omaha bond issues traditionally do well at the ballot box. The last set of bond proposals — totaling $227.5 million for streets, sewers, parks, public safety and other public facilities — each passed with no less than 74% support.

In a large part of the suburbs, Omaha’s streets proposal will be on the ballot with a school bond issue as well. This week, the Millard school board decided to put a $125 million bond proposal before voters on May 12.

Millard voters also traditionally support school bonds, defeating just one bond issue going back to the 1950s.

Mike Kennedy, a Republican like Stothert and a member of the Millard board, said the City of Omaha will need to make its case to voters for the street improvements, just as Millard will.

“By the way,” Kennedy said, “Millard has some streets that need improvement.” 

Photos: Omaha streets and how they got their names

Photos: Omaha streets and how they got their names

What's at stake for Sens. Sasse, Ernst, both of whom face reelection after impeachment vote

WASHINGTON — The outcome of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial may be a foregone conclusion, but its handling could affect Republican senators who will share a ballot with him in November.

Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Nebraska’s Ben Sasse are both seeking their second terms in 2020. Both have criticized the House Democrats presenting the case against Trump and voted repeatedly with their fellow GOP senators this week against efforts to seek new witnesses and documents.

Democrats say those votes could help swing competitive races in purple states such as Ernst’s and cite polls in which Americans favor additional witnesses and documents.

“The question is — will our Republican colleagues rise to their constitutional mandate to create a fair trial, and I don’t think it will sit very well with history or with the American people if they don’t,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Thursday. “Everyone here who’s elected has some duty to listen to their constituents. Their constituents are saying witnesses and documents.”

But Ernst was defiant when asked about the prospect of Democrats making impeachment an issue in her race, saying that they can “bring it on” and that the people she represents are more interested in trade deals such as the U.S.-Canada-Mexico Agreement than the ongoing trial.

“I don’t think constituents in Iowa are watching it now, honest to goodness,” Ernst said. “They’re thrilled that we got USMCA done. They want us to continue working on the business that’s important to them.”

The impeachment case revolves around efforts to pressure Ukraine into launching two investigations Trump wanted: one into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son and another into a conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, behind 2016 presidential election interference. Hanging in the balance was U.S. military aid and a crucial relationship to Ukraine as it faced down Russia.

President Trump asked for the investigations during a call with President Volodymyr Zelensky, according to an rough summary of the call.

Ben Sasse

When the administration first released that call summary, Sasse told The World-Herald there was “terrible stuff” in it and that Republicans shouldn’t reflexively circle the wagons to justify it.

He also criticized Democrats for what he characterized as a rush to impeachment.

Since then, Sasse has repeated his criticism of Democrats such as Rep. Adam Schiff of California, reliably employing the phrase “clown show” over and over.

But he’s been mum about the stream of revelations regarding the Ukraine pressure campaign and declined interview requests about the matter.

Sasse spokesman James Wegmann said in a statement that Sasse is one of the most conservative members of the Senate and that that will earn him a second term.

“Ben isn’t thinking about politics during Adam Schiff’s clown show — he’s doing his job by listening and taking notes, even when Schiff repeats himself over and over and over again,” Wegmann said.

Sasse’s GOP primary opponent Matt Innis has made the senator’s previous criticism of Trump a central rationale of his campaign. The Lancaster County businessman says Sasse characterizing Trump as unfit for office during the 2016 presidential campaign contributed to Democrats’ impeachment efforts. Innis also faulted Sasse for his initial reaction to the Ukraine call.

“Ben Sasse needs to publicly reject this charade of impeachment that liberal Democrats, ‘never-Trumpers’ and the national media are conducting against President Trump,” Innis said.

Trump has endorsed Sasse’s reelection, rendering Innis’ primary challenge the longest of shots. But, of course, Trump could always retract that endorsement if Sasse did something to upset him during the trial.

John Hibbing, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said that despite his past criticisms of Trump, it would be surprising if Sasse sides with Democrats.

Hibbing added that he doesn’t expect that position to endanger Sasse’s prospects in the general election.

“He won 2-1 six years ago and I just can’t see him screwing up enough to really jeopardize that,” Hibbing said.

