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Nancy Hicks: Mayoral justice in Tower Square
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Nancy Hicks: Mayoral justice in Tower Square

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Mayor Chris Beutler is proud of Tower Square, the civic plaza with the tall, multicolored tower that was built in downtown Lincoln last year.

One of Beutler’s favorite artists, Jun Kaneko, designed the entire park. The tower Ascent, lit from the inside at night, sits atop concentric circles of dark and light paving bricks, inspired by the sand gardens found at Buddhist temples in Japan, Kaneko's homeland.

A reporter was waiting in line outside Bison Witches Bar & Deli, right next to Tower Square, around noon one recent Saturday.

Some young adults were hanging out in the square. A few seemed to be drawing on the dark bricks with sidewalk chalk.

A small gray Honda pulled up to the curb on P Street near 13th and parked illegally. The driver got out, left the engine running and the driver’s door open.

It was the mayor. He walked over to the person writing with chalk, had a conversation, then walked back to his car and drove away.

The chalk drawing stopped.

Asked about it later, Beutler said he really, really doesn't like vandalism.  

The young woman, he said, did ask him what gave him authority to tell her what to do.

He is the mayor, after all.

The water kept rising

"I want to apologize to the 60,000 to 70,000 people whose commute we made miserable (on Thursday afternoon)," said Public Safety Director Tom Casady, mostly in jest, about the traffic jams that occurred after the city closed several main streets because of flooding. 

"I want to assure you it was something unanticipated and unavoidable," he said, as he described decisions made when Salt Creek rose on Thursday.

Thursday morning, Lincoln leaders thought the worst of the flooding from an overnight storm was behind them. They thought Salt Creek had crested in Lincoln.

But that afternoon, gathered in the emergency operations room in the basement of the old police station, now called the 233 Building, they listened to reports on the Salt Creek downstream gauges and saw “with our own eyes" what was happening along the creek on Public Works department remote cameras, Casady said.

“We could see a pretty sudden rise, between noon and 2 p.m.,” said Casady.

Around 3 p.m., the group, fearful the water would breach the Salt Creek levies, decided to begin a voluntary evacuation of people, particularly people with mobility issues, living in the North and South Bottoms.

At about the same time, water started to flow across major arterials and commuter routes -- West O, West A and Antelope Valley Parkway -- and those were closed to traffic, Casady said.

West O Street in front of the Runza restaurant, "went from just a little water in it to about the top of a hubcap," Casady said.

The emergency operations plans worked well, he said. And the cameras Public Works purchased in the last few years to monitor traffic flow “proved to be incredibly valuable."

"We were in a windowless room in the basement  but had eyes on several key spots in the city," he said.

The city will have some overtime costs because of the flooding. Lincoln Fire and Rescue brought in 10 to 15 people, most associated with water rescue crews. And police held over the first shift, said Casady said.

So there will probably be a few thousand dollars in overtime, “not giant,” Casady said.

“Probably what we would spend on a football game," he said.

Mortality rates and pension plans

Police and firefighters are living longer, in general, just like everyone else.

But that good news for police and firefighters will cost Lincoln taxpayers who are helping fund the defined benefit police-fire pension fund.

The city’s future pension costs are higher in the 2014 report than seen in past reports, in part because the actuaries are using more recent mortality assumptions.

The move from 1994 mortality assumptions to 2000 mortality assumptions means the average age of death for firefighters and police officers went from 81 to 84.

Those three additional years of pension benefits must be figured into future costs.

Newer, more realistic mortality assumptions are having similar effects on big private companies that still have defined benefit pension plans, where retirees get a guaranteed monthly retirement benefit, usually based on near-retirement earnings.

General Motors recently said new mortality assumptions used in private company plans -- raising longevity by two years on average -- means its U.S. pension plans will fall short by an additional $2.2 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The new mortality assumptions could weaken the funding status of 400 large U.S. companies by $72 billion, based on consulting firm Towers Watson Co. estimates.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.

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Reporter

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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