UNO hosts mayoral debate

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By Kelsey Stewart, News Editor

While UNO students got ready for spring break, Omaha’s five mayoral candidates participated in a debate hosted The Mighty 1290 KOIL-AM in Mammel Hall’s auditorium.

The candidates-Jim Suttle, incumbent; Brad Ashford, state senator; Dave Nabity, businessman; Jean Stothert, city council member and Dan Welch, former city council president-used much of the time to attack and target one another.

Contract Negotiations

Negotiations for fire and police union contracts have been a major issue, especially after the City Council took negotiating duties away from the mayor and assumed the role in 2011.

                Suttle

Suttle said the mayor’s office should have full negotiating authority. He added that the negotiations start with trust between the mayor and the unions.

Ashford

Negotiating any contract is challenging, Ashford said. He added that he’s had experience negotiating contracts in legislature. Negotiations should address the contract problems collaboratively, Ashford said. He added that we should encourage police officers and firefighters to work longer.

Nabity

Nabity believes the mayor should handle negotiations, not the city council. Nabity said his plan is to research other how other communities form their contracts. It’s necessary to look at other cities’ contracts to know if yours is reasonable, he said.

Stothert

Stothert defended the most recent contract and negotiations completed by the City Council saying it saved money in healthcare and pension costs. She added that it doesn’t matter what labor contracts in other cities look like, “it matters in Nebraska.” It’s a misconception that negotiations are started clean, they start with the previous contract, Stothert said.

Welch

Welch said the City Council isn’t the right body to do the negotiations. He  added that the current contract is costing the city too much.

 

Vision for Omaha

The city is growing but people still refer to themselves as being from certain parts of the city. Candidates were asked their vision to make the city better and how they would make it a reality.

                Suttle

Suttle dealt with finances and modernizing government services in his first term, he said. His focus to improve the city is on jobs and economic development, especially in North Omaha.

Ashford

Ashford brought up his legislature experience in working on the CenturyLink Center. Bringing the city together is a great opportunity for the entire community, Ashford said. He would focus on economic development and dealing with poverty but we need to “juice things up.”

Nabity

Nabity’s plan is to make the community safer. If his crime reduction plan is put in place, we will see significant results, he said. He also wants to rebuild trust with the city government and law enforcement.

Stothert

Stothert wants to see a reduction in taxes and spending, and an increase in city services. Job and economic development is key, she said. This is all to make Omaha more vibrant. As mayor, she said she wants to bring people together and work with them.

Welch

Omaha has problems, from police and fire contracts to pension problems, Welch said. He plans on bringing people from all parts of the city together to make “one Omaha.” He added that the city’s problems can’t be taken care of alone.

 

Economic Development in North Omaha

Progress is being made to bring jobs to North Omaha but it needs more work. Candidates were asked their plans to bring more jobs to the area.

                Suttle

The problem with employment in North Omaha, Suttle said, is that there aren’t jobs available in the area and there is no transportation to get them to the jobs. He plans on bringing businesses to North Omaha and getting people the training to be able to do the jobs.

Ashford

Ashford wants to open a career academy. This would give people in North Omaha the necessary skills to complete jobs. By graduation, they would have a high school diploma, be matched up with an employer and have the proper skills.

Nabity

Nabity wants to build a tech high school. He would also partner with trade unions and train people to make them employable. He said he would recruit businesses and create partnerships between them and the school.

Stothert

The mayor has a job to make Omaha a better place to do business and to sell Omaha to others, Stothert said. She would want to reignite partnerships with businesses. Another key is improving education and giving the proper training and skills.

 Welch

Improving North Omaha will take time, Welch said. To start, we must reduce the amount of crime, he said, and then we can talk about building up businesses.

 

Taxes

Candidate were asked if Omahans were overtaxed and what taxes they would lower or raise.

                Suttle

Revenue minus expenses should leave a positive number, Suttle said. People should be aware that a city and county merger would raise property taxes and leave debt.

Ashford

The government needs to be more efficient, Ashford said. His way of doing that would be to propose a merger of city and county governments. He added that the tax base is too narrow and should be broadened.

Nabity

Nabity said labor contracts need to be under control. The city needs new strategies, and a streamlined and modernized government. He would achieve that by doing performance audits and reorganizing city government.

 Stothert

Stothert said every challenge in the last three and a half years have been met with a new tax or fee. She plans to cut back on increased taxes by having more affordable contracts, streamlining city government and expanding business.

Welch

Omahans are overtaxed, Welch said. The way to solve this is by getting control of the budget and cutting employment contracts.

 

Restaurant Tax

The restaurant tax has caused much controversy. Candidates were asked if they would keep the tax or eliminate it.

                Suttle

The tax was necessary, Suttle said. The tax helps to fund city services, like parks and libraries. It also helps to fund public safety efforts. City services are being delivered, Suttle said.

Ashford

Broadening the sales tax base would take the pressure off, Ashford said. It wouldn’t be necessary to rely on the restaurant tax and other taxes.

Nabity

Nabity sees the restaurant tax as an attack on the business community. He said the restaurant tax drives big-ticket items out of Omaha to other marketplaces. It has to stop, he said.

Stothert

Typically these kinds of taxes go back to help the industry, Stothert said. This tax went to fund the pension. The extra money it made has gone into a general fund. Stothert said it we have to tax, it should be fair and broad based, not narrow and targeting a specific industry.

Welch

Welch would do what he could to eliminate the tax. He said it repels people and businesses from coming to the city. City services have been delivered before without the restaurant tax, Welch said.

 

Public Safety

Candidates were asked what they would do to address the issues of gun crimes and gang activity in the city.

                Suttle

Suttle cited many things he achieved in his term as mayor. He organized neighborhood associations, built trust between law enforcement and citizens, worked for an illegal gun taskforce, put money into the fight against truancy, and others. He said he will continue working on improving public safety.

Ashford

One key is to identify when children are in trouble as soon as possible, Ashford said. We need to work with the community and push for tougher background checks and mental health checks, he added.

Nabity

Nabity said he wants to get the community to participate in helping law enforcement. He wants to build trust between law enforcement and the public. He would bring in a public safety advocate. He wants to give gang members an opportunity to get out of crime.

Stothert

Crime is up and is a citywide problem requiring a citywide response, Stothert said. The city needs more police officers and stiffer penalties for gang activity. We also need to build trust in neighborhoods and work with the community, she said.

Welch

Gun violence is a symptom of the problem, Welch said. The real problem is truancy, joblessness and drop out rates. In the meantime, we need to fight crime, he said. That means stricter gun laws, more gun amnesty days and more.

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