Joni Ernst

For her part, Ernst made clear this week that she has not found the Democrats’ case to be compelling.

“I’m still waiting to see that overwhelming evidence,” Ernst said.

Democrats have highlighted such statements as reason why Republicans should back new witnesses to provide additional links between Trump and the pressure campaign — witnesses like John Bolton, the former national security adviser who says he’s willing to testify.

Ernst rejected that argument and said if the case isn’t complete, that’s on the Democrats.

“They should have done a better job in the House,” Ernst said.

Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University, said Ernst is considered a potentially vulnerable incumbent in part because she’s facing her sophomore campaign, which can be tough in a swing state.

But Goldford noted that Democrats haven’t settled on a challenger to Ernst and while impeachment could drive up voter turnout, it remains to be seen which side will be more motivated by it.

Voters who want Ernst to oppose the president will likely vote against her regardless of what she does on impeachment, he said.

“You know that old phrase, ‘You dance with the one who brung ya?’ ” Goldford said. “I think that’s certainly what Joni Ernst is going to do.”

Photos: Nebraska’s and Iowa’s members of Congress

Judge rules Bailey Boswell will stand trial on third charge in the slaying of Sydney Loofe

WILBER, Neb. — Discussions about killing someone to join a coven of witches, or producing a “snuff film” of torture and murder to make money, returned to a courtroom in Saline County on Thursday.

This time, it was testimony by an FBI agent to back up the filing of a third charge — conspiracy to commit murder — against Bailey Boswell, who was already charged with first-degree murder and improper disposal of human remains in the death of Lincoln store clerk Sydney Loofe.

After two hours of testimony and arguments, Saline County Judge Linda Bauer ruled that Boswell should stand trial on the additional charge during her trial in March.

Boswell’s boyfriend, Aubrey Trail, 53, faced the same three charges. He pleaded guilty to the improper disposal of human remains charge shortly before his trial started in June and was found guilty by a jury of the two other charges in July. He awaits a hearing beginning June 23 to determine whether he’ll receive a death sentence or life in prison.

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Boswell, a 25-year-old native of Leon, Iowa, appeared pale and rocked or swiveled in her chair through most of Thursday’s hearing.

FBI Special Agent Mike Maseth was the lone testifier, recounting how the investigation into Loofe’s disappearance led to an apartment in Wilber, where he said Trail and Boswell conspired to recruit young women to help them kill.

Loofe went missing after arranging a date with Boswell via Tinder in November 2017. Loofe’s body was found three weeks later in 14 pieces wrapped in black plastic bags, scattered along country roads in Clay County, about an hour’s drive west of Wilber.

Trail testified near the end of his trial that he choked Loofe to death accidentally during a “sex party” with her and Boswell. Boswell has not talked to authorities.

Maseth testified that Trail and Boswell had multiple discussions about killing someone with the young women Boswell had met via Tinder for group sex hookups.

Judge denies Court TV's request to air Bailey Boswell trial live

Bailey Boswell’s court-appointed attorney, Todd Lancaster of the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy, had objected to the request. He said allowing multiple television cameras and microphones into the courtroom would harm his client’s right to a fair trial.

Three women testified during Trail’s trial that they were told they could gain “powers” and join the couple’s group of witches by killing someone and “breathing their last breath.” After one of the women was skeptical of the witch story, the purpose for killing was changed to making money from posting a video on the Internet of killing someone, Maseth said.

Boswell’s attorney, Todd Lancaster of the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy, questioning Maseth, said there was just “talk” of killing someone, no real plans, only “make believe stuff.”

“It was just general discussion,” Lancaster said.

The FBI agent responded, “To me, it’s not general discussion when you ask, ‘Will you kill this person for me?’ ”

Lancaster said Boswell will plead not guilty to the new charge. She faces the possibility of the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder.

Earlier Thursday, District Judge Julie Smith took under advisement a motion that she dismiss herself from the three-judge sentencing panel for Trail.

Trail’s attorneys have said that Smith’s presence on the panel has the appearance of a conflict of interest because, in a former job as chief counsel with the state prison system, she wrote the state’s protocol for lethal injection executions. Smith also served as the judge during Trail’s divorce in 2018.

Notable crime news of 2019