Mayor Chris Beutler today expressed concern that some members of the City Council may be tempted to "play politics" and set an unfortunate precedent by opposing the nomination of an applicant to the Air Pollution Advisory Board for partisan reasons. Mayor Beutler has nominated Mitch Paine for board membership, but the Council voted today to remove his nomination from the consent agenda. His nomination will be up for a public hearing at the next Council meeting June 29. The board advises the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department, and the County Board has already unanimously approved Paine's appointment.
Coby Mach, President and CEO of the Lincoln Independent Business Association (LIBA), and Republican Council members have told the Beutler Administration they will oppose Paine's nomination.
"In Washington D.C., dysfunction is the norm for appointments, as Democrats oppose Republican nominees and vice versa," said Beutler. "Special interest groups exert undue influence. The result is that talented people who could help our country are relegated to the sidelines while the public waits and waits and waits. It is a failed system of governing. We don't do that here in Lincoln. City government is non-partisan. And it is very important to me that our boards and commissions have a spectrum of viewpoints represented because that's how the best ideas emerge.
"I would hate to think that Council members would oppose Mitch based on partisanship and the influence of a special interest group," Beutler said. "The Air Pollution Advisory Board has four industry representatives, including two LIBA members. Now LIBA is saying that one person's ideas are so dangerous, he is unfit to serve on a board. For Council members to reject a highly qualified and open-minded nominee because of the influence of one special interest group threatens the integrity of our appointment process."
Beutler said Paine is highly qualified for the board. Paine, who works for the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, ran unsuccessfully for the Council seat now held by Cyndi Lamm. He has a master's degree in planning from Cornell University and a bachelor's degree in environmental economics from the University of Nebraska. He previously worked for the World Bank as well as the City's Cleaner Greener Lincoln Initiative. The Mayor urged Council members with concerns to meet with Paine instead of "relying on old campaign rhetoric and partisanship" for their assessment of his qualifications.
Mayor Beutler said he does not remove people from consideration for an appointment over a single issue or an ideological viewpoint, because it isn't good policy. He said one example is his appointment of Republican Chris Hove to the City-County Planning Commission after he ran unsuccessfully for reelection to the Airport Authority. "His ideas on planning are different from mine, but I know him to be a thoughtful person and believed the Commission could benefit from a different point of view," he said.
Beutler said a strong system of checks and balances prevents advisory board members from creating new policy based on extreme positions. Recommendations from the Air Pollution Advisory Board would need to be approved by the City-County Board of Health and then the City Council, the Mayor and the County Board.