Monday, August 20, 2007

Public Pulse Taken Over by Republican Spin in Omaha Budget Battle

by Kyle Michaelis
Ten days ago, Omaha Republican City Councilmen Jim Vokal and Chuck Sigerson attempted to embarrass Democratic Mayor Mike Fahey and to pin the blame on him for not doing enough to prevent Omaha's rash of gun violence this summer. To do so, they leaked a letter they'd sent last December recommending a temporary increase in property taxes to fund a temporary increase in the number of police officers.

Leaving out the obvious but highly-relevant fact of who had released this letter in the first place, the Omaha World-Herald reported:
Fahey's chief of staff, Paul Landow, said the...council members privately sent the letter to Fahey but didn't push the issue further. "If they were really interested in adding 50 police officers, why didn't they say it publicly at the time?" Landow asked.....  
Landow also said Fahey has been steadily increasing the number of police officers, including adding 15 officers in 2007 and another 15 next year. But Fahey won't be calling for a temporary surge in police officers, Landow said.  
In their letter, the council members suggested that the number of officers increase by 40 to 50, then decrease after three years, or after violence in north Omaha has lessened. Under the plan, the tax increase that would fund the officers would also be rolled back.  
Landow said the idea of a temporary surge in police officers is unworkable. "What are we supposed to do at the end of the three years? Fire all the additional cops?"
So, essentially, Fahey is planning a permanent addition of 30 police officers rather than the 40 - 50 temporary officers Vokal and Sigerson had recommended. And, Fahey is budgeting for these new officers without relying on the property tax increases Vokal and Sigerson had called for last December.

It's rather ridiculous that they would even attempt to milk that difference for political gain, particularly when Omaha's Police Chief, Thomas Warren, had just told the Council, "I'm comfortable with the personnel allocation that we are proposing for the 2008 budget."

Honestly, it's sad that the World-Herald even printed this sad bit of partisan spin attacking Fahey and playing on people's increased fears about local crime. But, having opened that door, it was only fair that Fahey's office decided to fight back:
Mayor Mike Fahey's chief of staff is accusing two City Council members of playing politics when it comes to addressing gun violence. Chief of Staff Paul Landow said Councilmen Jim Vokal and Chuck Sigerson have alternately advocated in letters to the mayor for both an increase and a decrease in the city's property tax rate....  
Vokal and Sigerson...wrote Fahey last December that they would support a tax rate increase in 2008 to hire an additional 40 to 50 police officers. Then in June, Sigerson and Vokal wrote Fahey asking him to lower the property tax rate in response to what was projected to be a significant increase in property valuations....  
"It's clearly disingenuous, political nonsense," Landow said. "One minute they are calling for a tax increase, and the next they want a decrease. Which is it?"..... Landow said the shifting positions were intended to bolster Vokal's possible mayoral bid in 2009. "This is all being done in the name of political ambition."

Thoroughly established as opportunists and flip-floppers taking advantage of the surge in gun violence for their own political purposes, you'd expect Vokal and Sigerson to shut up. Instead, today's World-Herald ran three curiously-timed and similar-sounding letters in the Public Pulse that attempt one last time to shamelessly spin the fears and heartache of Omaha families to the Republican Party's advantage:
Mayor Mike Fahey claims to want input from community leaders in an effort to solve Omaha's crime wave. But where was this concern in December when City Councilmen Jim Vokal and Chuck Sigerson offered to work with the mayor on addressing the sudden increase in gun violence in Omaha? Omaha has again seen a dramatic increase in violent crime this summer. Now, Fahey accuses the councilmen, through his Chief of Staff Paul Landow, of playing politics. If Fahey had been attentive to Omaha's needs and responded to the councilmen's ideas in December, maybe he wouldn't need to play politics now. Possible solutions already would have been in the works.  
Joe Risko, Omaha

Landow called the efforts by Vokal and Sigerson politically ambitious. This is ridiculous. Landown's attempt to twist the facts of the situation and turn it into a political attack is abhorrent. In December, Vokal and Sigerson proposed increasing the number of police officers in Omaha by 40 to 50 and were willing to authorize additional funding to do so. But Fahey refused this offer. In June, Vokal and Sigerson responded to the de facto tax increase caused by property valuation increases by demanding a tax cut. These two positions are entirely consistent. Vokal and Sigerson are in favor of using additional funding to curb violence in Omaha with additional police officers. They are not in favor of raising tax revenues through higher assessments just to pad city coffers. It is time for Landow and Fahey to quit playing politics and start doing something to keep our children from dying on the streets of Omaha.  
Scott Knudsen, Omaha

It seems to me that when these councilmen sent a letter to Fahey back in December, they were putting the interests of the people of Omaha above their own political futures. When it became clear to the them that their suggestion to add more police to stifle a crime wave was rejected, they were free to move on to resolve another increasing problem: Douglas County Assessor Roger Morrissey's desire to increase taxable property valuations. As a voter, I prefer leadership that is sensitive to the changing landscape of the city, not oblivious to it.  
Pete D. Pedersen, Omaha
I always hate to see the opinion page littered with these faux-letters pre-manufactured by party hacks and signed with the names of loyal Republican footsoldiers. It's sort of amusing, however, how each of these three letters contains its own carefully-crafted message attempting to obscure Vokal and Sigerson's hypocrisy while turning the tables on Fahey and Landow for who's really "playing politics."

Of course, in this little skirmish, the real question of who was "playing politics" begins and ends with who first tried to use this issue for their partisan advantage. Clearly, that was Vokal and Sigerson. They simply got out-played, despite the World-Herald giving them every possible advantage.

The facts speak for themselves. Sadly, the World-Herald appears to be concerned very little with Letters to the Editors adhering to those facts, instead allowing fabrication by repetition on its own opinion page.

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