Marty Bilek's work on the Douglas County Sheriff's Office's finances earned him a bit of a reputation.
“His nickname around here was 'Mother Budget,' ” Sheriff Tim Dunning told The World-Herald — partly, he said, because under Bilek's leadership, the office never exceeded its roughly $14 million budget.
Now Bilek, the sheriff's top deputy, will take his skills to the Mayor's Office. Mayor-elect Jean Stothert announced Friday that Bilek will serve as her chief of staff.
Stothert, with her first hire, began making good on her campaign promise to reduce costs in the Mayor's Office. Bilek will be paid a $112,500 salary, Stothert said. That's a reduction from the $125,000 budgeted this year for Steve Oltmans, Mayor Jim Suttle's chief of staff.
Stothert's own salary as mayor is expected to come under council discussion before she takes office. She moved this week to revisit an April vote by the council that freezes the mayor's salary between 2015 and 2018.
The expectation is that she will seek to remove a salary increase set to take effect in 2014, before the freeze. That raise was approved by a previous council.
Bilek, with his soft-spoken and engaging public persona, is widely known because of his nearly four-decade career with the Sheriff's Office. His experience with law enforcement, contract negotiations and budgeting will be “incredibly helpful in moving Omaha forward,” Stothert said in a statement.
Bilek is set to retire from the Sheriff's Office by June 10 — the date of Stothert's inauguration — said a spokesman for the mayor-elect.
The chief of staff position ranks as one of Stothert's most critical hires, since that person is partly responsible for serving as her eyes and ears in City Hall.
“He has an understanding of the complexity of local government and has deservingly earned universal respect and praise for the excellent job he has done as the Douglas County sheriff's chief deputy,” she said of Bilek.
“I also know that Marty's credibility with the City Council will help me restore the collaborative relationship between the branches of city government,” Stothert said.
Bilek's total compensation as chief deputy is about $117,000, said Jerry Prazen, the county clerk's finance administrator.
He'll also earn a pension once he retires, though the exact amount wasn't available Friday.
Salaries have been a contentious topic during Suttle's administration. He was criticized early on for several staff members' salaries.
Then his 2013 budget proposal included salary bumps for Oltmans and other top officials. The increases went into effect in January 2012 without the knowledge of the public or the City Council.
Suttle's administration has said that Oltmans returned the salary increase, and the 2013 budget approved by the council eliminated the raises.
Bilek, who didn't return calls seeking comment, said in a statement that he looked forward to implementing Stothert's plans to cut crime, restore trust in government and create a business-friendly climate.
“I'm honored to be chosen to serve as Mayor-elect Stothert's chief of staff, and humbled by the confidence she has placed in me,” Bilek said.
Dunning, a Stothert supporter, said word of Bilek's departure was something of a surprise — but not a complete one.
“For several years he'd been to the point in the pension system where most people would say, 'Why are you hanging around?' because you've been maxed out on your pension for some time,” Dunning said.
“I'd wondered for some time why someone hadn't offered him a job before in some administration,” Dunning said, “because he is very talented, and like I said, having been maxed out on his pension for some time, he'd be an easy person to lure away.”
At least one council member wasn't surprised to hear that Bilek would retire from law enforcement but was surprised to hear he was joining Stothert's administration.
“I thought he had pulled the pin and was on his way to a good fishing hole,” said Councilman Garry Gernandt, a retired police officer.
“He's very articulate. He does his homework,” Gernandt said.
“When you're someone's chief deputy in a multimillion-dollar operation, you've got to know the ins and outs not only of that system but also the political side of it,” he said. “Marty knows those things.”
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