• December 27, 2012 2:01 PM | Anonymous

    Luncheon fans flames in fire contract talks - Mayoral hopefuls' dispute rooted in decisions on staffing, firefighters' benefits

    Omaha World-Herald (NE) - Thursday, December 13, 2012
    Author: Erin Golden, WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
    Three of Omaha 's mayoral hopefuls sparred Wednesday over a fire union contract that two of the candidates said should be rejected by the City Council.

    With less than a week remaining before the council's vote, Councilwoman Jean Stothert, former Councilman Dan Welch and businessman Dave Nabity dissected some of the 220-page contract in front of a standing-room-only crowd at a business group luncheon.

    Stothert, one of the council members who helped steer months of negotiations with the firefighters union, said the deal was a hard-fought compromise that will begin patching up the city's massive unfunded pension liability problem right away. She said the deal will save the city $822 million over 50 years - including $30 million by Jan. 1.

    But Stothert spent much of the debate fighting off pointed criticism from Nabity and Welch, who said the authority to negotiate the contract should have remained with the mayor, not the City Council. They argued that the city was still looking to ask taxpayers to fund too big a portion of firefighters' pensions and offering a longer list of benefits than departments in other cities.

    In particular, the two candidates said the Fire Department would still have too much control over staffing, preventing the city from making layoffs or changing the way it handles certain types of emergency calls.

    "What if we bring in a new management team, find out we can do business with fewer people?" Nabity said. "We can't. It totally binds the city from being able to reorganize itself, which is precisely why this contract should be rejected."

    Stothert, however, said the city has already cut the size of the department and still had control of many staffing-related decisions.

    "The city is in the driver's seat, and don't think for a minute we've lost the authority," she said. "You're being misled. We still have that authority."

    Welch and Nabity both argued that the city's cost-savings projections are flawed because interest rates on bonds will change as the country pulls out of the recession.

    The contract's length and complexity were also sticking factors. Welch said it includes too many bonuses and benefits for firefighters, additions he calls "hidden treasures." He took issue with additional pay for medics who take additional training courses and a health care premium increase he said was smaller than that of many employers.

    "Union folks will put in provisions we don't understand that will cost us money in the future," he said.

    The forum was hosted by the OmahaAlliance for the Private Sector.

    Contact the writer:

  • June 20, 2012 7:49 PM | Anonymous

    OMAHAundefinedWhile not endorsing an insider for Omaha’s next police chief, the Omaha Allianceundefinedwhich is usually critical of the Suttle Administrationundefinedtells Nebraska Watchdog (see exclusive video below) it is not “automatically hostile” to an internal candidate.

    At the same time Chip Maxwell, the Alliance’s executive director, is laying down several benchmarks the group wants the administration to follow.

    Topping the list is a chief who will serve at least five years, ending a revolving door within the department which has seen the last three top cops leave with retirement deals that could cost taxpayers up to $10 million.

    Another critical point, according to Maxwell, is the public’s advice. The Alliance wants a “public interview process where the community can attend” and learn more about the finalists for the job.

    The mayor’s office tells Nebraska Watchdog that the finalistsundefinedno more than fourundefinedwill be interviewed by department heads, police “experts” and select members of the publicundefinedchosen by the administration.

    It appears the finalists’ names will be made public by mid-July. 

    Reported by Joe Jordan,

    Editor’s note: to subscribe to News Updates from Nebraska Watchdog at no cost, click here


  • June 19, 2012 7:55 PM | Anonymous

    Group Wants Next Police Chief to Meet Certain Qualifications

    Posted: Jun 19, 2012 5:45 PM CDTUpdated: Jun 22, 2012 5:43 PM CDT

    OMAHA (KPTM)-The Omaha Alliance for the Private Sector made a  public  list of qualifications the group believes the next Omaha Police Chief needs.

    Members said the ability to balance a budget and reach out to the public are high priorities. But at the top of the list is a police chief who will stay put more than a few years.

    "It's hard for the rank and file people because hopefully you've got a leader who's charting the course. Here's what we're going to do but if that changes every two and a half years, every 13 months or even four years isn't that long when that keeps changing," Chip Maxwell said.

    The group said it's not entirely against someone being hired from within, but said it's unlikely noticeable changes will be made in that case.

    The group also says someone from the outside won't quickly qualify for retirement benefits, so he or she will have to stay longer.

    A representative from the city said the city has gone to great lengths to ensure that we hire the most qualified police chief possible.

    A list of finalized candidates should be made public in just a few weeks.

  • December 01, 2011 8:01 PM | Anonymous

    Nabity to pay $9,000 to end lawsuit

    One of the leaders of a failed effort to recall Mayor Jim Suttle will pay $9,000 as part of a settlement agreement that will end a legal battle with the president of the city's fire union.

    Documents filed Wednesday in Douglas County District Court formally dismissed the defamation lawsuit filed by fire union President Steve LeClair. He filed the lawsuit last fall against Dave Nabity, president of the Omaha Alliance for the Private Sector, over his comments on a radio talk show.

    Each side must pay its own attorneys' costs, and LeClair will receive $9,000 as part of the settlement.

    Nabity publicly criticized LeClair last fall, shortly after State Auditor Mike Foley released a stern report on the Fire Department's finances. In the lawsuit, LeClair accused Nabity of falsely stating that LeClair "committed fraud" and "theft by deception" for receiving pay that wasn't due to him.

    Nabity filed a countersuit, saying the lawsuit against him and his organization was intended to intimidate and to inhibit free speech.

    The settlement, though, puts an end to the litigation.

