Campaign stop or community outreach?
Lincoln City Councilman Peter Gilbert and Planning Commission Chairman Dan Karleskint – both candidates for the Lincoln City Council – recused themselves Tuesday from a community forum at Lincoln Hills.
Gilbert, a Lincoln Hills resident and former board member of the Sun City Lincoln Hills Community Association, organized the community forum, billed as “Lincoln: Takin’ Care of Business.” The forum presented a panel of city employees, including City Manager Matt Brower, Community Development director Matt Wheeler and Economic Development director Shawn Tillman, among others – giving an overview of city issues followed by a question-and-answer format. Clifton Taylor, vice-president of Richland Communities, was also on the panel.
Both Gilbert and Karleskint made statements, explaining why they would not participate in the forum, before leaving the stage at the Lincoln Hills’ ballroom.
Gilbert said another City Council candidate had questioned the propriety of his participation on the panel.
“Based on the opinion of the city attorney, there is no basis to show there is a legal problem,” Gilbert said. “I developed this forum last February working with the Lincoln Hills forum committee five months before I filed for re-election. The earliest date we could schedule was today.”
Gilbert added he decided to remove himself as the moderator “so that the value of this forum will not be negatively impacted in any way.”
A call to Lincoln City Attorney Leslie Walker was not returned, as of press time.
Karleskint said he agreed with Gilbert and would not allow “myself or my campaign supporters to be portrayed or cast as unfair or politically divisive.” Planning Commissioner Mike Roberts took Karleskint’s place on the panel.
“Because of the potential for innuendos and conjecture that can be generated by this complaint, I will leave the dais and not represent the Planning Commission, of which I am the chairman, on this panel,” Karleskint said. “I do not want untruths and possible rumors to undermine and minimize the significant outreach effort by the city of Lincoln and one of its major developers.”
However, it was Councilman Stan Nader who was concerned about the propriety of the candidates participating in the forum. Nader said he brought his concerns to the attention of both Walker and Brower.
“I filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission regarding the community forum and how it was being represented,” Nader said Wednesday. “The city can’t give the appearance of favoritism or special treatment because of status. That’s not the city’s role. It’s important we all play by the same rules.”
Nader said the two candidates “obviously recognized the possible impropriety but spoke anyway.”
“It’s troubling to me,” Nader said. “We all take ethics training. The landscape changes when you become a candidate; you have to be careful what you do and say and where you find yourself.”
Nader, who is not a City Council candidate this year, added that he was also concerned about transparency.
“I heard about it from a resident, not city staff,” Nader said. “That is troubling, especially when I heard the city manager had been working on it for four months.”
The other candidates for Lincoln City Council are Mayor Spencer Short, City Councilman Paul Joiner, Holly Andreatta and Brandy Waters.
Andreatta, reached by phone Wednesday, disagreed with Gilbert and Karleskint.
“If there is an opportunity for candidates to speak, then all of the candidates should have the same opportunity,” Andreatta said. “It is an unfair advantage and inappropriate.”
Waters said she did not believe it was unfair.
“If they are currently holding a city position, and it is part of their job, it is appropriate,” Waters said.
Short said the forum had the appearance of a city-sponsored event.
“When you have two candidates set up a forum, within days of the close of the filing period, which is not a regular city event and was not noticed to the rest of the council, it has the appearance of a city-sponsored event and appears very inappropriate,” Short said. “Anyone who has been involved in the political process knows that.”
Short also questioned the necessity of Gilbert and Karleskint participating on the panel.
“If it was really about information, then there are two other councilmen (Stan Nader and Gabriel Hydrick) who are not running for re-election who could have answered questions, just like Mike Roberts,” Short said.
Joiner, although reached by email, was unable to comment as of press time.