Thursday, August 23, 2007

Lincoln's Partisan Divide Erupts Into Trench Warfare

by Kyle Michaelis
Following-up on a diary from last week on the question of whether the partisanship on Lincoln's City Council is being exaggerated by the Lincoln Journal-Star's coverage, before Monday night's final budget vote whatever conflict exists over funding of the Lincoln Fire Department turned quite personal between two Council members - Democrat Jonathan Cook and Republican Jon Camp.

The LJS reports:
The latest fire department flareup was ignited when Cook made a motion to restore $100,000 that Republicans on the council, led by Camp, cut from the fire department budget earlier this month.... Cook said the cut undermines public safety for no reason and accused Camp of being motivated by a vendetta against the fire department, recounting controversial statements Camp has made over the years about firefighters and the fire department. Cook said he doubted fire officials in other cities - such as Minneapolis, where rescue workers recently responded to a major bridge collapse - endure the kind of criticism Lincoln's do. He asked: Were they accused of having too many workers on site? Spending too much on overtime? Putting in too many workers' compensation claims?...  
Instead of being proud of Lincoln's specially trained team of firefighters who respond to national emergencies, Cook recounted Camp's accusation last year that firefighters had tried to "elevate themselves" by exaggerating their role at Ground Zero after Sept. 11. "I think it's part of an effort to turn heroes into villains and pick, pick, pick at a fire department that two studies have shown is a very efficient department," Cook said. "It's time to end these attacks on the fire department."  
In return, Camp accused Cook of twisting his words, trying to get media attention and "trying to cause alarm in our citizens." He said Lincoln has a good fire and ambulance service, but could do better and needs to be "fiscally prudent." "I'm tired of your tirades," Camp said. "And if you don't cease with this, I'm going to ask our colleagues to censure you because you've gone too far." He then called on Cook to apologize to him and the citizens of Lincoln. After the meeting, while Camp was being interviewed by the Journal Star, Cook approached and Camp became angry, calling him a "mouthpiece for the fire union" and saying, "get a life" before stalking away.  
It doesn't appear Camp will be getting an apology from Cook, who said, "I don't owe him an apology. He owes the men and women of the fire department an apology for constantly defaming them".... Cook's motion to restore the money failed by a 3-4 vote, with Republicans voting "no" and Democrats "yes."
It's hard to say where this Cook vs. Camp battle royale has its beginnings. Maybe partisan loyalties have colored the debate, but anyone who follows Lincoln city government can tell you that the idea of the proudly belligerent Camp accusing anyone of making tirades and seeking media attention is quite ridiculous on its face. Camp's made an artform of precisely that sort of grandstanding and - if anything - seems to resent having his own tactics used against him.

Both Cook and Camp were re-elected in Lincoln's May election, so they're probably going to have to put up with each other for four more years on the City Council. Both have also expressed past interest in seeking the Mayor's Office, so who knows just how far their skirmishes might ultimately go?

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