    "While Mr. LeClair and Mr. Nabity have been adversaries in this public debate and the two have fundamental philosophical differences, both recognize that a prolonged trial is not a prudent use of resources to resolve these differences," said a joint statement released by both men.

    In a separate statement, Nabity said his insurance company advised him that it was best to settle the case for $9,000, rather than work to raise money for costly legal proceedings. The insurance company paid the claim, he said.

    Contact the writer:


  • August 17, 2011 8:05 PM | Anonymous

    Confusion after council votes down fire contract


    August 17th, 2011

    Omaha, NE- The Omaha City Council voted down Mayor Jim Suttle’s agreement with the Omaha Fire Union Tuesday afternoon. But the final vote seemed to confuse not only onlookers, but the council members themselves.

    Listen Now

    Fire Union President Steve Leclair wasn’t the only one confused in city hall. “They approved their amendments and then voted the contract down as amended? I’m slightly confused, but this city council has me perplexed,” said Leclair. Soon after the city council voted “no” in a 3-4 vote on an amended Fire Union contract, some council members needed clarification as to what they had just voted on.

    City Clerk, Buster Brown, had to clarify for some council members after the vote was completed. “Once we amended it that became the document to be voted on,” explained Brown.

    Fire Union President, Steve Leclair, said he was "confused" by the council's vote. (Photo credit Omaha Fire Department)

    “If you want to reconsider, you can make a motion to reconsider, whoever voted no,” Brown said. But no motion was made. “So the original motion, without any amendments, is no longer on the floor. There’s no contract that’s been approved, period.”

    Amendments to the proposed city contract took up most of the debate. Councilwoman Jean Stothert proposed two of her own amendments, one to cut Leclair’s position as the Fire Union President, and another that would cut the lifespan of any approved contract, to be valid only through the end of this year.

    “These amendments can be approved, and we can approve an amended contract,” said Stothert during the debate. “I think it’s a win-win for both sides. I would seriously ask the Union to consider.”

    Both of her amendments were voted down by the council. The Fire Union as well as Mayor Jim Suttle, have stated they would reject any amendments to the contract. The Fire Union has also threatened a $300 million lawsuit against the city if an agreement can’t be reached.

    As the debate continued, Councilman Garry Gernandt expressed concern over the possibility that no agreement would pass, and its ramifications on the city and taxpayers.

    “The amendments that are on our agenda today, in my opinion, seem to be counterproductive and would cause some financial hardship, extreme financial hardship, to the city and its taxpayers both in the short and long term,” said Gernandt.

    But Councilman Chris Jerram said threats were not to be taken into consideration when negotiating.

    The Omaha City Council voted to add amendments to the Fire Union contract, only to vote down the amended contract soon after. (Photo by Lindsey Peterson)

    “We are not a rubber stamp. We have a responsibility, not to Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s, we have a duty in the checks and balances in power as the last fiscal review to the taxpayers of the city,” said Jerram.

    Chip Maxwell of the Omaha Alliance for the Private Sector was allowed to rebut the proponents from last week’s public hearing. The time was promised by Councilman Franklin Thompson in last week’s hearing after the council ran out of time. “We urge the city council not to back down in this case,” said Maxwell.

    Councilman Ben Gray did not mince words in his critique of fire contract opponents, accusing them of blurring the debate. That debate, he said, began years ago with much worse contracts that grew the unfunded pension liability.

    “Where were you then? You’re here now,” Gray said. “And the arguments you put forward are flawed with misinformation. And that misinformation has taxpayers and others confused. It is not accurate.”

    The city and the council would like to see all firefighters on a civilian health care plan, which they said, would save millions of dollars in costs to the city. But, when the contract with those amendments was presented for a vote, it was voted down.

    Meanwhile, Leclair said he’s not only confused by the council’s decision, but felt the council did not take the agreements between the union and the city into consideration.

    “…utter disregard, for the concessions that the members of the fire dept have given up, utter disregard for the millions of dollars in savings that the taxpayers are going to realize as a result of this contract,” said Leclair after the vote.

    According to Nebraska Watchdog, the Mayor’s office has not decided its next course of action. Spokesperson Aida Amoura was quoted saying, “The council has to figure out what it thinks.”

  • May 14, 2011 8:08 PM | Anonymous

    Letter, 5/15: CIR column contradictory

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    The Wednesday Journal Star featured a Local View column "CIR deprives people" about the Commission of Industrial Relations and public bargaining units by Chip Maxwell, director of the Omaha Alliance for the Private Sector.

    Factions in Omaha have had it in for their mayor and City Council of 2003 and 2004. I fail to see how this affects our scene here in Lincoln, or the rest of the state.

    Maxwell quotes Franklin D. Roosevelt for stating that the public doesn't get to negotiate directly with the public employees, but instead through bureaucrats who have no personal financial stake in the negotiation and through politicians, who not only have no personal financial stake but may have political reasons.

    This is a two-way street. Bargaining units are formed to protect the public employee from the same bureaucrat and politician the public has put into office to bargain for them. Given this negative slant, this quote would make more sense if these bureaucrats and politicians were volunteers instead of well-paid elected public officials, which does indeed give them quite a personal financial stake. Plus, they also pay taxes like the rest of us, so they are invested in the negotiations.

    Which just leaves political reasons. No one runs on a platform of reforming public employees, but quite a few will state that they will run their office like a business.

    Maxwell ends stating that the elected officials should have the last say on compensation regardless of the CIR findings because they are elected by their constituents, who are the real bosses of public employees. These are the same bureaucrats and politicians portrayed in a negative slant by the article and have no personal financial stake, just political reasons. Go figure!

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