Omaha’s Charter Convention calls for doomsday plan, no mayoral term limits
Term limits on Omaha’s mayor: No.
A doomsday plan if the city’s elected officials are incapacitated or worse: Yes.
Those are just two of many key decisions made by a wide-ranging panel of 15 citizens, who late Monday finished a once-every-ten-year assignment to update the city charter—AKA: the city’s constitution.
Nothing’s final yet—more on that later—but first those term limits.
Elected to an unprecedented third term last year Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert has not said if she’ll seek a fourth term in 2025.
But if she wants to, it appears unlikely that term limits will stand in her way.
The 15 member Charter Convention looked at term limiting the mayor—any mayor, not just Stothert—following a request by Omahan Julie Mierau. She noted the governor and state lawmakers are term limited but not Omaha’s chief executive.
"’Mayor for Life’ should never be an option,” Mierau wrote the Convention.
But the Charter group decided term limits is a no-go.
Kathleen Kauth: “Basically if people don’t like what a mayor is doing, they will vote that person out of office.”
Kauth, a Republican who was recently appointed to the Legislature by Gov. Pete Ricketts, says the group has another suggestion.
Kathleen Kauth: “If this is something the public feels strongly about, we recommend they gather enough support to do a ballot initiative to make it something, so that it’s not just a very small number of people making that decision.”
And then there’s the unthinkable: a disaster. What if, through terrorism or tornado, the city’s top elected officials are incapacitated or worse?
Currently the mayor is succeeded by the City Council President and then the Vice-President. And if all three are eliminated the remaining city council members choose the new mayor.
But if no members of the council remain the city charter is silent.
So, enter a new proposal that would bring the mayor’s cabinet into play, with the surviving member of the cabinet who has served the city longest and is a resident of Omaha, becoming Acting Mayor until the next city election.
What if there is no “disaster” and the Mayor, Council President and Vice President are all out of town—now who’s Acting Mayor?
Currently the charter doesn’t say, but another new proposal does—noting that the line of succession will start from the longest serving Council member to the shortest serving Council member. Any tie in length of service shall be decided in favor of the Council member who received the higher percentage of votes in their district in the most recent election.
Other recommended changes:
- A proposal that would allow the mayor to remain in power if out of town for up to five days. In an emergency—and the mayor is unavailable for two hours or more—an acting mayor (most likely the City Council President or Vice President) would step in. Currently, the city charter requires the City Council president to serve as acting mayor whenever the mayor leaves Omaha.
- Cutting the residency time for mayoral candidates from five years or, as state law prescribes, six months.
- Cutting the residency time for city council candidates from one year or, as state law prescribes, six months.
- When a vacancy on the Council occurs the Council votes to fill that opening. But the Councilmember who is leaving would no longer be allowed to vote for their successor—this change followed concerns that former City Councilman Rich Pahls (who recently died) was able to vote for his successor when he left the council to join the State Legislature.
The proposals, two dozen in all, now go to the city council’s legislative committee which will decide which of the items to send to the council for an up or down vote.
Those approved by the council will go the voters on the November ballot.