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New tax committee members need to work together

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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A new Lincoln tax measure might be on the next ballot. And like last year’s Measure K, it is creating dissension, in this case with four members on a new grassroots committee formed to write the measure. Measure K, the utility users’ tax was defeated 2 to 1 by Lincoln voters in November. Last year, city leaders said that its passage would save the positions of four police officers slated to lose their jobs this past January. One of Measure K’s vocal opponents, Noreen Skillman, started the new committee to create funds for public-safety services. “During the finance committee meeting on May 5, Mayor Paul Joiner suggested I go out there and write a tax measure,” Skillman said. “Measure K was flawed because of the situation going on with the city at the time (the $3.2 million, lack of transparency, all that stuff). I believe it would have passed if it was more specific to public safety and not the General Fund. That’s what we heard on the campaign trail.” Skillman was Councilman Stan Nader’s campaign co-chairwoman last year and is now his chief of staff. Joining Skillman on the new committee are Michael Storz, Roger Ueltzen and Chris Schaff. Storz is a former councilman for two terms, starting in 1994, and a law enforcement chaplain. Ueltzen chaired Lincoln’s All America City committee and volunteers with the Police Activities League. Schaff, 17, is a home-schooled high school senior who attends City Council meetings. With new budget-cut layoffs of seven sworn police officers, a community services officer, two firefighters and a fire captain happening by Jan. 1, Lincoln voters may be more willing today to pass a tax solely aimed at aiding police and fire services. But the committee is having a hard time agreeing on basics. Members had an unproductive two-hour first meeting June 30. Nothing was decided, from who the spokesperson is to when the next meeting will be, according to News Messenger reporter Stephanie Dumm, who attended the June 30 meeting. These questions are not that difficult. As of Friday, the committee still has a lot of question marks. It doesn’t have a mission, spokesperson, future meeting times or even a name. And its four members decided June 30 to bar the newspaper and the public at the next as yet unscheduled meeting. Members said they wanted to discuss the group’s organizational structure privately. With Skillman an advocate for transparency by city representatives, it seems odd her committee is not honoring that principle. Why will the group meet privately? “That’s a good question,” Storz said Friday. “It was a surprise to Roger and I that Stephanie (Dumm) was there. I was totally unprepared. I personally have no objection but I’m one of four people who are trying to feel our way through from the ground floor.” Skillman also Friday said she “doesn’t have an issue” with transparency. “I think between the three of us, we need to lay some guidelines for the committee. After this one, we’ll hold a full committee meeting. People can join the next one,” Skillman said. “I’m trying to get a meeting between Roger, Michael and me.” Skillman was “not sure” when the public meeting will be. “This is a grassroots committee, not a city committee that is regulated by the Brown Act. We need to get together to lay down the groundwork. The (June 30) meeting wasn’t as productive as I hoped because members need to get to know each other, which created some off-topic discussion. It’s not that the committee isn’t being transparent. After the first meeting, we have to sit down and hammer out a mission statement and organizational structure.” Storz and Skillman on Friday answered other News Messenger questions differently. Asked if the council is giving this committee direction, Storz responded, “There is no direction from City Council. I may ask them privately if there are people they think might be a good fit for the group.” Two options are available, Storz said. “If we want City Council to put it on, if we do the legwork, that’s an option. Then City Council can vote to put it on the ballot,” Storz said. “Or we can gather enough signatures from the population and put it on the ballot. It will take a whole lot of work but I personally think that’s the strongest option we have.” Skillman had another response. “I guess it’s for people to interpret if the city asked us to come up with a tax. Mayor Joiner suggested it a few months ago to me, specifically. I took him up on his offer,” Skillman said. “I’m looking for clarification if it will be citizen driven or a proposal the committee gives to council. The final product would have to be approved by the council.” Skillman would not say which city official she approached for clarification because she “promised anonymity.” “I’m not sure if I have the city’s support at this time,” Skillman said. “I think I do. I’m not sure what City Council is expecting at this point.” City Council will not look for a committee report and the committee is not associated with the city, according to an e-mail from Mayor Paul Joiner this week to The News Messenger. Storz and Skillman had different takes last Friday on who can join the committee. “We really, unfortunately, haven’t discussed it yet. My guess is I don’t know. It could go different ways – a select group or open it up,” Storz said. “I want others involved. They can call me.” Skillman said prospective members should wait until the public meeting is announced. I hope the committee quickly figures out these basic details because a tax measure might possibly help our decreasing public-safety services. And all four committee members want to help improve the city. However, they need to use the same facts and work as a team. “We will get there I believe fairly soon, once we start meeting,” Storz said.