The Bottom Line: Jim Suttle Made
Tough Calls, Should Continue As Mayor

Within a week, Omahans will know whether the city’s voters (at least those who took enough interest to vote) prefer a mayor who makes tough decisions to address multi-million-dollar problems which he inherited or opt for a new mayor—perhaps someone like Dave Nabity, a businessman who seems passionately eager to run for mayor on a sort of “I know everything about city government and how to solve the problems without increasing taxes” platform.

(The last time Nabity offered his services as an elected official, he ran for Republican nomination for governor in 2006.  He received 5.3% of the vote.)

Three front-page articles in The World-Herald Sunday, Monday and Tuesday helped bring the recall election issues into focus.

(One of the articles quoted Nabity with the—I’m searching for the right word, let’s try “unusual”—proposal to discharge all the firemen who handle administrative duties for the fire department and replace them with—apparently he’s serious about this—a “privatized” staff.)

Among the points which came through clearly in the three World-Herald articles:

“When he took office, Suttle faced an array of serious budget challenges:  The pension shortfall, sharp increases in health benefit costs, looming debt payments for the Qwest Center of Omaha and a recession that sapped the city’s tax reserves.”

Fahey Task Force Recommended Tax Increase

Outgoing Mayor Mike Fahey’s pension task force recommended raising property taxes, creating a garbage fee or raising the city’s sales tax to close the police and fire pension fund shortfall.

As he was leaving office, Fahey said a property tax increase might be required.  “There’s really not much more meat left on the bone.”

Suttle’s decision to not delay a payment into the Qwest Center debt retirement fund was credited by two bond-raising services as evidence that the city was concerned with protecting its AAA bond interest rating—a rating which can mean saving millions of dollars in the interest rates which the city has to pay on bond issues.

Among the most interesting quotes in The World-Herald’s stories are those which came from Councilwoman Jean Stothert, one of the minority of three council members who voted against Suttle’s efforts to address the serious collection of inherited problems.  Stothert told a World-Herald reporter:  “The city finances were a mess.”  Councilwoman Stothert went on to say that previous city administrations had cut property taxes too much when times were good and left Omaha without adequate cash reserves to cope with the recession.

‘Great Idea’ To Resurface Streets–Sometime

Stothert said she agrees that such problems as a massive shortfall in the police and fire pension funds and a need for street resurfacing must be addressed, but not yet.  First the mayor should have reduced spending as much as possible, Stothert said, without specifying what city spending she thinks Suttle could and should have reduced.  (Of the need for street resurfacing, Stothert said:  “This is a great idea…but do we have to do it right now?”)

In the judgment of Jim Suttle and a City Council majority, the city did need to address the street resurfacing problem “right now” and also take such steps as beginning to address the monumental problem of shortfall in the city’s police and fire pension funds “right now.”

An interesting aspect of the Sunday news story was the fact that, like almost all of the extensive news media coverage in recent weeks, the story six times used language like, “Suttle raised” or “Suttle’s tax rate hikes” without acknowledging that a 4-3 city council majority was ultimately responsible for voting the tax increases into law.

* * *

Best Informed On The Issues,
Councilman Ben Gray Speaks Out

One clear, well-informed, rational voice—largely ignored by the news media—has best defined the basic issue involved in the question of whether Mayor Jim Suttle should be recalled from office.  (I would have said “when Omaha voters go to the polls in a special election next Tuesday,” but more than 12,000 Omahans have already cast early ballots or have asked for mail-in ballots.)

The best-informed voice, as I see it, is that of City Councilman Ben Gray, one of the City Council majority who amended and then voted into law the tax increases which are the cause of the effort to unseat Suttle.

Ben Gray knows a great deal more about the issues involved than any member of the news media—and certainly more than mayoral aspirant “let me tell you how to run things” Dave Nabity and other outspoken supporters of the recall.

I interviewed City Councilman Ben Gray early this week.  Among his responses:

“I’m encouraged by the fact that of the people who signed that petition for a recall election, more than half of them didn’t vote in the last election and of that half, another almost half have not voted hardly at all in the past.  If their practices continue the way they have in the past, you have a significant number of people who signed that petition who probably won’t even bother to vote.”

