The Omaha-Douglas Public Building Commission will deal with a $120 million justice center proposal without one of the project’s biggest advocates, City Council President Ben Gray.

Gray’s term on the commission is expiring. Mayor Jean Stothert and Gray confirmed Wednesday that she intends to appoint Omaha City Council member Brinker Harding to Gray’s seat. 

Stothert said her decision to appoint someone other than Gray was not because of his performance. She said she likes to appoint different people to boards and commissions. Gray had been on the commission for eight years.

Stothert noted that Gray is on the board of the Douglas County Unified Justice Center Development Corporation, a nonprofit that the county and Building Commission propose to use to develop a 10-story office building that includes space for juvenile courts and a new county youth detention center.

Stothert, a former member of the commission herself, said Gray “will still be able to be very involved” in that project. She said Harding is not on many council committees.

“(Harding’s) background in real estate and development would serve him well in this position,” Stothert said.

The City Council is expected to vote on the appointment this month.

Gray said he was proud of the commission’s courthouse renovations and other accomplishments during his term. He said he was glad to be able to be involved in the commission’s big first steps toward erecting the proposed complex southwest of 18th and Harney Streets.

“I would have preferred to stay, but I’m OK with the change,” Gray said. “I’m good with someone else being on the commission as long as I stay on the board of the nonprofit. The main thing I want to accomplish now is to make sure that we get the juvenile justice center built.”

If his appointment is approved , Harding would join Omaha City Council member Aimee Melton, Douglas County Board members Clare Duda and Mike Boyle, and former University of Nebraska at Omaha Chancellor John Christensen on the commission.

They have big decisions coming up, most notably whether to actually issue up to $120 million in bonds for the justice center project. County taxpayers would repay the bonds. The building commission voted unanimously this spring to declare its intent to issue the bonds this year.

Harding said he had not formed a position on the justice center proposal.

“I don’t think I have enough information to completely weigh in on the matter,” he said. “I want to make sure that I’m fully briefed on what the issues are with the project so that I can make an informed decision.”

Stothert said she does not have a position on the justice center. She said she had not asked Harding to take a position.

“I don’t tell people what I want them to do on any of these boards and commissions,” she said.

Chris Burbach covers the Douglas County Board, Planning Board and other local government bodies, as well as local neighborhood issues. Follow him on Twitter @chrisburbach. Phone: 402-444-1057.

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