Mayor Jean Stothert fielded questions about streets, unemployment, housing rehabilitation, economic development, park renovations and policing during a town hall meeting Thursday night in north Omaha.
The meeting at Washington Public Library was scheduled to go for one hour, but lasted 90 minutes as people kept asking questions and Stothert stayed longer to talk with people who approached her. More than 100 people attended.
It was generally amicable, although Stothert faced some pointed questions, including from a man not satisfied with her response to a proposal he had made for more oversight of police.
It was unclear what the man had proposed, but Stothert said she prefers a citizen review board to a police auditor.
The city’s increased pace of demolishing condemned houses was well-received, but two people asked about help in repairing houses before they reach that stage. Stothert referred the question to City Planning Director James Thele, who said the city has grant programs for that.
A homeowner said he had been on a waiting list for seven years, to which Thele replied, "There is a big backlog."
He said houses with dangerous lead conditions take precedence, followed by those in specific geographic areas.
District 2 City Councilman Ben Gray, appearing with Stothert and more than a dozen city officials, said he and others in city government are working on ways to help people maintain their properties and for the city to assemble vacant lots for redevelopment.
He said there has been 40 years of disinvestment in north Omaha, "but we have people in this administration and on the City Council who recognize it and are doing some things about it."
North Omahan Gannie Clark stood up and said he had voted for Stothert because he believed former Mayor Jim Suttle hadn’t been honest with him. Clark said he would hold her feet to the fire.
"As well you should," a smiling Stothert replied.
Clark challenged the mayor over the lack of repairs to vandalized football fields at Levi Carter Park, where his Boys and Girls Clubs teams played. He said repairs would have been made quickly if they were in west Omaha.
Not so, said Stothert, who said the city has a lot of parks and is doing a good job of trying to care for all of them.
Gray said the city "needs to work on" repairing the damage of which Clark spoke.