With Omaha's highly-publicized and somewhat controversial annexation of Elkhorn nearing its final resolution in the courts, there are still a lot of bad feelings about how the entire process was conducted.
People like rooting for an underdog and no one likes a bully. The idea of self-government is also so tied into the American character that Elkhorn had a lot to work with in demanding that its citizens have a say in Omaha's takeover of their city. As a matter of law, Omaha always had them beat, but - in the court of public opinion - Elkhorn might have found salvation and survival with a different strategy that played up its victimization rather than playing along in the annexation game that was always so clearly tilted in Omaha's favor.
In hindsight, Elkhorn's pre-emptive annexation was a bad idea. Hoping to force its population over 10,000 and to thereby gain protected status right under Omaha's nose, all they really managed to accomplish was to draw first blood, to become the bad guy, and to lose the public's goodwill.
Last month, unsurprisingly, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled entirely in Omaha's favor in the matter, not only on the cities' dueling annexation proposals but also on their respective compliance with the state's open-meetings laws. While there certainly appears to be some objectionable reasoning in the Supreme Court's opinion, the ultimate decision granting Omaha the right to annex Elkhorn without the consent of its citizens is a well-established peculiarity of our state statutes that the court seems to have relied upon as something of a foregone conclusion.
Elkhorn has promised to exhaust all their appeals, but those efforts are long-shots, to say the least. That leaves Elkhorn's last real appeal an emotional one. And, in that vein, the New Nebraska Network presents the argument of one of Elkhorn's Omahans-to-be, objecting to the supposed trampling of his and his fellow citizens' rights to self-government.
Thomas Fencl on
Equality for Elkhorn
Discrimination is alive and well in Nebraska.
The Nebraska Supreme Court was appointed to interpret the law, not rewrite it. In January of 2007 the court chose to replace both state and federal laws with what was convenient to them at the time. Their ruling, which appeared as a strain to re-apply and disregard past rulings and the state constitution, changed the overall scope of the trial to make Elkhorn, and any other smaller community with similar ideas of remaining independent, the “bad guy” and Omaha the Emerald City.
In what was depicted by the area news media as a David vs. Goliath scenario Omaha threatened Elkhorn with, according to the Nebraska voters, an illegal annexation. (In 1998 Nebraska voters passed an amendment to the constitution stating no merger or consolidation of two cities or counties could take place without a vote of the people according to the ballot) In an attempt to make themselves safe from annexation, Elkhorn expanded their city limits to the outlying unincorporated areas to increase their population beyond 10,000.
According to Nebraska law cities of 10,000 or more cannot be annexed without a vote of its citizens. By the state constitution and by the annexation laws already on the books Elkhorn would be double protected. Upon receiving information of Elkhorn’s actions Omaha scheduled a “hurry-up” public meeting to be held at ten o’clock in the evening.
Notice of the meeting went out only seven hours prior thus creating a violation of the open meetings law, which in turn, makes all decisions at that meeting null and void. Omaha city officials voted to file suit against Elkhorn to block their expansion and in turn expand their boundaries by 5 miles to annex Elkhorn.
At the same time, The Omaha World Herald, which works hand in hand with the City of Omaha to present a “positive image” began a biased assault on Elkhorn and their community leaders. Insulting cartoons, misleading and falsified maps, and slanted stories filled the pages of the World Herald. When Elkhorn asked for corrections they were denied. When Elkhorn asked for the right to rebut statements they were told no. Nevertheless, Elkhorn remained positive knowing in the end they had done everything legally and above board.
In January the 8,000 residents of Elkhorn, were shocked to learn the Nebraska Supreme Court rejected ALL of Elkhorn’s arguments. Many attorneys from across the state read the decision in disbelief. Others saw it as a complete destruction of the open meeting law leaving any public entity the ability to hold meetings whenever and wherever they would like.
Likewise, constitutional ballot issues decided by the voters are now only considered law when it is convenient. If they get in the way of a ruling they can be disregarded as a misinterpretation by the voters.
Finally, in their last statement it was said Elkhorn ceased to exist on March 24, 2005. That would make every traffic violation, every criminal offense, every fine paid and so on and so on open to severe scrutiny by a parade of criminal defense attorneys due to the fact that their clients were prosecuted by a city that didn’t exist.
What was the Supreme Court thinking? Do the political strings that are supposed to be nonexistent in our judicial branch have that much power over the people that were bestowed the responsibility to keep justice blind?
8,000 people had their voting rights, and their independence squashed into the pages of Nebraska law all for the City of Omaha’s unquenchable thirst for more power and more tax dollars.
Discrimination comes in many forms. When the hint of discrimination arises due to race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation the proverbial alarm bell rings loudly through the hills and valleys. But what happens when it’s a mostly white, mostly Christian, mostly middle class small community in Nebraska? Aren’t the voting rights of the residents of Elkhorn just as important as Jesse Jackson’s? According to federal law no person in Elkhorn stands higher than Jesse Jackson, Kim Gandy, Rosie O’Donnell, or Louis Farrakhan. But at the same time, according to that same federal law, none of those mentioned people stand higher than the ordinary citizen of Elkhorn.
Doesn’t our federal constitution afford EVERYONE the right to vote regardless?
Many years ago George Wallace, the governor of Alabama stood in the doorway at the University of Alabama and blocked African-American students from attending. Our federal government sent the National Guard to the University of Alabama to insure those students were guaranteed their right to the education of their choice. Will the Elkhorn citizens’ rights to vote and live independently be defended as vigorously as the rights of those students in Alabama?
Tom Fencl lives in Elkhorn, NE. He can be contacted at email@example.com.