I offered my opinion that putting off the problems which Suttle and a City Council majority addressed would have resulted in higher-cost solutions later.  Ben Gray’s reaction:

“It would have cost us significantly more.  For example, every year you didn’t do anything about the police and fire pension funds, it would cost this city somewhere in the neighborhood of $900,000 to $1,500,000 more in interest every year.”

As to the matter of the Suttle campaign staff rounding up a busload of homeless people and taking them to the election commissioners’ office to vote, Gray and I agreed this was an egregious mistake.

But, Gray said, “This mayor stood up and took responsibility and said we made a mistake.  Now if that’s not character, I don’t know what it is.”

* * *

Time To Stop Emoting And Start
Tough Thinking About Shooting Tragedies

Enough already.

The emotional side of the tragic shooting spree in Tucson, Arizona has been fully reported, to say the least.

But when—when—will we pay less attention to the grieving, the literal and figurative weeping over the tragedy in Tucson, and put much greater focus—primary focus—on what we can do—or try to do—to prevent such tragedies in the future?

Included in our reaction to both the tragedy in Tucson and the closer-to-home murder of an assistant principal at Millard South High School in Omaha should be two fundamental objectives, as I see it:  (1) Make our best effort to make guns less easily available, either at the point of purchase or in the homes of the gun owners and (2) less easily available especially to persons who are obvious psychopaths as in the case of the Tucson killer.

The Tucson case points up the vital importance of finding some system for controlling—or locking up if necessary—persons whose dangerous mental illness has been clearly demonstrated and must be addressed before it results in lethal attacks on others.

To date, as a society, we seem more interested in immersing ourselves in remorse rather than looking for ways to save the lives of the persons whose loss we mourn.

Obama Deserves Credit For Not Blaming Political Rhetoric

President Obama has been almost universally praised for his news-media-saturated visit to Tucson, where the tragedy seemed to take on some special significance because a Congresswoman was seriously wounded.

The president used the occasion to draw every bit of drama he could from the opportunity.  I think particularly of his performance when he received word that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, fighting for her life as a result of a bullet which went through her brain, had opened her eyes.  “Gabby has opened her eyes,” the president said to thunderous applause.  A pause for dramatic effect, then slowly repeating three times that wounded congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords had “opened her eyes.”

The president’s remarks were moving, in his best self-confident “yes we can” speaking style.  He appropriately called for more civil discourse between persons of differing views and, to his credit, declined to blame political rhetoric for creating an atmosphere which encouraged the Tucson shooting spree.

One would have wished that the president’s impressive Tucson appearance had included a call for action—at the local, state and national levels—to do all we can to see that we have much less frequent occasion to lament the wounding or death of Americans at the hands of persons who have too easily come into possession of lethal weapons.

* * *

Why Require Proof Of A Miracle
To Make A Worthy Catholic A Saint?

As a person with great respect for the good works and spiritual comfort which the Catholic Church brings to so many millions of people around the globe, I hope my Catholic friends will not resent my offering some very well-intentioned advice:

Change the requirements for sainthood for those special Catholics, whether a nun or a pope or whoever, whose good works in some cases and leadership of the church and good works in other cases have earned them the special honor and recognition which sainthood involves.

The change, I would suggest, is to not require proof that the person to be elevated to sainthood must first have been proven to have been responsible for a miracle.  In the case of the beloved late Pope John Paul, the miracle required as the first step to sainthood is purported to be the miraculous cure of a nun who long suffered from a disabling ailment—a cure which, she said, followed her prayers directed specifically to John Paul.

I would think that a good many Catholics, as well as non-Catholics who have great respect for the good works of the church, would find it hard to believe that even the pope could find some way to arrange for a cure through spiritual not medical intervention.

Some of those who loved John Paul may have pointed the way to both the logical and spiritual solution to the question of sainthood when, during the funeral procession, they chanted for immediate sainthood for their beloved John Paul.  They felt no need for what is considered proof of miracles.  Recognize him now for what he has meant to his church and to many millions of Catholics around the world.

While on the subject of a well-intentioned suggestion for my Catholic friends:  Should the church consider some sort of compassionate retirement requirement for popes?

