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New City Council needs to agree to disagree

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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Last week’s election demonstrated residents’ dissatisfaction with the current City Council. The incumbent candidate was not reelected. In addition, the two newly elected councilmen spoke unfavorably about previous council actions that impacted the city’s bleak financial picture. And the council’s proposed utility users’ tax, Measure K, was overwhelmingly defeated with twice as many voters saying no to the measure (9,973 votes against and 4,911 votes in support). With the election over, it’s now time for City Council to regroup as quickly as possible. New council members take office on Dec. 14. The two new council members and the three current members staying on the council will have different ideas on how to keep this city operating. I hope council members agree to disagree. And start talking. That should be their new mantra. Coincidentally, this was part of the conversation Lincoln’s top vote-getter, Stan Nader, and Lincoln’s incoming mayor, Paul Joiner, had last Thursday. “Council is made up ideally of five independent thinkers that, at times, will agree and other times will need to be persuaded to accept the other council members’ arguments,” Joiner said. In his election platform the last few months, Nader often criticized council’s budget decisions, including spending extra money on consultants to “educate” the public about Measure K and hiring an interim police chief instead of using existing staff. “I feel the house is not in order. The city got a clear message from voters to live within its means,” Nader said. “It has been all about managing the money. But this city is not broke – it has $72 million in the enterprise fund. Problem is we have misappropriated the money so there’s a deficiency in the General Fund.” “The ball’s in the court of the remaining three council members,” Nader added. “Voters are very much incensed and demanding the remaining three change the way they operate. Will they continue to say, ‘we can’t do this’ instead of ‘we can do this?’ It’s not going to be easy. But it’s up to them.” Current Mayor Tom Cosgrove had election signs in his front yard for incumbent Linda Stackpoole and Measure K supporter Richard Pearl. Neither candidate won. Cosgrove welcomes the new council members, though. It’s not good for the community to continue being split, according to Cosgrove. “I congratulate the two who were elected,” Cosgrove said. He is also ready to “get our community back together and on a good track financially.” “The goal is to make this work, in so far as our city budget, our city services, the way our community functions and to keep our community a good place to live,” Cosgrove said. “There are no junior members and senior members; we’re all responsible. By respecting the people that the community selected is a good way to get started.” This kind of thinking, as shown by Cosgrove, is good for Lincoln. Originally, City Council was going to to address the budget problems after the two new council members take office in mid-December. But Gabriel Hydrick, the other new council member, asked Cosgrove to have the city immediately work on the budget instead of waiting for him to come aboard in December. As a result, Cosgrove added the budget to this week’s City Council meeting agenda. Hydrick said he trusts the council to keep the city “moving forward in the remaining five weeks” before he takes office. “It’s part of my nature to be open as a designer to look at all our alternatives. I encourage opposing views to strengthen the end product. That’s the same mentality I’ll bring to City Hall,” Hydrick said. “I’ll listen to opposing views. Things aren’t working now. Stan and I will bring in the new thoughts, fresh ideas, a fresh set of eyes.” There is already some commonality in place. Pearl placed third out of six candidates. He was next in line to take a council seat even though he was the Citizens Advisory Task Force chairman who suggested Measure K as a revenue tool for the city. It’s time for the city to heal and find some solutions to the budget deficiency. Unfortunately, Councilman Spencer Short didn’t respond to either my phone call or my e-mail Friday that asked how council members will proceed. But the other four – Cosgrove, Joiner, Nader and Hydrick – were positive they can work out their differences so that the city provides sufficient services in today’s bad economy. Joiner is “absolutely positive” that the new council will work well together. “I’m glad the election is over and I want to get back to a good and steady course for the city,” Joiner said.