Mayor Chris Beutler today said the "good government" resolution being introduced to the City Council today will end conflicts of interest at City Hall and create a level playing field for contract bids. If the Council passes the resolution, voters will decide May 7 whether to ban elected City officials and City Department Directors from having contracts with the City.
"The good government resolution is a statement of our commitment to high standards and a guide for our ethical expectations of government," Beutler said. "With the contract ban, citizens have a significantly higher assurance that no elected official or director is using his or her position for personal gain at the expense of the public good. The good government resolution does not prohibit business owners from running for office or serving in office. It simply requires that during the period of public service, the elected official or director give up that contract."
If passed, the Charter Amendment would prohibit elected officials and department heads from having a "significant financial interest" in a contract or business dealing with the City. That interest would include having at least $5,000 or a five-percent ownership in the company holding a contract. In the case of a publically-traded company seeking to do business with the City, the ban would not apply unless the official owned more than five percent of the company's stock. Omaha's City Charter was amended in 1957 to prohibit elected officials, officers or employees of the City from holding a City contract.
The Mayor said the contract ban also would prevent a difficult situation in dealing with contract liquidated damages. "The Mayor has the power to forgive or waive liquidated damages in some circumstances," Beutler said. "If the contract in question belongs to a Council member, the Mayor is put into a no-win situation. If the liquidated damages are implemented, the public may believe it was done for political motives or to embarrass the Council member. If the Mayor does grant a waiver, the public may believe it was done in return for support of the Mayor's agenda. In either circumstance, it calls into question the motivations of public officials in their actions and undermines our citizens' trust in City Hall."
When the contract ban was discussed several years ago, the Mayor said there was concern that it seemed directed at certain individuals. He said May is a good time to vote on the issue because no current City Council members have a contract with the City.
Mark Whitehead, whose company has a contract with City, has declared his candidacy for the Council, but the Mayor said it would be unfair to subject him to a new set of rules. To solve the issue, the resolution language makes the contract ban effective June 7, 2013. If Whitehead is elected, the City Charter will not require him to give up his contract.
The City Council will hold a public hearing on the resolution at its meeting Monday February 25. That meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. at the County-County Building, 555 S. 10th Street.
The resolution is item number 51 on today's City Council agenda and can be found at lincoln.ne.gov (keyword: council). Click on "Weekly Council Meetings/Agendas/Minutes," then "Agenda."