Exclusive: Investigation finds MECA mum on lack of public meetings
Joe Jordan |Nebraska Watchdog
When Lincoln’s brand spanking-new $344 million Pinnacle Bank Arena was opening last September—announcing new acts and generating talk that it might take a financial bite out of Omaha’s downtown arena—the board which runs the $291 million CenturyLink Center never held a public meeting.
MECA runs Omaha’s CenturyLink Center along with TD Ameritrade Park and the Civic Auditorium
Omaha’s five-member Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority didn’t meet in October either.
Unlike the vast majority of Omaha’s public panels which meet monthly—such as the Planning Board, Library and Zoning Board, Airport and Housing Authorities, or the lesser known Electrical Examining Board, Building Board of Review, and Air Conditioning and Distribution Board to mention just a few—MECA’s get-togethers are less frequent and more sporadic.
In 2012 MECA met seven times but not in March, June, July, September and December.
In 2013 it held another seven meetings but went dark in March, June, September, October and December.
Those dates are according to the minutes of MECA’s meetings.
Arena officials granted Nebraska Watchdog access to the minutes, which are held inside MECA’s CenturyLink headquarters, but only to read them; no copies or photographs of the records were allowed.
Nebraska Watchdog has tried to question MECA officials as to why they meet less often than most other city boards, specifically asking:
- Why doesn’t MECA meet monthly?
- Wouldn’t regular monthly meetings keep the public better informed of the job MECA does?
- Why didn’t MECA meet last September or October during the Lincoln arena’s kick-off?
MECA has not responded to Nebraska Watchdog’s requests for answers or an interview.
But during a public hearing at the state capitol last week MECA’S Executive Director, Roger Dixon, told the Legislature’s Government Committee, “We hold meetings as required.”
Although the committee never asked about MECA’s meeting schedule Dixon, who was testifying against a bill (LB778) which would open up many but not all of MECA’s secret records, continued to defend the board’s less than regular get-togethers:
“During construction of the facility we held monthly meetings, if not more,” said Dixon. “After construction—again we’re dealing with volunteers that are our board members and (want) to make sure we don’t take advantage of their time—we only have meetings when there are issues to be discussed.”
Dixon did not elaborate on what those issues are and did not mention to the committee that dozens of Omaha’s other city boards are also comprised of volunteers.
As for MECA’s 2014 meetings the board met in January and is not scheduled to meet again until March.
Meanwhile the battle over MECA’s secret records rolls on.
As Nebraska Watchdog has reported although MECA must abide by the Open Meetings Act—yes those somewhat sporadic meetings are open to the public—it is not covered by the Nebraska Public Records Law.
Two Omaha state senators, Ernie Chambers and Brad Ashford, are pushing LB778
which is also backed by Mayor Jean Stothert, to force MECA to comply with the state’s records laws.
It’s not clear when the committee will vote whether to move the bill, which according to the state does not cost taxpayers a dime, to the full legislature for debate.
Contact Joe Jordan at email@example.com and listen to Joe every Monday morning at 7:40 on KFAB radio in Omaha.
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