The first year as mayor of Bellevue was an eventful one for Rusty Hike.
Within months of taking office, his administration had to navigate the community through historic flooding, a task he said was made manageable by the way people rallied to support those affected, he said.
“It’s nice to know that the community is a community,” he said.
Hike’s first year in office also included an aggressive annexation package that pushed the city’s population over 60,000 people, a lot of “necessary” restructuring he said would make the city conduct its business more smoothly and controversial misconduct sanctions for elected officials, including the removal of office.
Bellevue’s city administrator, clerk, parks and recreation, and human resources are but a few of the examples of departments with leadership changes or were restructured.
The biggest change, Hike said, was the addition of an in-house legal team which Hike said has saved the city more than $15,000 a month over hiring outside legal representation.
Another major restructuring was the creation of a community development director. Former Police Chief Mark Elbert was tabbed to fill that position, and he will head up a restructured department that oversees planning, permits, inspections and other functions.
That position will help streamline those functions and make Bellevue more inviting for investors, he said.
“There’s that one person to talk to when they come in and if there’s an issue they can go straight to him and get it taken care of,” he said.
While the first year was eventful, Hike said overall Bellevue took steps in the right direction.
“You run into snags and you just figure out how to take care of them,” Hike said. “As long as you’re always taking a step forward you’re getting somewhere, and that’s what we try to do.
“If your foundation is not very strong, you’re not very strong. That’s what we’ve been working on is making sure that the foundation of Bellevue is full strength and we have something to build on.”
The biggest item on the city’s agenda in 2020 is a national search for a police chief, Hike said. There has been friction between the Bellevue officers union and Mark Elbert, the former police chief.
Hike considers it a “win-win” scenario to resolve the discord.
“Getting a fresh set of eyes in there and some new blood will help us set that police department up for future generations,” he said.
Economic development was a major point in Hike’s campaign for mayor, and he said that will remain a focus in the coming year.
Demolition of the former city offices in Olde Towne will begin this winter and streetscaping plans along Mission Avenue will also be in the works, Hike said.
The spring’s flooding impacted an area south of Offutt Air Force Base billed as a future industrial hub. The city has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into a fund dedicated to adding infrastructure to the area, and Hike said more than $40 million in work to improve the levees protecting the area should bring confidence to potential investment.
Hike said there is also potential for movement in commercial and residential development near the Highway 34/Highway 75 interchange.
Fort Crook Road is a key area of development that has been on the city’s radar for years. The city is working with HDR, the firm that initially created the city’s robust 2008 redevelopment plan for the corridor, to help obtain the rights-of-way. Hike said the city is conducting background research to find out why the state didn’t release all of its rights to Bellevue after the Kennedy Freeway was built and removed Fort Crook Road’s highway status.
“There’s a lot of questions out there as to why it was done the way it was done,” Hike said.
A citywide rebranding initiative, done in conjunction with the Greater Bellevue Area Chamber of Commerce and other groups, will go hand in hand with any future growth.
“We need to send the message out to the world who we are and why Bellevue is the place to be,” Hike said.
The council will be asked to approve a few “cleanup” annexations, Hike said. The city’s aggressive 2019 annexation package and any future ones are aimed at making the city more contiguous, bringing in areas in Bellevue’s southwest that should’ve been annexed a long time ago and ensuring the city is set to provide support to the area south of Offutt and the Highway 34/75 interchange.
Cities can only bond for infrastructure within city limits, Hike said, so if it needs to bond for those areas but has to annex several areas to get there, it could delay the process.
The city is also working on engineering and design for a connection between 15th Street with 25th Street south of Cornhusker Road, Hike said. Long term, the goal is to eventually connect with Raynor Parkway to provide an east-west corridor between Wolf Creek and Twin Creek.
All of the rights of way for 36th Street south of Highway 370 were purchased in 2019 and utility companies will work on clearing the area to prepare for pavement over the next year.
Hike said he hoped the controversial misconduct ordinances that passed late in the year will take care of themselves.
Overall, Hike said communication has been better between the council and the administration after council meetings switched from Monday evenings to Tuesday because it gives council members another weekday to have their questions answered by department heads or legal staff.
“Overall I think everybody is informed and it runs pretty smoothly,” Hike said.
The city is still waiting to hear back from FEMA on its application for a combined public works facility and iron out lingering issues related to the condemned Paradise Lakes property.
Hike said he hopes to add a youth council in the coming year to get students involved in local government and learn about the challenges facing them and how they want to address them.