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Omaha mayors to remain in power when out of city limits if new proposed change passes

Omaha, Nebraska – A proposed amendment to the Omaha City Charter would allow mayors to remain in charge while traveling outside the city limits.

The idea by Mayor Jean Stothert has sparked a discussion about the possibilities and limitations of new technology, as well as whether Omaha requires a clear line of duty for the mayor during emergencies.

When the mayor of Omaha is absent, the city charter currently mandates the City Council president to serve as acting mayor. It is mostly a caretaker role, including document signing on behalf of the city. In the event of an emergency, such as a major fire, a police shooting, or a significant weather catastrophe, the interim mayor may be required to assume a more active role.

According to proponents of the amendment, the current wording is an outmoded policy. They add that modern technology enables near-constant communication between a mayor residing outside of the city and other city officials.

When he submitted the plan earlier this year, City Attorney Matt Kuhse stated, “In 2022, the mayor will have the same power as any other government officer to conduct business outside of the city of Omaha.” Additionally, the city is contemplating a new document signing system that would permit the mayor to sign time-sensitive documents while traveling outside the city.

However, City Council President Pete Festersen and Vice President Vinny Palermo have reservations about the proposal to have the mayor govern the city remotely, particularly in the event of an emergency.

In May, Stothert’s proposal was among the first to be presented to the city’s Charter Convention for consideration.

The convention is composed of individuals appointed by the mayor and Omaha City Council to examine and propose amendments to the city’s charter, the document that establishes the organization and procedures of the city’s government.

Initially, the Mayor’s Office proposed that an acting mayor would not be required until the mayor was absent for more than 10 days or had left the continental United States.

On Monday, the convention members voted on a change to the proposal that would permit the mayor to remain in office for up to five days while abroad. In the event of an emergency, an acting mayor could take over if the mayor is unavailable by phone for at least two hours.

Even with the emergency modification, Festersen stated that he was unlikely to support a change to the city’s current arrangement.

Festersen stated, “I believe it is essential to have continuity and clear decision-making authority in the event of an emergency or if someone is unavailable during a crisis.” “Anything can occur at any time in a city.”

The World-Herald discovered through a records request that Stothert was out of town for 39 days during the first half of 2022, or around 21 percent of that time.

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