One secret is out: MECA taking on Omaha Mayor

Joe Jordan | Nebraska Watchdog

It won’t be the first time the city’s powerful arena operation has taken on the Omaha mayor’s office but it will be the most visible fight between two of the city’s biggest political players.

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

While Mayor Jean Stothert is backing a bill to open up the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority’s secret records, Nebraska Watchdog has learned that MECA will publicly oppose the move during a hearing (today) Thursday at the state capitol.

As Nebraska Watchdog has reported extensively MECA, which runs CenturyLink Center, TD Ameritrade Ballpark and the Civic Auditorium, has operated in a legal shadow for the past ten years: Although MECA falls under the Open Meetings Act, it does not have to comply with the Nebraska Public Records Law.

According to sources, MECA’s Executive Director Roger Dixon will testify before the Legislature’s Government Committee and argue that opening up MECA’s books will financially damage CenturyLink’s bottom line.

Mayor Jean Stothert

MECA officials have not responded to Nebraska Watchdog’s request for an interview regarding these latest developments surrounding the bill.

But Stothert—who is not expected to testify in person, sending a letter instead—is already on record backing the so-called “sunshine” bill (LB778).

“With city owned facilities, the taxpayers expect transparency with the finances and how the facilities are managed,” she said in an earlier statement to Nebraska Watchdog.

Elected last spring the new mayor also insists that MECA’s trade secrets will not be revealed.

“Any proprietary information which could affect competitiveness of securing venues, events, etc, is protected in the bill,”said Stothert.

Two previous mayors, Jim Suttle and Mike Fahey, have also sparred with MECA and the arena folks won those battles.

Fahey tried to oust former MECA Chairman David Sokol but couldn’t.

Suttle accused MECA of violating the Open Meetings Act but the Attorney General found no wrongdoing.

This latest battle between city hall and the arena folks stemmed in part from a Nebraska Watchdog 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.

Stay with Nebraska Watchdog for more 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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The post One secret is out: MECA taking on Omaha Mayor appeared first on Watchdog.org.

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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