The drama and wrangling between Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and Fire Chief Mike McDonnell is not surprising. The two have sparred for years as Stothert served on the City Council.
Their disagreement on the appropriate funding amount for the Fire Department is predictable and a worthwhile debate.
Omahans should focus on the facts surrounding this City Hall skirmish. There are several that are critical to Omaha's future.
First, the mayor again should stop trying to “control the message” by forbidding McDonnell and other city officials to talk to the media without receiving the OK from the mayor first. This tactic makes her look as though she is hiding something. It's also not good, open, transparent government, which was among Stothert's campaign promises.
Stothert's broad request for information regarding expenditures and hiring from the Fire Department, however, is good, common-sense management. In order to make constructive decisions about how the Fire Department and all city departments are to be funded and staffed, she needs to weigh all of the facts.
Omahans should encourage the mayor to continue this quest for information to support decision-making for the city's budget. Omaha is far from out of the woods with its long-term financial picture, and each budget must be considered carefully by the mayor and City Council.
McDonnell's grandstanding of bringing the large box of documents and being accompanied by a sheriff's deputy was unnecessary and a little childish. His actions were at least disrespectful and at most insubordinate. Neither is behavior that Omahans should expect from a senior executive in city government. The fire chief also needs to act in a way that builds trust with his boss.
Jean Stothert is now the chief executive of the city. She has the right, and the responsibility, to question and have influence over expenditures in all city departments, including the Fire Department.
We would hope that Chief McDonnell's shenanigans will stop and he will cooperate with the mayor in working together toward rational, sensible fiscal decisions in his department. To behave otherwise is simply irresponsible.
And the City of Omaha needs and deserves something far better than irresponsible actions.