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Nader addresses campaign issues

Council members give lively discussion
By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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Newly elected City Councilmember Stan Nader went straight to work during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, introducing four items for discussion under Council initiated business. The items Nader brought forward for discussion were a citizen advisory auditing task force, a fiscal sustainability plan, allowing citizens to place items on council meeting agendas and eliminating current and post employee health benefits for City Council. These topics were part of his campaign platform. Not all of Nader’s ideas were agreed to by fellow council members. “As leaders of the city, I think we need to be leading by example,” Nader said in regard to eliminating the health benefits. “If we’re going to ask for more concessions from the labor force, if we’re asking them to do something, we need to do it as well.” All council members agreed to the suggestion of eliminating post-employee health benefits but not to the current health benefits. Councilman Tom Cosgrove reported that the health benefits were “a tremendous help to my family” when both he and his wife were laid off from their jobs. While some City Council members may not need the health benefits, Councilman Spencer Short said, others might. “I think what we’ve got is a general consensus to move forward with the lifetime healthcare coverage, to look at eliminating that for the future but I don’t believe I’m seeing a consensus on the existing coverage,” Mayor Paul Joiner said. “”It’s something we can bring back at a future point.” The formation of a task force is “advised,” according to Nader, “in order to achieve greater savings and increase efficiencies across all of the city’s funds and functions as well as achieve a clear picture of the unfunded pension liabilities and outstanding loan balances owed to and from all of the city’s funds.” Joiner, Short and Cosgrove requested that Nader provide how much the task force would cost the city, including the cost of providing a staff member to keep minutes and the cost of hiring a forensic accountant. “I think there are some items in here worthwhile in discussing and bringing back,” Joiner said. Nader said a fiscal sustainability plan needs to be developed for the city “because we have a long-term problem that needs to be addressed.” “I realize Lincoln is unique and we would need to create a fiscal sustainability plan that fits Lincoln but it (draft of Nader’s plan) does give you an idea the kinds of things we would want to look at to create fiscal sustainability,” Nader said. Short told Nader that some items listed in his fiscal sustainability plan are already done within the city and that it would “be good for staff to sit down with the new council members to let them know what’s in place.” Short also said the items in Nader’s draft of the fiscal sustainability plan under “labor relations” would need to be “identified for the potential of unfair labor practices” to avoid potential lawsuits. “I think it’s a good idea. We need to proceed carefully with respect to labor negotiations,” Joiner said of the fiscal sustainability plan. The item about citizens’ ability to place items on City Council agendas came about because of the council’s past response to residents asking for items to be placed on agendas. “Over the past several months, citizens have come before the council with items they felt they would like to come back to council and put on the agenda, and at times, that didn’t happen,” Nader said. “I would rather we didn’t have to have this, I feel the council should be responsive to citizens. I would like to consider putting this on the books hoping we would never have to use it.” Nader said 40 residents would need to petition for an item to be put on an agenda. Cosgrove expressed concern that residents “not hijack so it’s used for the wrong purpose.” Short argued that residents can “talk to a councilmember and ask for it (an item) to be placed on the agenda.” “I would like to ask how many cities have this in place,” Short said. “I’d like to consider this hard before taking a step.” Short also pointed out that residents are able to speak during public comment at every meeting. “I think it’s a bad idea,” Joiner said. “I think the current system works fine. All you need is one individual to ask one councilmember to bring it up.” Cosgrove suggested that council bring the idea of allowing citizens to place items on the City Council’s agenda back to the council in two to three months.