Parties dig in
You should read World-Herald columnist Erin Grace‘s take on Tuesday’s primary — written from McFly’s Tavern, stronghold of the local fire union.
“Officially, tonight is a primary contest for mayor,” Grace wrote. “Unofficially, these firefighters believe, it’s a referendum on Local 385, the 660-member firefighters union.”
All this comes as Jean Stothert and Jim Suttle start a six-week sprint to the general election by consolidating their parties’ support and angling for their former rivals’ supporters.
Suttle gathered Democratic city, county and state representatives at his campaign office Thursday in a show of force. Stothert picked up endorsements from key GOP rivals Wednesday, and both sides angled for supporters of the primary race’s lone independent, State Sen. Brad Ashford.
It’s a first signal of just how partisan this race could become.
Fire training comes with new costs
The Omaha Fire Department has begun using a new – and costlier — training system required under the fire contract approved by the city in December.
It works like this: Instead of getting paramedic training in during part of regular, 24-hour shifts, a group of firefighters will be relieved from their duties to attend training classes full time.
As a result, the department is filling those spots with other firefighters working overtime hours. That’s a change from the past, which firefighters working their regular shifts could help pick up the slack, or just work a few hours of overtime.
Fire contract is divider for mayoral candidates
Though it’s already been approved by the council and signed by the mayor, Omaha’s new fire contract is still the subject of a heated debate between the people running for the city’s top job.
Only two of the five candidates — Mayor Jim Suttle and City Councilwoman Jean Stothert — were directly involved in efforts to draw up a contract, but just about everyone has something to say.
Businessman David Nabity and former City Councilor Dan Welch have both critiqued the timing of Stothert and Suttle’s announcements related to the contract. They’ve said Suttle waited too long to point out that the council-negotiated contract would create a $6 million hole in the city budget. And Stothert, they said, announced the successful negotiation of a contract weeks before sharing the details with the public.
Fire contract hearing draws few comments
The crowd at the City Council’s public hearing on the tentative labor contract between the city and the fire union was fairly small, with just four supporters and four opponents addressing the council.
Just about everyone who spoke said they were not completely sold on the plan, which comes with an average wage increase of 1.6 percent per year and is projected to save Omaha’s police and fire pension fund $822 million over the next 50 years. Some said the city is still giving up too much in the negotiation and that the contract shouldn’t mention controversial staffing provisions.
But Mark McQueen, the attorney who negotiated the deal on behalf of the city, argued against those points and others he said have been made by members of the public.
“If the City Council does not agree to the staffing terms that I’ve just described, you don’t have a contract,” McQueen said. “It’s that simple. And without a contract, you don’t have pension reform of any type and you don’t have health care reform to the level we’ve achieved.”
The council is scheduled to vote on the issue next week.
Contract will be issue in mayor’s race
It’s in the council’s hands now.
A labor deal with the city’s firefighters union, years in the making, passed a key step in the approval process on Thursday.
Tom Mulligan, president of the body, has said the deal likely has the votes needed for approval.
There’s an election next year, though, so Omaha’s mayoral candidates are jumping to weigh in on the deal.
Businessman Dave Nabity and former City Councilman Dan Welch have attacked what they say are overly generous or wasteful provisions in the tentative deal. That puts them at odds with Councilwoman Jean Stothert, who is also running for mayor and helped broker the proposed contract. State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, another mayoral candidate, said the city should approve the deal but also revive an independent commission to examine further pension reforms and address separate concerns with firefighter staffing.
Mayor Jim Suttle‘s office said it was still reviewing the overall financial implications of the proposed agreement.
This won’t be the last mention of the fire contract in the context of the mayor’s race.
Early retirements, big pensions
Pension payouts could lead to further scrutiny of police managers contract
Omaha’s last three police chiefs have retired before they turned 50 – Tom Warren and Eric Buske at ages 47 and now Alex Hayes at 48.
World-Herald reporter John Ferak examined Omaha’s turnover at police chief and the impact of the pension payouts in a weekend story.
For those three retirees alone, Omaha’s pension system could make almost $10 million in payments over the rest of their lives.
The payouts are raising eyebrows regarding an issue that already is under intense scrutiny. Omaha’s police and fire pension already is facing an estimated $573 million shortfall.
Some City Council members say they’ll be examining the police managers contract further. Plus, city elections are coming next year, and Councilman Chris Jerram predicts that police and fire contracts will be a major election issue.
“The public is clamoring for more pension reform,” Jerram said in Sunday’s story.
Budget shortfall squabble
We broke the news this morning about the city’s year-end 2011 budget shortfall of $740,307.
City Hall reporter Juan Perez Jr. broke it down here and showed the blame game getting started between the Suttle administration and the City Council.
In case you missed it, Mayor Jim Suttle is blaming the council because it didn’t pass the fire contract. Councilman Chris Jerram says the Suttle administration had a costly financial misstep in the fire union dispute.
City Council members came out with a statement this afternoon, saying Suttle’s attempt at placing blame was a “cynical and blatantly political tactic.” Check out the statement here.
And here’s the original press release from the Mayor’s Office taking shots at the council.
Firefighters of Omaha vs. Dave Nabity: Round 3,425
Omaha businessman Dave Nabity and the city’s firefighters don’t get along too well.
Nabity — one of the leaders behind the attempt to recall Mayor Jim Suttle — is one of the city’s fiercest and most vocal critics of Omaha Fire Department administrators and the local fire union. He leads the Omaha Alliance for the Private Sector (the organization’s website hosts many of reports and memos on its views of Fire Department activity).
On Tuesday, The World-Herald published an op-ed penned by Nabity that called (in part) for the union to “say enough is enough and stand up for a complete leadership change.”
“Many suggest now is that time, especially since the cost of litigation, which is getting them nowhere, is coming out of their dues,” Nabity wrote.
- “The citizens want integrity, honor, dignity and trustworthiness from our public safety personnel. The continual lawsuits, personal attacks and willingness to disregard the labor agreements undermine the communication necessary to build solid long-term relationships among the fire union, elected officials and the public.”
Later that evening, the union fired back.
“Mr. Nabity would have the Firefighters simply lie down, rather than stand firm to enforce their rights,” the union said in a statement. “The Officers, the Board and the Members of Local 385 are willing to negotiate but they are not willing to roll over while the City abuses their legal rights simply because Dave Nabity thinks its a good idea.”
The statement goes on to say:
- “Nabity suggests that new leadership is needed in the Union but quite frankly, our elected officers could not have a better endorsement for their re-election campaigns than for the self-appointed Mr. Nabity to call for their ouster. Nabity wanted to be governor. He wanted to be mayor. In a desperate attempt to appear relevant, now he wants to dictate who should be elected to lead Local 385. We expect that the members of Local 385 will take as much stock in his recommendations as the public has in Nabity’s forays into electoral politics.”
Don’t forget Nabity and fire union president Steve LeClair recently settled competing lawsuits in Douglas County District Court.
Looks as though there’s still plenty of items for both sides to argue about.
Another fire union lawsuit
The city’s fire union filed another lawsuit against the City of Omaha this week, in an effort to secure millions worth of back pay.
Omaha has already surpassed a three-month deadline to pay back wages due for 2009 after a ruling by the state’s labor court. The fire union’s latest suit asks a judge to compel the city to pay the union back wages (with interest) due for that year and back wages for 2010 and 2011. The union’s already sued for those years’ back wages in labor court.
Assistant City Attorney Bernard in den Bosch said the city is now calculating how to distribute approximately $2.8 million worth of back wages due for 2009 and expects to submit figures for the union’s review in four to six weeks.