Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle stands by his decision to raise taxes — even if it gets him kicked out of office.
In an interview Tuesday, Suttle said he is proud of his work to fix the city's troubled finances and wouldn't change anything.
He only wishes he would have done a better job of explaining to Omahans what his options were and why — at least at times — his hands were tied, especially when it came to the city budget and the controversial police union contract.
“I wish we could change some things,” Suttle said. “But you can't. I have to deal with the problems of this city as they were presented to me.”
The mayor says he has an “honest achievement record. ... But I don't think we've done a good job in getting the real story out to the voters. I take that on my shoulders.”
The Douglas County Election Commission announced Saturday that the Mayor Suttle Recall Committee had turned in 28,720 valid petition signatures from registered Omaha voters. That means Suttle, a 66-year-old Democrat, will face a recall election Jan. 25, unless a court rules otherwise.
Here's more from the mayor on the recall effort and how he's handling it.
What's the next step in his fight against the recall effort?
Suttle is pinning his hopes on a Dec. 20 court hearing, in which his attorney will ask a judge to cancel the recall election based on allegations of fraud on the part of petition circulators. “They were somehow, some way going to make a splash in getting those signatures,” Suttle said of the recall organizers. “And they did. That's what the legal side is going to challenge.”
What if the court challenge fails?
Suttle said he will reach out to the “90-plus percent” of Omahans who did not sign the recall petition. He declined to elaborate on those efforts, saying it was “premature.” “Just as Bo Pelini isn't going to give you a game plan for the next football game, I'm not going to give you one either,” Suttle said. “We've planned for the worst. But first we have to look at upholding the law.”
Was he surprised that the recall committee gathered enough signatures to prompt a recall election?
Suttle says no. He believes there were people talking about a recall the day he took office. As the Mayor Suttle Recall Committee began its recall efforts this fall, “It sunk in. It was going to happen.”
Why did he make some of the decisions that led to the recall effort, such as the dining tax and higher property tax rate?
Suttle said that he took an oath to address the problems facing Omaha. He said he inherited multimillion-dollar budget shortfalls and a huge shortfall in the city's police and fire pension fund. Under the City Charter, Suttle points out, the mayor must sign off on a balanced city budget every year.
He believes the 2011 city budget had to include tax increases — Omahans had told him for months they didn't want their pools and libraries closed to address city finances.
He said he had already made spending cuts and laid off city workers. In addition, he said, two national bond rating agencies were watching how the city handled its budget and pension fund problems.
In May, after Suttle signed the budget, Moody's Investors Service restored the city's bond rating to AAA status.
How are Suttle and his family dealing with the recall effort?
Suttle said his family — especially his wife, Deb, and their 9-year-old grandson — “are going through a tremendous problem right now” because of the recall.
“We're working to stay on the course,” Suttle said. “We're a strong family, and we'll continue to build on each other and build on our faith.”
One person he hasn't discussed the recall with is his 87-year-old mother, Wanda. Suttle was visiting her in West Virginia on Saturday, when he learned that the recall petition drive had turned in enough valid signatures. The mayor hasn't told her about the recall election he is facing.
“She would just fret.”
Does the recall affect his day-to-day job?
Suttle says he remains focused on his job. He says that he's working on a new contract agreement with the fire union and that job creation will be one of his top priorities next year. The recall is upsetting at times, he admits.
“I'm an engineer — I'm trained and disciplined to keep focused on the problem in front of you until it gets solved,” he said.
“We're all human beings, and it does eat at you. But I am disciplined enough to swing back and keep my nose to the grindstone.”
What if he is removed from office?
No matter what happens, the mayor said, he is certain he made the right decisions for Omaha. He said he had asked for feedback from the public, the business community and others for solutions to the city's financial problems. When he didn't receive any, he had to make some tough decisions on his own.
“I'm going to do what's best for Omaha,” the mayor said. “Not what's best for Jim Suttle.”
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