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Recall stirs up emotions at market

Organizers have three months to gather 4,774 signatures
By: Stephanie Dumm, News Messenger Reporter
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Lincoln resident Allen Cuenca got more than he bargained for collecting recall petition signatures at last Thursday’s Farmers’ Market. An effort is currently taking place to recall the three incumbent City Council members, Spencer Short, Tom Cosgrove and Mayor Paul Joiner. Bob Birdseye, also a Lincoln resident, is spearheading the recall effort. Cuenca is filling in for Birdseye in June while the latter has a medical leave-of-absence. Recall proponents must collect 4,774 signatures from Lincoln qualified registered voters for a recall election to take place, according to previous News Messenger reports, by Sept. 21. Cuenca said he was at the Farmers’ Market collecting recall signatures “when Lincoln planning commissioner Dan Cross approached him while an older couple were signing” the petition. “ He (Cross) said I don’t appreciate you being here at a community event doing this divisive thing,” Cuenca said. “He said I should know better.” Cuenca said he didn’t respond to Cross. “ The gentleman who was signing said something which I didn’t catch and Dan started cursing,” Cuenca said. “He and the gentleman got into it. Dan said, ‘I’m sorry I flew off the handle’ and walked away.” The News Messenger asked Cross if the encounter Cuenca spoke of was true. Cross verified that the conversation occurred during the Lincoln Area Chamber of Commerce-sponsored Farmer’s Market but said he did not curse at anyone. “ Tempers began to flare but the people involved resolved the conflict, shook hands and walked away,” Cross said. Cross called Cuenca’s choice of venue, the farmer’s market, for collection signatures “deplorable.” “ He has the legal right to do it but it was in very poor taste,” Cross said. “It’s a community event (that is) trying to draw people together and to have a good time. In my opinion, he should be ashamed.” Cuenca said he saw Cross and the man shake hands. “ I was helping the guy’s wife sign the petition so I can’t say my eyes and ears were focused on Dan,” Cuenca said. Cuenca addressed why he was at the Farmers’ Market. “ I was there to get signatures. I wasn’t there to argue with anybody,” Cuenca said. “I don’t want to get into a yelling match at a community event.” The Downtown Farmers’ Market is sponsored by the Lincoln Area Chamber of Commerce. Cuenca said he collected 90 signatures in an hour. “ Some said no but the majority said yes,” Cuenca said. Birdsye said he doesn’t “condone” behavior like Cross’s. “ I don’t appreciate people trying to harass and intimidate people,” Birdseye said. He said his response to Cross would have been: “This is a democracy and people are entitled to their own opinions, just like you are entitled to your own opinion. There is no need to harass and intimdate people in this community.” In other recall news, the actions of one website was recently addressed by Lincoln’s police chief. Interim Police Chief Paul Shelgren asked on June 8 that those behind the cityemployees4lincoln.info website remove the Lincoln Police Department shoulder patch from the website. Shelgren said he e-mailed the cityemployees4lincoln.info website, asking why the shoulder patch was there. “ I received an e-mail that said they removed the patch. It says thank you for pointing out this oversight,” Shelgren said. The e-mail was not signed. The Lincoln Police Department shoulder patch and Lincoln Fire Department badge were removed, Shelgren said. Birdseye said the cityemployees4lincoln.info website “is not affiliated with the Recall for Lincoln website at all.” Birdseye said the official and only website for the recall effort is recall4lincoln2011.com. When told this by The News Messenger, Shelgren noted that the cityemployees4lincoln.info web address “was the banner across the top of” the recall website. Birdseye said he does not know who is behind the City Employees 4 Lincoln site. “ I sent an e-mail out to the team and said I don’t know who did this but I don’t want any negative publicity directed toward the recall,” Birdseye said. Shelgren explained his position. “ The City Employees 4 Lincoln, I don’t have any issue whatsoever with as long as they get permission and are using the logos accordingly,” Shelgren said. Numerous attempts were made by The News Messenger to contact the webmaster for cityemployees4lincoln.info but e-mails were not returned. Police department’s employees “can do what they wish,” Shelgren said, “as long as it’s legal and outside” of work. “ Officers are free, as a citizen, to any lawful activity if they choose to take part off duty,” Shelgren said. “That’s the freedom of choice. They have the right as private citizens to vote, be involved with organizations and do as they choose on a private basis but in a way that does not represent the view of the department.” The News Messenger asked Shelgren if Lincoln Police officers could sign the recall petition. “ Absolutely. That would be their choice and decision they would make as a citizen (to sign),” Shelgren said. The News Messenger asked Lincoln Fire Chief Dave Whitt about the fire department’s policy on political activity, specifically about involvement with the recall effort. “ They are free to do that. They have to be careful about identifying themselves as on duty and as firefighters,” Whitt said. “You can’t do political activity on duty time. You are a citizen. You are free to have free speech.”