Special MECA meeting set: Mea culpa or more ‘fireworks’?

Joe Jordan | Nebraska Watchdog

OMAHA—With two weeks to go before City Hall’s “30 days or else” threat kicks in, the city’s powerful arena board has scheduled a rare special meeting.

MECA runs the $291 million CenturyLink Center

The Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, which wasn’t set to meet until April 29, has now scheduled a get-together for Thursday at 11 a.m., according to MECA’s website.

As of early Wednesday MECA had not released the agenda.

Last month during an unusually tense meeting—sources expected “fireworks”— the MECA board voted 3-2 to extend each of its members’ terms from five years to seven.

One day later City Attorney Paul Kratz told MECA it had 30 days to reverse its vote or suffer the consequences. According to Kratz that means “possible termination” of the contract between the city and MECA.

Following Kratz’s legal threat MECA’s Jim Vokal insisted the board acted properly.

MECA board during its tense March meeting

“We have the right to amend our by-laws which are our governing structure,” said Vokal, a former member of the Omaha City Council. “The contract between MECA and the city is a completely different document.”

MECA Chairman John Lund, who fought the extension, said he hoped to avoid a legal fight.

Board member Dana Bradford who proposed the seven-year term, argued during the meeting that without “tenured talent” — keeping current board members around longer — MECA would lose experience and suffer.

Board member Willy Theisen countered that longer terms would make MECA’s poor public image problems worse. “We have to hit the reset button… this is self-serving.”

But after Robert Freeman, MECA’s lawyer, said the board could increase its terms Bradford, Jay Noddle and Vokal voted for longer stints.

Vokal’s term was supposed to end next month, now he’d serve until 2016.

But Vokal’s MECA future is clearly in doubt. Mayor Jean Stothert, who also opposes the longer terms, has already appointed Vokal’s replacement.

Diane Duren, Union Pacific Railroad Executive Vice-President, is scheduled to join the board in May.

Adding to the confusion is MECA’s decision last month to expand the board from five members to seven, a move that apparently requires the City Council’s OK which has yet to occur.

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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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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