MECA accused of ‘trifling’ with lawmakers; Chambers vows to fight

Joe Jordan | Nebraska Watchdog

The fight to unearth the Omaha arena board’s secret records won’t be “bottled up” in the back rooms of the state capitol—that promise Thursday from Sen. Ernie Chambers.

Sen. Ernie Chambers

The legislature’s best known bill-battler reacting to a plea that lawmakers should go slow and give arena bosses, the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, time to work things out with Mayor Jean Stothert.

“The problem with that…is previous mayors in Omaha have tried to tackle this problem and been somewhat unsuccessful,” Stothert’s chief of staff, Marty Bilek, told the Legislature’s Government Committee.

Lawmakers are eyeing a bill from Chambers and Sen. Brad Ashford which would force MECA to comply with the state’s public record law shedding “sunshine” on the folks who who run the $291 million CenturyLink Center.

Roger Dixon

“We recognize there is room for improvement,” admitted MECA’s Executive Director Roger Dixon who quickly added his organization opposes the bill insisting it would put MECA’s trade secrets at risk.

But Bilek, along with several other lawmakers and city officials, argues the bill includes plenty of safeguards protecting confidential information.

“The taxpayers have a lot invested in this facility ($216M in public funds, $75M from private pockets) let’s be transparent,” testified Bilek.

“MECA has taken zero funds from the city for the past five years,” said Dixon who told the committee the Omaha Chamber of Commerce also opposes the bill.

MECA operates the CenturyLink Center, TD Ameritrade Ballpark and Civic Auditorium

MECA operates the CenturyLink Center, TD Ameritrade Ballpark and Civic Auditorium

This battle between city hall and the arena folks stemmed in part from Nebraska Watchdog’s investigation of former MECA member Jaime Gutierrez Mora.

Although she resigned in the face of a residency flap—she didn’t live in the city as she said she did—it was her janitorial company’s million dollar contract with MECA, a contract she maintained while on the board, that infuriated some members of the public.

Because MECA does not fall under the public records law she did not have to file a “Potential Conflict of Interest Statement” with the state, making her firm’s deal with MECA all but invisible.

According to MECA officials, when Gutierrez Mora joined the board she signed a copy of MECA’s Code of Business Ethics.

Nebraska Watchdog asked to see the copy she signed but were told, “this is an internal corporate document and not available for public inspection.”

Dixon, who noted Thursday that MECA abides by the Open Meetings Act, was the only MECA official testifying at the hearing.

That left Chambers to complain that the board’s chairman—John Lund—or one of MECA”s other four directors should have appeared before lawmakers as well.

“(MECA) does not respect the legislature,” fumed Chambers who told the committee, “You have been trifled with.”

Chambers said even if the committee sits on LB778—some members appeared sympathetic to MECA—he’s not giving up and will ask the full legislature to send the bill to the floor for a vote.

It’s not clear when the committee will make its decision.

Stay with Nebraska Watchdog for more original reporting on this ongoing story.

Contact Joe Jordan at joe@nebraskawatchdog.org and listen to Joe every Monday morning at 7:40 on KFAB radio in Omaha.

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Chamber of commerce, NOT STOTHERT BUT NUMBER TWO..DIXON AND NO MONEY LAST FIVE YEARS

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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