Live at the Omaha City Council: October 25th

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October 25th, 2011

1:57 p.m.- A bustling City Hall today, many items on the agenda including requirements and fees for snow removal and changes to Omaha’s gun registration ordinance.

2:04 p.m.- Council unanimously approves rezoning the area of 2410 Cumming Street.

Public Works Director, Rick Cunningham, explains the reasoning behind proposed fee increases. (Photo by Lindsey Peterson)

2:04 p.m.- Rick Cunningham of City Public Works department is called on to explain ordinances up for their final reading.
* “These three ordinances are part of what mayor has asked all departments to do to reduce costs.”-Rick Cunningham
* Requesting a “modest” increase in fees in technology training, inspection and zoning applications.
* “We are conservative in our requests.”- Rick Cunningham

2:18 p.m.- Eight proponents are waiting to speak to the council in support of the increases in fees.
* First woman is speaking of problems with slumlords and poor living conditions of the working poor and immigrants.
* Susan Coleman, citizen, “presence of uninspected homes hurts everyone in the city.”
* City only bills violating owners $41 for found violations and inspecting fees. No further charge for re-inspections.”No motivation” to fix

2:24 p.m.- Susan Randy, citizen, member of First Unitarian Church up to speak in support of ordinances.
* Randy does not want to subsidize fees for “irresponsible home owners”

2:26 p.m.- Another proponent says over 4,000 open cases for city to investigate, mostly rentals.
* “The city will recover 80% of cost of inspections” and owners “less likely to ignore” fees.

2:29 p.m.- Mel Beckman, citizen and 40 year resident of Bemis Park area, speaks as a proponent. Rental provider of 10 households.
* Many owners have financial investments in rentals, not interest in neighborhood according to Beckman.

2:30 p.m.- South Omaha resident, represents Somali refugees in Omaha. “Afraid to complain to landlord when there’s problem with their home.”
* Cites language barriers. “When they do contact the landlord, there’s often no response.” Willing to accept smells, leaks, rodents and bugs to avoid problems, but would open doors to inspectors if they would come.
* Landlords threatened and delivered eviction notices to seven families because of inspections and subsequent violations.
* “He put them out because they complained.”

2:33 p.m.- Todd Heaston, proponent steps up to speak. In support of user fees.

2:35 p.m.- Southern Sudan Alliance representative up to speak in support of ordinance. Property owners need to be held accountable according to representative.

2:36 p.m.- Three opponents in line to speak against ordinances.

2:36 p.m.- Don Chatalain, speaking in opposition to ordinances. Private practice of law and works with landlords, Metro Omaha Property Owners Association. Says the proposal would increase inspection fees from $41 to $125. “Totally different world views,” from proponents.
* Chatalain says city should be happy when property owners want to buy in bad economy and provide housing.
* “Painting everyone with wide brush” and not discriminating between good and bad landlords. Bad stereotypes of landlords, according to Chatalain.
* Says fees on property owners and contractors are too high and frequent and does not deal with problem of bad landlords.

2:47 p.m.- John Malone, Millard resident. Speaking about history of $41 inspection fee. Result of lawsuit in 2003. $300 to $41. Fees cannot be punitive.

2:55 p.m.- Council President Thomas Mulligan asks Malone to stepped away from podium due to being “out of order” when he became verbally and visably upset.

2:56 p.m.- Last proponent says “feel good” organizations that spoke as proponents should help tenants of poor living conditions by picking up a “hammer” and helping out or tenants should “move.” Blasts taxes paid already by Omaha residents.

2:58 p.m.- Rick Cunningham back up for rebuttal.
* “We do not target landlords…30 percent of code violations.”

3:05 p.m.- Council member Jean Stothert calls on Rick Cunningham for questioning.
* City only inspects when someone complains? Yes.
* No violations, no charges? Yes.
* 959 owner occupied and 1551 rental properties in Omaha have one to five violations. Meaning 70 percent of all properties (including six and up violations) are from rental properties.
* Northeast and southeast Omaha most afflicted with violations.
* 68105, 68111, 68107 zip codes have most violations.
* Average collection rate? Dismal. Between 17 and 30 percent.
* Who’s paying? General fund, meaning the taxpayers.
* What will higher fee achieve? Get closer to costs. Get it above threshold to appear on credit reports. Also go above our threshold for collections and move to 60 percent collection rate. These are reasonable and won’t get to 100 percent of costs to city to do inspections.
* What are the costs of inspection? Time, benefits associated, travel costs associated, not only trip but administrative costs. Nine inspectors. Doing over 4,000 inspections plus taking 1200-1500 calls a year. Over $500.

3:19 p.m.- Council member Pete Festersen speak with Rick Cunningham.
* “A third of complaints have no violation, therefore, no fine.”-Rick Cunningham
* Lower demolitions because of “dwindling” budgets. “Not in the business of creating vacant lots.”
* Festersen says Omaha can use another inspector. Also says 10-15 demolitions a year not enough.
* “$6,000 to $8,000 to tear down home with a $40,000 budget.” President Thomas Mulligan.

3:26 p.m. Council member Chris Jerram says this proposal started in August 2009. Thanks Cunningham for “evolution” of process and applauds the increase and consideration of fees with more support. Thanks colleagues for reconsideration to move “ball an inch forward” and get improvements on city’s properties.
* “We never forgot” over last two years, but wanted a “righteous” process of evaluating all fees.-Rick Cunningham.

