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No More Ben Gray District 2 Residents Tell City Council

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Omaha City Council voted to delay confirmation of Ben Gray to the Omaha Municipal Land Bank (OMLB) board of directors at Tuesday’s meeting, following public opposition to the appointment of the former member of the city council.

“Mr. Gray had the opportunity to serve for District 2,” said Precious McKesson, former non-voting member of the OMLB and leader of the North Omaha Neighborhood Alliance. “This community wants new leadership.

the OMLB is a government association that acquires “vacant, abandoned or dilapidated properties” and renovates or demolishes them. The OMLB’s board of directors includes one voting member for each district of the city, as well as several non-voting members. The city council also appoints a non-voting member representing the council, who is now Councilmember Juanita Johnson.

Mayor Jean Stothert chose Gray to replace Tiffany Hunter as District 2 representative. Hunter, who now resides in District 3, will remain on council as a non-voting member.

Gray represented District 2 on Omaha City Council for 12 years until he was defeated by council member Johnson in May. During his tenure on the board, Gray contributed to the development of the OMLB, which was established in 2014.

Several members of the North Omaha community have spoken to city council to oppose the appointment of Ben Gray. Opponents said Gray was kicked out of city council because he was not engaging with the community and the OMLB had not done enough for North Omaha.

“No one ever bother to ask us,” Terence Haynes said. “North Omaha still looks the same as in 1969.”

Terrence Haynes speaks to Omaha City Council.

Haynes said the mayor often chooses from the same group of people to represent District 2, and those people do not have “our best interests at heart.”

Opponents demanded that city council ask Mayor Stothert to find a different candidate, and that council member Johnson be part of that process.

Board member Aimee Melton defended Gray as “uniquely qualified” for the position, citing her experience on the board and his role in creating the OMLB. Gray responded to some of the comments made by residents.

“There was so much misinformation today that I don’t know where to start,” Gray said.

Gray said he was shown a screenshot of a Johnson’s Facebook Post. The post was a “call to community action” asking community members to comment on the nomination at the city council meeting.

“A call to action. A call for what? Gray said. “For some reason people assume that for some reason I have a desire to divide the community.”

Ben Gray, former member of the Omaha District 2 municipal council.

Gray said he had met Johnson and believed they could work together. Johnson said she recognized the mayor’s power to choose a candidate, but wanted the community to be involved.

“For far too long District 2 has not been in a speaking position,” Johnson said. “We want our community to want to be involved, to want to have a say. “

After more than an hour of heated discussions and passionate pleas, the city council remained divided. Board members Melton and Brinker Harding have made clear their support for Ben Gray, while board member Vinny Palermo joined Johnson in opposing the nomination.

Harding said Mayor Stothert was re-elected in the same election Gray was rejected and that he supported Gray’s nomination. Palermo said although Gray is qualified he will not back his nomination after hearing from the community and Johnson.

Councilmember Johnson offered to decline the nomination. The vote to decline failed 3-4, with Council member Dan Begley joining Palermo and Johnson in voting yes. The motion to approve the appointment then went in the same direction, 4-3.

After the approval vote appeared to have passed, many residents of District 2 left the legislative chambers visibly disappointed.

“It’s a joke,” said one of them.

However, City Clerk Elizabeth Butler informed council that the nomination required a qualified majority of at least five votes, meaning the motion for approval was also unsuccessful. The board voted again, which again failed 4-3.

After an exchange among council members, council member Palermo proposed that the resolution be postponed until the July 27 meeting, which only required a simple majority. He went 4-3, with Councilmember Festersen breaking the tie.

The city council was then able to move on to the mayor’s 2021 annexation package, which it approved. Council members Palermo and Johnson voted against.

“We don’t have enough city employees at all levels,” Palermo said, referring to the city’s current efforts to recover from last week’s storm as well as existing shortages in the department. of the city’s public works. “Are you going to add more wires, are you going to add more kilometers of track?” “

Board member Festersen said the proposal was the smallest he had seen in years and would be financially beneficial.

The city council passed the new Omaha City Park rules, which had been tabled twice to add an amendment to keep the city’s trails open 24 hours a day. Parks director Matt Kalcevich said that the department had spoken to officials in other cities with similar policies and that they were working with local advocacy groups like Bike Walk Nebraska and Mode Shift Omaha.

City trails will now be open at all hours as an activity “at your own risk” for transportation purposes. Between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. (when the trails would have been closed), users should not stop or park unless necessary.

Due to a recent change in Nebraska law, the Omaha City Council created a process for participants in council meetings to waive the requirement to publicly declare their address. The form will be available on the City clerk website, and must be completed by 4:30 p.m. on the Monday preceding the meeting.

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