LINCOLN — Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert threw her support Friday behind a bill to make the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority subject to key state sunshine laws.
Legislative Bill 778 was introduced Friday in the Nebraska Legislature by Omaha State Sens. Ernie Chambers and Brad Ashford.
The bill would require the quasi-governmental MECA board to abide by state open meetings laws and require board members to follow state conflict-of-interest laws.
The bill also would require the board to make public any documents and business records considered during public meetings. But trade secrets and other proprietary or commercial information that would give advantage to business competitors could remain secret.
Stothert said she supports efforts to ensure more transparency with public records, including this bill.
“I think there are some things that will still have to be confidential, but that's written into the bill,” she said. “The way the bill itself, the way it is written, I don't see any red flags and I support it.”
But MECA Board President John Lund sounded a cautious note. He said the board has been careful to follow open meetings rules, but he's also concerned about remaining competitive.
“We're in a very competitive business with what we do, so we have to keep that information confidential in nature to compete in the marketplace,” he said. “That's something we're concerned about because we've been very successful and we want to continue to do so.”
Both he and MECA President and CEO Roger Dixon reserved further comment until they have read the bill.
“We are currently reviewing it and prefer to reserve comment until after we have had a chance to review and understand the proposed legislation more fully,” Dixon said.
The two legislative sponsors said the measure is needed to protect the good of the public and everyone else interested in open government.
Chambers said the MECA board is formed jointly with the City of Omaha, has members appointed by the City Council and Omaha mayor and spends millions in public dollars.
Ashford, one of the original members of the MECA board, said he has always believed the board's operations should be transparent.
He said the board had agreed early on to open up its meetings, and he had not realized until recently that it was not making financial records, contracts and other documents public. MECA provides a single annual financial report to the City of Omaha.
Calls to open up MECA's workings have mounted in recent months, especially after questions about former board member Jamie Gutierrez Mora's eligibility led to her resignation.
Gutierrez Mora runs a janitorial business that is one of MECA's largest contractors.
Common Cause Nebraska is backing the bill. The government watchdog group said the public has a right to see how MECA spends its money, which includes sales tax dollars.
Although the board follows open meetings rules, Common Cause has been concerned that state law is not clear on whether the board can be required to comply with those rules.
The MECA board oversees the CenturyLink Center, TD Ameritrade Park and the Civic Auditorium.