A majority of Omaha City Council members believe Jamie Gutierrez Mora should remain on the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority board — and they support an effort to change the rules about board members' residency requirements.
Council President Pete Festersen and council members Garry Gernandt, Ben Gray, Chris Jerram and Rich Pahls all said Tuesday that they believe Gutierrez Mora met the requirements when she was appointed to the board in March.
Although she won unanimous approval from the council, The World-Herald reported last month that evidence points to her living in Sarpy County. During the appointment process, she provided résumés placing her address at a South Omaha rental home owned by her husband, not the upscale Bellevue home she has owned for several years.
Despite the evidence that she is not an Omaha resident, some council members said they are satisfied with Gutierrez Mora's explanations.
They rejected the opinion of City Attorney Paul Kratz, who last week said it's “inconceivable” that Gutierrez Mora moved from Bellevue to the South Omaha house. Kratz concluded that Gutierrez Mora is not a “resident elector” of Douglas County.
Council members Aimee Melton and Franklin Thompson, meanwhile, said they agree with the city's legal opinion.
Four council members said they support Festersen's proposal to revise the rules on who can serve on the MECA board by broadening the definition to include people who work, own businesses and are involved in civic efforts in Douglas County.
Gutierrez Mora is the owner of Midwest Maintenance Co., an Omaha janitorial company that holds one of MECA's largest contracts.
Gernandt said he believes that Gutierrez Mora's qualifications have been targeted because she is a Hispanic woman, though he would not provide details on individuals or groups who may be interested in removing Gutierrez Mora from the board. He said he spoke with Gutierrez Mora by phone after questions were raised about her eligibility to serve on the MECA board, asking her directly if she lives in Douglas County.
Gernandt said Gutierrez Mora replied: “Yes.”
The councilman said the conversation left him satisfied that Gutierrez Mora had not intended to mislead anyone. “I have no other reason to doubt her.”
When pressed about details in the city's legal opinion that indicate Gutierrez Mora did not provide her actual address, Gernandt said he wondered why similar scrutiny wasn't given to controversies over other public figures' residencies, including former MECA board member David Sokol.
“We didn't put Bob Kerrey or David Sokol through the mixmaster that Jamie is going through right now,” he said.
Jerram said he believes that Gutierrez Mora is a “valuable member of our community” and added that he hasn't seen enough to prove that she doesn't meet the qualifications for the MECA board.
“I don't know or have any personal evidence of where she's living,” he said.
Gray and Pahls both said revising the rules for MECA board members will help avoid similar situations in the future.
“I think the council president's proposal will not only solve some of the problems that have occurred in the past, it will solve some future problems if they come up,” Gray said.
But not all council members are convinced.
Melton said she has heard positive comments about Gutierrez Mora's background that indicate she would be a good board member. But Melton said she believes the rules are clear: “Resident elector” means someone who lives and votes in Douglas County.
“I don't think we should say: 'Well, there's this one really good person, but we can't have her unless we change the law,' ” Melton said. “We can't do that. In fact, there's probably some really good people that live right over in Council Bluffs, but they can't run for office. They have businesses here and everything else, but they can't run for (Omaha) City Council.”
Thompson said he agrees with Kratz's view that Gutierrez Mora should not have been appointed to the board. But he wants to discuss any rule changes with city officials, MECA and others before forming an opinion.
“What are the pros and cons of having people (from) outside Douglas County?” he said. “I want to be advised before I make a decision.”
Mayor Jean Stothert can act to remove Gutierrez Mora, but only with the support of the council.
Alternatively, the MECA board can act independently to remove a board member.