Mayor’s record admirable, recall deplorable

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By Samuel Winner, Contributor

Mayor Jim Suttle continues to perform at one of the toughest jobs in Omaha, even in the midst of a battle for power.

Since taking office in 2009, the mayor has tried to run the city as efficiently as possible. He took office with a wealth of experience as an engineering executive at one of Omaha’s most successful companies, HDR Inc. He also served as an active member of the city council for four years before being elected mayor. As an upstanding member of our community, he has always been concerned for Omaha’s welfare and future.

Starting in mid-October 2010, a minority of his constituents – mostly conservative citizens who had never supported him – decided that because of Suttle’s most recent budget policies, they were going to ask permission of the Douglas County Election Commission to circulate a petition to call a special election to recall him as mayor.

If you’ve read the newspaper or watched the local news in recent months, you know that the recall effort has taken up quite a few headlines.

Early on, many influential people sided with the mayor, calling the Mayor Suttle Recall Committee’s efforts bad for our city. They said the recall is a divisive and expensive tactic.

Forward Omaha, the main group supporting the mayor, has been battling hard, calling and meeting with people to highlight the mayor’s accomplishments.

The MSRC has been hard at work as well, mostly spreading lies and blaming the mayor for problems that weren’t his fault to begin with.

As you’ve probably inferred, I’m against the recall.

Recall elections should happen only when an elected official commits an act of malfeasance in conjunction with performing his job very poorly. A recall is like an impeachment, except impeachments are much harder to accomplish.

The last time Omaha recalled anyone from office was in 1987, when former Mayor Mike Boyle was ousted for arguing with and then firing Police Chief Robert Wadman. Boyle had been re-elected in a landslide victory just two years earlier.

Interestingly enough, the same political consultant who was one of the main Boyle recall advocates is now assisting with the effort to recall Mayor Suttle. That goes to show it only takes a few bad bolts to ruin a good machine.

A lifelong engineer, Suttle admittedly does not have the hand-shaking, back-slapping style of a career politician. It seems he has always believed that decisions should be thought over carefully and then implemented, sometimes without seeking voter feedback. He said he would tackle the city’s problems with an engineer’s resolve, and he has been doing that. He just sometimes forgot to OK his solutions with voters beforehand.

In a recent interview, he said he stands by his decisions and he made them when others would have held off. He also promises to make a better effort at selling his ideas to the people of Omaha.

Now, back to those petitioners. One of the reasons the MSRC lists on the recall petition is “excessive taxes.” I assume they are talking about the wheel tax, the restaurant tax and the property tax hikes.

The wheel tax funds the repair and maintenance of city roads. It was raised from $35 to $50 because the city realized last winter that roads were not gettingp lowed and maintained quickly enough. Constituents were angry – they couldn’t believe the city was doing such a poor job. At the same time, they did not want to pay an increased wheel tax either.

To improve road services, the mayor decided to go ahead with the increase.

Last winter, I remember driving over potholes about every 50 feet, and the roads were not cleaned quickly or efficiently. Because of the poor state of the roads, I had two blown tires and shock absorbers that needed fixing. Needless to say, my dad didn’t like the mechanic’s bill.

This winter I have noticed an overwhelmingly positive change. Our city is geographically situated for hard winters, and we’ve had a fair amount of snow this year. The streets were plowed in a matter of days, and I have only hit two potholes. That’s a huge improvement over last year.

On a separate note, for those who live outside the city limits and who, up until now, haven’t been subjected to the wheel tax, in my opinion, you should pay it if you drive into Omaha on an almost daily basis for your job or school. I assume that you were some of the people who complained about the conditions of our streets last year. Well, something was done about it – and it wasn’t free. So stop complaining.

The restaurant tax had local businesses in an uproar. They didn’t want to

subject their loyal customers to another fee in addition to the regular bill and sales tax.

The restaurant tax adds only 2.5 percent of the total bill to your check. This small fee helps replenish the depleted city coffers and funds police and firefighters’ pensions. On a typical check, the total restaurant tax amounts to less than 50 cents.

 

That’s chump change. If you can afford to dine out in the first place, you can certainly afford such a miniscule increase.

Taxes are a necessary evil in this world, and citizens have an obligation to pay them.

The police and fire pension deal struck a nerve with many people and was cited on the petition as “union deals that cost taxpayers millions.” The truth is Suttle negotiated for a long time with the unions and actually talked them down from where Mike Fahey had leveled with them. Recall supporters say he could’ve done more.

 

Like what? Spend a few more months in long, drawn out talks with union leaders, which probably would have gone nowhere, just to see if they would concede a little more? That would’ve been a great use of time and money. Mayor Suttle brokered the best deal he could with the unions. Most people on both sides are happy.

In fact, for the first time in seven years, Mayor Suttle brought the fire department under budget, a major accomplishment for the city.

He also restored Omaha’s national AAA bond rating, a feat many thought difficult. This has already piqued the interest of several national companies. Now, several large businesses, including Atlanta-based A ll(n)1 Security Services and Best Buy Mobile, are planning to open new branches in Omaha as a result of the bond rating.

At the end of the day, more than 90 percent of Omahans did not sign the petition, even though they had ample time. That signals to me that this entire mess was created with the support of a few wealthy people with their own political agendas.

These people don’t have Omaha’s best interest in mind; they have their own. A recall will not come cheap – the cost is estimated at nearly $1 million. If this effort succeeds, the taxpayers will be stuck with the bill.

We need maximum voter turnout on Election Day. Use common sense and vote “NO” on Jan. 25. at your local polling place.

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