It was so sad to see the beloved John Paul in what appeared to be almost total physical disability in his final months or years as pope.

* * *

Big Ten’s Two Divisions:  ‘East’ And ‘West;’
Prairie Avenue ‘Battle Of The Thermostat’

A couple of lighter items to end this week’s offerings:

–I don’t really care what the Big 10 leadership has determined will be the entirely-forgettable official names of the two divisions of the conference after Nebraska joins later this year.  One name is “Legends,” I think, and I don’t remember the name for the other division.

I will, as I suspect 99.9% of Big 10 fans will, refer to them as the West or Western Division (which includes Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State and Northwestern) and the East or Eastern Division (which includes Wisconsin, Ohio State, Illinois, Indiana, Purdue and Penn State).

–Marian and I are engaged in what might be called the “Battle of the Thermostat.”

As I dictate this, the thermostat for the air-handling unit for our garden room is Marian-set at 70 degrees.  When I finish this dictated item, I will get up and set the thermostat at 73 or 74 degrees.

The problem is that the thermostat is on the wall behind my back when I am sitting at the table dictating, so Marian can easily turn it town when she enters or leaves, as is the case when she’s letting the dogs in or out the garden room door.

Marian is not impressed by my explanation that an array of blood thinners—I take three different ones every day—makes me more cold-blooded than she, especially when I’m sitting at the table dictating or reading and she is in her usual fast-moving mode.

Incidentally, outside our kitchen and garden room windows, this is definitely “The Year of the Blue Jay.”

There have been years when we have said the birds patronizing our two bird feeders were turning our formal garden into a sort of “Café Cardinale.”  But this year the blue jays are dominating the larger of the two feeders, with the cardinals mostly enjoying the smaller of the two bird feeders this year.

I have persuaded Marian to stop knocking on a kitchen window to scare the blue jays away, as she has done in past years.  They are a handsome bird, I tell her, and I am especially impressed by the numbers we are attracting this year.

What about the squirrels?  They have discovered that we have squirrel-proofed the poles leading up to the bird feeders so they go industriously about the grounds beneath the large feeder, picking up seeds which those big blue jays have pecked or kicked out of the feeder trough.

With the snowfall and the bird display, a very attractive working environment as I dictate and read at the garden room table—which, as Marian consistently reminds me, was not intended to be a desk.

Oh, yes, almost forgot:  In her argument against overheating the garden room, Marian said it isn’t good for the roomful of plants.

She was amused but not won over by my suggestion that we restock the room with tropical plants.

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One Response to The Bottom Line: Jim Suttle Made
Tough Calls, Should Continue As Mayor

  1. Fullerton Flash says:

    While I share your view that Mayor Suttle has done nothing that warrants his recall, finding Ben Gray as being particularly well informed on the relevantfacts surrounding this issue is laughable. During Ben’s radio “debate” with Mr. Nabity (hear it for yourself on the KFAb website under Vorhees), he made numerous and repeated categorical mistatements of fact which to any knowledgeable voter could only have hurt the Mayor’s cause. For instance he called Nabity a “liar” in suggesting that Finance Director Spacoralatella’s $180,000 (quickly reduced to $140,000) salary had a negative impact on the City’s budget by claiming that the Finance Director’s salary was included in his $1.1 million budget for mayoral office expenses with such salary increase being offset by other personnel cuts within this budget category. A quick examination of the City Budget shows such claim to absolutely incorrect. I could point out more similar mistatements on Ben’s part. Furthermore, as a citizen who observed Ben serving as an advocate (and a paid one–no less) for Dr. Makiel’s One City One District plan back in 2005, I can tell you that Ben has a history of confusing facts with fiction whenever helpful. Our mayor would do better if he spoke for himself instead of relying on the likes of Ben Gray, and his mayoral assistants who concocted the regrettable homeless to the polls bus fiasco. That said, I pray that Omaha’s voters might exhibit good judgment and not recall our Mayor. He has made more than his share of p.r. gaffes but on the merits he has acted responsibly in being a positive force in trying to straightn out our City’s financial mess. I applaud your support of his efforts to be retained.

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