Confusion over mayoral directive on Fire Department spending cleared up - Omaha.com
Published Tuesday, July 2, 2013 at 2:58 am / Updated at 7:10 am
Confusion over mayoral directive on Fire Department spending cleared up

Word that the Omaha Fire Department would stop processing evidence through the county crime lab was the result of a miscommunication between the city and county, Fire Chief Mike McDonnell says.

The miscommunication stems from a directive from the Mayor's Office regarding Fire Department spending.

Last week a fire captain delivering evidence to the Douglas County Sheriff's Office crime lab asked employees there to wait to process it, citing the Mayor's Office directive.

But they were not told the Fire Department would stop using the lab entirely, said McDonnell, who received approval from the Mayor's Office to speak on the matter.

McDonnell said the battalion chief for the department's investigations unit gave an order that “we have to get approval before we can have the evidence processed, because it costs $50 every time they process a piece of evidence.”

Marty Bilek, Mayor Jean Stothert's chief of staff, said the Fire Department never got a specific order about processing evidence, just a general order requiring approval for most spending.

“Since they're so over budget, we wanted to scrutinize some of their transactions,” he said.

Bilek said the Fire Department can run arson evidence as it always has, regardless of cost — but with an understanding that all expenses are being closely watched. If evidence can be processed more efficiently, without sacrificing quality, he said, “we'll come back later to review that.”

“We want them to submit evidence just like they do now,” he said. “Evidence collection in an arson case is going to get a very high priority, always.”

McDonnell said the Fire Department budgets about $4,000 a year to process arson evidence — a small item in a proposed $96.6 million budget. But an order's an order, McDonnell said.

“The point is, we're trying to follow the directive. ... We were never going to not continue going with the Douglas County crime lab,” he said. “It was a matter of going through the new directive that Mayor Stothert has put in place about getting capital or equipment (expenses) approved.”

Stothert has barred fire officials from talking publicly about the budget, and McDonnell was not allowed to comment for a World-Herald story last week. At that point, it wasn't clear when the evidence would be processed.

After the article ran, McDonnell got permission to respond to one comment from Sheriff Tim Dunning, who said, “If they're playing around with somebody's case, that's not funny.”

McDonnell said the comment disparaged the fire investigation unit, which has an exceptionally high clearance rate.

“We don't play around with people's cases,” he said. “And I think our record reflects that.”

Dunning declined to comment on the exchange but confirmed that the lab is processing Fire Department evidence as usual.

Contact the writer: Cody Winchester

cody.winchester@owh.com    |   402-444-1216    |  

Cody Winchester is a metro-area watchdog reporter. He covers Douglas and Sarpy Counties.

Sioux City riverboat casino prepares to close, still hoping to be saved
Omaha high schoolers to help canvass for Heartland 2050
Mizzou alumni aim to attract veterinary students to Henry Doorly Zoo
Grant ensures that Sioux City can start building children's museum
Party looks to 'nudge' women into public office in Iowa
For birthday, Brownell-Talbot student opts to give, not get
Sole big donor to Beau McCoy says he expects nothing in return
Two taken to hospital after fire at Benson home
Grace: Pipe organ concert a tribute to couple's enduring love
Omaha-area jails and ERs new front line in battling mental illness
Convicted killer Nikko Jenkins might await his sentence in prison
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
Civil rights hearing to consider voting policies in Midwest
Firefighters battle brush fire near Fontenelle Forest
17 senators in Nebraska Legislature hit their (term) limits
It's a pursuit of pastel at Spring Lake Park's Easter egg hunt
Financial picture improving for city-owned Mid-America Center
No injuries after fire at midtown's old Mercer Mansion
29-year-old Omahan arrested for 22nd time in Lincoln
Police: Slaying of woman in Ralston apartment likely over drugs
Explosion near 29th, Woolworth damages vehicles
Omaha police arrest man, 19, accused in March shooting
Earth gets its day in the sun at Elmwood Park
Beau McCoy strikes Obama doll in TV ad; Democrats are not happy
Keystone XL pipeline backers blast 'political expediency' as foes hail ruling to delay decision
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
A World War II veteran from Omaha will return this week to Europe to commemorate a tragedy in the run-up to D-Day.
Dickson’s Week in Review, April 13-19
On Twitter some guy tweeted that the spring game isn’t taken as seriously as a regular-season contest. What was your first clue? When the head coach entered waving a cat aloft?
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
The main speaker at today's Ivy Day celebration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a college president who grew up roping calves and earned her Ph.D. at the prestigious Oxford University in England.
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »