Talk of ‘fireworks’ as Omaha’s powerful arena board meets

Joe Jordan | Nebraska Watchdog

OMAHA—Insiders tell Nebraska Watchdog that following weeks of behind the scenes maneuvering the city’s powerful arena board is ready to move publicly on two touchy subjects—a bigger board and a push to keep state lawmakers out of the board’s business.

The five-member Metropolitan and Entertainment Convention Authority, which runs CenturyLink Center and TD Ameritrade ballpark, meets Tuesday (today) morning and according to its agenda will discuss “board expansion to seven members” along with “transparency.”

CenturyLink Center

One source tells Nebraska Watchdog to “expect some fireworks” at the 9:30 meeting.

City Council President Pete Festersen says a majority of the council supports a bigger board believing it will “add diversity”—five white men make up the current MECA board.

Councilman Ben Gray last year suggested expanding the board but it’s not clear if the council could mandate the move.

“My position is that the city can act unilaterally,” City Attorney Paul Kratz told Nebraska Watchdog earlier this year. “I suspect MECA will take a different position,” he added.

While it appears MECA is willing to go along with a seven-member board other questions remain especially those involving the so-called “transparency” issue.

Mayor Jean Stothert has argued in favor of legislation forcing MECA to comply with state laws regarding open records and conflicts of interest.

Those safeguards were the focus of a Nebraska Watchdog investigation last year which involved the stormy resignation of MECA member Jaime Gutierrez Mora.

“We recognize there is room for improvement,” admitted MECA Executive Director Roger Dixon during a January public hearing on the bill. At the same time Dixon argued against the plan insisting it would put the public-private organization’s trade secrets at risk.

But Stothert’s chief of staff, Marty Bilek, along with several other lawmakers and city officials, said the legislation includes plenty of safeguards protecting confidential information.

The bill appears dead this year but could resurface.

MECA’s decision to look at the the issue indicates a desire to get it out of the state capitol.

Stay with Nebraska Watchdog for more on this developing 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 Talk of ‘fireworks’ as Omaha’s powerful arena board meets 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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