Published Monday, May 6, 2013 at 12:30 am / Updated at 3:36 pm
World-Herald editorial: Jean Stothert is best choice for mayor

This newspaper vigorously defended Mayor Jim Suttle during the 2011 recall election. Had he lost that vote, he would have been removed from office.

Our defense of Mayor Suttle was based on the principle that the Nebraska Constitution includes a recall provision for those times when an officeholder violates the law or engages in some other sort of malfeasance in executing his or her duties. This was not the case with the mayor. Tax increases and unpopularity are not reasons to recall a mayor.

Omaha voters made the right choice in 2011, and Suttle remained in office.

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Now we face an election that is an entirely different decision.

The choice facing Omahans is: Who will make the best leader, the best CEO, for the City of Omaha for the next four years?

The answer to that question is City Council member Jean Stothert.

Stothert has demonstrated a command of the issues facing city government, an assurance in public settings, an ability to get things done on the City Council and an interest in pursuing a more efficient city government, as opposed to the history of tax hikes that have been prevalent in the Suttle administration.

She has proven to be an energetic council member who has taken the lead on important, often thorny topics, including the contract with the firefighters union. In those negotiations, she worked with a bipartisan group of council members, coming back with a contract that, while not everything everyone would want, began making progress toward controlling health care costs and addressing the pension fund shortfall.

She has offered smart ideas about running City Hall more like a business, including performance audits of city departments and bringing back performance evaluations of city workers. She has talked about the need for a more customer-friendly government, particularly in working on economic development issues.

Stothert would represent Omaha well when dealing with businesses looking to locate or invest in our city.

As mayor, Suttle has been willing to deal with challenging issues, most notably the financial crisis that began in earnest in 2009. He utilized his experience from his engineering background in 2011 when Omaha was threatened with Missouri River flooding.

But his administration has made repeated missteps, starting almost Day One with the now-infamous lease of the “red SUV.” That gaffe was repaired by the generosity of the Anderson family and Performance Auto Group, but it never should have reached the point that it did. That early episode signaled what would become two of the mayor's biggest failings — the inability of his administration to communicate clearly and its failure to inspire public confidence.

Perhaps the most discouraging moment of the past four years was the awarding of secret pay raises to top city executives at a time when most Omahans were facing either salary freezes or reductions. The mayor awarded those raises even after promising to impose a salary freeze on his staff. He didn't tell the City Council or public about the raises. Instead, the public and council members found out only by reviewing budget numbers.

An interesting aspect of that situation is that the raises themselves, in particular the one for then-Finance Director Pam Spaccarotella, very well may have been deserved. Spaccarotella had led the charge in preserving the city's bond rating. But while the raises themselves may have been justified, it's the secrecy with which they were awarded that remains so disturbing.

Had Suttle told Omahans that these raises were necessary to preserve important employment relationships with key personnel, that would have been understandable to voters. Perhaps not embraced, but at least an action that was understood.

From the SUV lease to the backroom pay raises to his recent erroneous claim that the Omaha Steel Castings Co. move out of town was “falling apart,” Suttle has broken faith with voters and should not be returned to office on May 14.

Omaha voters should go to the polls and elect Jean Stothert.

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