The Omaha City Council is giving additional scrutiny to the potential personal and business conflicts of four finalists for an open seat on the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority board.
After narrowing the list of 11 contenders to four, council members asked City Attorney Paul Kratz to review the candidates' links to MECA, which runs the CenturyLink Center and TD Ameritrade Park. Kratz found that all four have possible conflicts, although some have already said they would make changes to avoid any problems.
The finalists are:
• Susie Buffett, philanthropist and daughter of investor Warren Buffett.
• Frank Hayes, certified public accountant.
• Jay Noddle, real estate developer.
• Paul Smith, vice chairman of energy company Tenaska and chief executive of Tenaska Capital Management.
Council President Pete Festersen said the four were selected after council members submitted their top three picks to him and the council's chief of staff. Some picks were submitted by email and others in conversation.
The four finalists were the only candidates to receive more than one vote.
The new board member will replace Jamie Gutierrez Mora, who was appointed to the board in March by a unanimous vote of the council. She resigned in September, after questions were raised about her residency and eligibility to serve on the MECA board.
In a memo to Festersen, Kratz wrote that he had interviewed Hayes and Smith by phone.
Each had potential conflicts: Hayes' accounting firm performs annual audits for MECA's food provider and is a member of the Creighton University Board of Trustees. His company also does audits for restaurants owned by MECA board member Willy Theisen.
Smith is an investor in a planned hotel development across from the CenturyLink Center.
Hayes told Kratz that he would cut his ties to Levy Restaurants. He also said he would abstain from any votes related to Creighton, one of the CenturyLink Center's main tenants.
Smith said he would not vote on any issues related to the planned Marriott Hotel, which will compete with the nearby city-owned Hilton Omaha.
Kratz said Buffett's potential conflict would be related to decisions related to Berkshire Hathaway, her father's company. Berkshire holds its annual meeting at the CenturyLink Center.
As for Noddle, Kratz noted that the developer is a business partner of another board member, Dana Bradford. “It is possible their votes on the board may be motivated by that business relationship.”
The council will invite the finalists to speak at its meeting next week, before holding a public hearing and vote on the appointment. The MECA board next meets Nov. 5.
Councilman Ben Gray said the city is making an effort to be open about the process.
“People will get a chance to hear all the pros and cons on each side of the candidates, and there will be a public vote next week,” he said. “I don't know how you get more transparent than that.”