Jamie Gutierrez Mora failed to meet the residency requirements to register to vote in Douglas County when she did so last year, the Nebraska secretary of state concluded Tuesday.
In a 14-page opinion, Secretary of State John Gale said his investigation shows that the former MECA board member did not live in South Omaha last December, as she indicated when she switched her voter registration from Sarpy to Douglas County.
.Gutierrez Mora was appointed in March to the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority board. She maintained a home in Bellevue, and she told the Omaha City Council that she'd she picked a South Omaha rental property she also owned as her “domicile of record.” She has pointed to her long-standing business and community affiliations with Omaha as evidence of her residency and said she lived at multiple locations. Gutierrez Mora has been active in several groups, including the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben, Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, United Way of the Midlands and the Women's Fund of Omaha. Gale, who reviewed voting, property and vehicle registration records, along with other public documents after his office received a complaint, said Gutierrez Mora's definition does not match up with state law. Gutierrez Mora keeps personal belongings and furnishings at the South Omaha home, which she also uses for “entertaining of family members, the hosting of ministry groups,” and for “just taking time to relax and unwind,” a representative of the businesswoman said in an email to Gale. But Gutierrez Mora has declined to say how much time she spends in South Omaha, as opposed to her homes in Bellevue and Carmel, Calif., which Gale said is a key part of determining residency. “Domicile in Nebraska is indicated by a person's presence at that location, the intent to remain there and the intent to abandon any previous domicile,” Gale said in a statement. “Having significant contacts with a community, whether personal, business or civic is meaningful when talking about someone's solid connections with a community, but that is very different when talking about the connections necessary for voter registration.” Gale said he found no evidence to suggest that the Bellevue home was not Gutierrez Mora's primary place of residence when she registered to vote. He noted that the address of the Bellevue home is listed on her driver's license, vehicle registration, business filings and court filings. Gale pointed out that Gutierrez Mora's husband is registered to vote in Sarpy County, which also suggests that the couple has not abandoned the Bellevue home in favor of one in Omaha. Gutierrez Mora's South Omaha-based business, Midwest Maintenance Co., may have provided a reason for her to spend significant time at the South Omaha property, Gale said. But he said that justification seemed unlikely, as Gutierrez Mora had listed the Bellevue home as her primary address in state business filings. As a result, Gale said, Gutierrez Mora's sworn statement on her registration — “To the best of my knowledge and belief, I declare under penalty of election falsification that: I live in the state of Nebraska at the address provided in this application” — “fails to be convincing.” The oath also states that knowingly providing false information amounts to voter falsification, a felony. The Secretary of State's Office does not have the authority to prosecute crimes, but Gale said he would turn over his findings to law enforcement agencies if requested. Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said he plans to read Gale's opinion and then will decide how he'll proceed. Gutierrez Mora could not be reached for comment Tuesday. She has said she does not believe that she has done anything wrong. “I will tell you, I don't think I did anything wrong, ” she told The World-Herald last month. “It has never been my intention to mislead anyone, misrepresent anything. I think that needs to be considered.”
Gutierrez Mora resigned from the MECA board last month, after discussing the matter with members of the City Council. City Attorney Paul Kratz had earlier issued his own opinion that Gutierrez Mora did not meet the requirements to serve on the board.
Now officials are moving forward with plans to tweak the residency requirements to clarify them, and to appoint a new board member.
The Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce is backing developer Jay Noddle for the seat.
Chamber spokeswoman Karla Ewert said Tuesday that two people have approached the group, asking for its support in the process of filling the position. Chamber officials met to discuss those two candidates — Noddle and Kent Pavelka, who runs an advertising and media relations firm — and agreed to endorse Noddle.
Chamber President David Brown sent an email to City Council President Pete Festersen, urging council members to back Noddle.
“Jay has proven his ability to work with diverse groups and solve complex development problems,” Brown wrote. “He has grown a successful company and has been involved in some of the highest profile and complicated projects in the state. He could bring that same expertise and commitment to the community to his work on the MECA board.”
Festersen said he and City Councilman Ben Gray plan to meet with Mayor Jean Stothert today to discuss the idea of revising qualifications for MECA board members. He said the council wants to “have a consensus on the basic qualifications and standards for consideration” before appointing a new board member.