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Hicks: Double dipping in Omaha, not Lincoln

Hicks: Double dipping in Omaha, not Lincoln

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Omaha’s new mayor Jean Stothert was boasting last week about paying her chief of staff 10 percent less than Jim Suttle's current chief of staff. Boasting.

Marty Bilek will receive an annual salary of $112,500. But he’ll also be getting about $70,343 in his retirement income from the sheriff’s department.

Lincoln’s Mayor Chris Beutler also hired retirees to head the police and fire departments. But he is paying the two men the difference between their retirement income and the salary of a chief.

Police Chief Jim Peschong’s city salary is around $65,700.

Fire Chief John Huff is making around $79,400.

Both had intended to retire when Beutler asked them to continue working as chiefs.

With their retirement pay, their total annual incomes are in the $130,000 range.

No double dipping here, by design.

Firetrucks can change traffic lights

Yes, it is true that firetrucks can change traffic lights in Lincoln.

Not all of them, but 120 of the traffic lights that are along routes fire engines take as they leave a station are set up to change colors for a fire engine.  

That gives some assurance that competing traffic has the red light and firefighters have a green light, Fire Chief John Huff said.

The trucks have a device on the front that emits a flashing light, like a strobe. A sensor on traffic signals recognizes the flashing light and starts a sequence to change the light.  

Voters approved funding for the signal-changing equipment in a 1995 bond issue.  

Studies in other communities indicate an improved response time for emergency vehicles by as much as 23 percent when they have the ability to regulate traffic signals.

And no, you can't get similar equipment for your car, the chief says.

Last union contract finished

The city has settled with its last union, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1293. The approximately 84 StarTran bus drivers and mechanics will get a 2 percent raise for the current fiscal year.

The other city unions have two-year contracts to correspond with the new two-year budget cycle. But the transit union has a one-year contract.

The city and transit union got bogged down on health insurance issues for the second year, Personnel Director Doug McDaniel said.

Approximately 1,785 city employees are covered by some collective bargaining agreement.

Fun planned for plazas

There will be dancing and plays and sidewalk art in Union Plaza near 21st and Q streets next year.

The city has hired a group of local folks to find entertainment and create a long-term plan for keeping Union Plaza and Civic Plaza -- to be built at 14th and P streets -- fun places to visit.

The $30,000 for the contract comes from a National Endowment for the Arts grant.

The primary target audience is parents of younger children, adults 25-45. The second market is young professionals and the 50-plus crowd, according to the contract.

Plans include developing a mini arts festival; visual arts -- sidewalk chalk and children’s activities; spoken word with poetry recitation; theater, which includes skits and one-act plays; and musical acts with different themes from week to week.

The first year will focus on activities for Union Plaza. The second year the group will work on Civic Plaza, including grand opening events in 2014.

The group will recruit artists and groups to participate in performances. 

The group also will develop the framework for continuing the entertainment series in the future and a strategy for long-term funding.

Working on the project will be Brendan Evans (Wamstead+Evans), Michele Tilley (Chocolate Cake Design); Susan Larson Rodenburg (SLR Communications) and Jeremy Buckley.

Reach Nancy Hicks at 402-473-7250 or


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Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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