Jim Suttle

Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle delivers the State of the City address Friday, Jan. 21, 2011, in Omaha. (AP Photo/Dave Weaver)

OMAHA — Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle survived last month's recall election, but police continue to investigate the tactics used by both campaigns.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said the Nebraska State Patrol still is interviewing dozens of witnesses about whether Suttle's campaign staff paid homeless people to vote and whether circulators who gathered signatures for the recall petition used under-handed tactics.

"There's a lot of work for them to do, and they're doing it," Kleine said.

His office had requested a state patrol investigation into the efforts leading up to the Jan. 25 election to oust the Democratic Suttle midway through his term. Suttle got 51.4 percent of the votes, which were certified Friday.

The effort to recall Suttle that began in earnest last year was fueled by displeasure with his plans to raise property taxes, charge a fee on restaurant tabs and increase a vehicle tax in response to a projected $11 million shortfall for 2011. Organizers accused Suttle of supporting excessive taxes, breaking his promises and pushing for changes that threaten the city's economic future.

But the tax increases helped the city generate a $3.3 million surplus by the end of 2010 and restore its AAA bond rating, meaning it can borrow money on more favorable terms. Still, the unpopularity of the measures helped recall organizers gather more than 28,000 signatures to force a special vote.

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Suttle tried to fight the recall effort in court, arguing the Mayor Suttle Recall Committee committed fraud in gathering signatures. A half dozen people testified they did not sign petitions on which their names appeared; two petition circulators testified they were paid by the signature, which is against state law; and a handwriting expert said a number of signatures were forged. But a Douglas County district judge ruled there wasn't enough evidence to stop the election.

Suttle's campaign became caught up in a scandal of its own less than two weeks before the election. Anti-recall group Forward Omaha bused homeless people to the election commission's office for early voting. Afterward, they went to a training and recruitment session as get-out-the-voter workers and were paid $5 for their time. Suttle has said the group didn't pay for votes but combining the transportation and recruitment was an "error in judgment."

Prosecutions in either investigation would not invalidate the election.


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