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LIBA Opposition to charter amendment – 25 February 2013

The so called “Good Government” charter amendment is bad policy for the City of Lincoln.  The amendment creates an economic environment which is antagonistic toward business; it limits participation in government, and places additional financial burdens on the City at this time when Lincoln’s citizens can least afford it.

Unfairly Attacks Businesses And Job Providers

This Charter amendment casts the businesses that employ Lincoln Citizens as greedy, self-interested, and unscrupulous.  In recent months the City of Lincoln has dedicated tens of millions of dollars to tax incentives intended to attract new businesses and jobs to Lincoln.  This amendment treats those very same people, the business people Lincoln worked so hard to attract, as untrustworthy and restricts their ability to participate in the bodies that govern them. As Lincoln creates policies intended to attract business it tells business people that they may have no part in the conversation.

Limits Participation in Government

This amendment prohibits anyone from running for office that has a 5% or $5,000 interest in any business that contracts with the city of Lincoln.

In his press conference the mayor claimed that this amendment would affect only 400 local businesses.  LIBA tried to confirm this but was unable to get the necessary information from the City.  We were told there was no complete list of all companies that have contracts with the city.

Instead, LIBA called several local businesses to see how many people in their business would be unable to run for office due to this amendment.

HBE is local accounting firm that has contracted with the city recently. The firm has seven employee owners who hold a greater than 5% interest in the ownership of the firm.  All seven would be prohibited from running for office.

A local law firm, Baylor Evnen, has twenty-six partners each of whom holds a legal interest in the law firm which exceeds $5,000. All 26 people would be prevented from running for office under this amendment.

Stevens and Smith Construction is a local construction company that is owned through an Employee Stock Ownership Program or ESOP.  Employees of the firm have an ownership interest in the business and if they have worked there approximately 4-5 years.  The company estimates that half their 175 employees live in Lincoln.  Thus, this amendment would prohibit around 85 of their employees from seeking public office.

Telesis Inc. is a local company you may be familiar with if you have ever eaten at Lazlo’s.  However, you may not know this company also owns Data Security Inc. Data Security Inc. is an electronic data security company that currently contracts with the CIA. Though they do not currently contract with the city of Lincoln there is potential that in the coming years Lincoln may need their security services.  In that situation either the company’s eight owner/employees would be unable to hold office or the city of Lincoln would be prevented from contracting with a respected security company.  If they are good enough for the CIA, shouldn’t they be good enough to be a part-time City Councilman?

These four (4) businesses alone have more than 129 owners who would be prohibited from holding office under this amendment. Further investigation is sure to find thousands of people this charter amendment would prohibit from participation in local government. Lincoln cannot employ such draconian measures to disenfranchise its citizen’s and tie the hands of the electorate.

Finally, on this issue, the Mayor’s office has now admitted that they are unsure of how many businesses would be affected and they can’t produce a complete list.

Financial Burden

The amendment not only limits private citizens it also limits the city.  There may be situations where the lowest bidder is a business in which a council member has a significant financial interest.  In these situations Lincoln would be forced to seek products or services at a higher price from a company outside Lincoln’s boarders that does not pay any taxes into Lincoln’s coffers.

Discriminatory Effect

The proposed charter amendment does not apply equally across all sectors. Business owners in the private sector are prohibited from contracting with the city while, under this amendment, city employees remain free to contract at will.  If a part-time city councilperson contracting with the city creates the appearance of corruption, how much more so does a full time employee contracting with the city? The unequal application of the proposed charter amendment is further evidence that the true intent of this amendment is not to prevent the appearance of impropriety but to disenfranchise a subset of the population and limit their participation in our democratic government.