3:32 p.m.- Council member Ben Gray speaks. “Emotional for me.” Cites residents of his district and says “we have slumlords in our district” and can identify by name. Some of what is happening is “intentional.”
* *We have some cleaning up to be done. Slumlords to be dealt with.”
* Wants to adopt ordinances.

3:34 p.m.- UNANIMOUSLY VOTED YES ON ALL THREE ORDINANCES. PASSED.

3:36 p.m.- Council begins working on liquor licenses.

3:48 p.m.- Council unanimously approves items that include changing the fees for snow removal and parking during winter weather emergencies.

3:50 p.m.- Council member Stothert speaks about ordinance that proposes changes to gun registrations.
* She says she’s fundamentally opposed to mandatory gun registrations, but ordinance isn’t new and lightens burdens of gun owners.
* “If we don’t pass, we won’t be in compliance with state and federal law.”
* Conceal and Carry ordinance creates “two classes of handguns.” But as far as what they are doing today, it is a positive step to get in line with state and federal law. Open, if support in future, to changes that would make all registrations voluntary.
* Proposes amendment to clarify “reciprocity” clause, that if another state’s license is comparable to Omaha’s Conceal and Carry, then it can be used in lieu of Omaha’s registration.

3:55 p.m.- Council member Garry Gernandt calls on Assistant City Attorney, Michelle Peters.
* “It is in line with state and federal law, and that was it’s purpose. We’ll never be able to satisfy folks who spoke last week.” “We would never be able to satisfy them. They want no controls over gun registration.”-Assistant City Attorney Michelle Peters
* “Why can’t we try?” asks Gernandt. Proposes motion that ordinance goes back to law department and those concerned parties that were in opposition are brought to the table.
* Proposes to lay over vote for four weeks and bring in outside entities to voice concerns. Stothert seconds.

4:00 Council member Jerram speaks to council.
* “As a gun owner myself…I look at these things carefully with strict scrutiny if we’re being fair to gun owners and their rights.”
* “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask people who are interested in ordinance to be involved in discussions.”
* Will probably vote for lay over.

4:03- Council member Ben Gray speaks to council.
* Calls on Assistant City Attorney Michelle Peters.
* Just to get our laws in line with state and federal laws? Yes.
* Language [in ordinance] clarifies that we’re in line with state? Pretty closely.
* What is it we’re going to discuss in four weeks–if all we’re doing is aligning with state and we’ve gone to -enth degree to do that? I’m not sure either, but if that’s what council directs then that’s what we’ll do.
* I don’t see a point if we’re not talking about furthering the alignment between city and state.
* Council member Festersen concurs.
* Council member Gernandt says he’ll be sure those who come to table will not stray from alignment of city and state requirements.
* Nebraska Firearm Owners Association President, Andy Allen, speaks to council. Says his group is looking at very specific set of issues.
* Rodney Moeller, gun dealer, promises Gernandt to stay “on topic.”
* Council member Franklin Thompson calls on Moeller and Allen to state specific violations. Allen says registration should be voluntary for all. Moeller says ordinance does not meet it’s “stated” purpose. Cites non-violent offenses and misdemeanor disqualifications that would be increased to a ten year ban on buying a gun.
* Thompson asks media to clarify issues. “We need help sorting this out.”
* Festersen says he’s in support of today’s ordinance. Asks City Attorney if layover would impact lawsuit filed against city regarding legal immigrants and gun ownership. Kratz say no, lawsuit only recently filed and in very early stages.
* Allen says he has no desire to fight city’s registration program. Says city just needs a program that will allow everyone who has legal ability to own a firearm within laws to be treated equally.
* Council member Gray addresses Stothert and her amendment. “Did it not address concerns?” Stothert says it addresses reciprocity.
* City bans gun ownership to people the state allows to own a gun, according to Andy Allen, co-plaintiff in lawsuit against city.
* Out of 6,000 NFOA members, a third live in Omaha, according to Allen.
* A third will say “I’m dancing with the devil,” says Allen, but says nothing will be accomplished if NFOA and council cannot negotiate.
* Council members Festersen and Gray say they are not “comfortable” with creating all voluntary gun registrations.

4:34 p.m.- 5-2 voted in favor of allowing a layover of ordinance. Festersen and Gray gave “no” votes.

4:35 p.m.- Council approves proposal to build apartment and multi-use units at 1510 S. 10th Street, 1201 Howard Street, using a Tax Increment Financing Redevelopment Project Plan (TIFF).

4:40 p.m.- Council mulls over declaration that Five Points Bank has met conditions for an approval of an amended boundary to include the property at 8820 Arbor Street. Rick Scarpello, a nearby resident, spoke in opposition of approval. Cites an agreement that a disputed dumpster would be moved per neighbors’ request, then said it was denied. Scarpello says Rick Cunningham of City Works did not deny it. Said dumpster can be moved and asked council to reject. Bank representative says moving it would cause issue for trash pickup and be “inefficient.” Jokingly refers to the dumpster as the “most disputed dumpster in the city.”

4:53 p.m.- Unanimously approved.

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