Jamie Gutierrez Mora, who began her MECA board term in May, heads a company that is one of the agency's largest contractors.
Midwest Maintenance Co. provides cleaning services for the CenturyLink Center, the Omaha Civic Auditorium and TD Ameritrade Park.
MECA paid Midwest Maintenance Co. some $3.8 million from its 2009 through its 2011 fiscal years, according to federal tax forms. Gutierrez Mora has owned the company since 1997.
The board approved contracts with the company in 2003, 2007 and 2011. In August, MECA exercised an option to extend a two-year contract by two more years. The renewal did not require board approval.
Robert Freeman, MECA's attorney, said the City of Omaha vetted any questions about potential conflicts of interest over Gutierrez Mora's business before her appointment.
MECA board Chairman John Lund said the board did not raise any concerns about potential conflicts of interest related to Gutierrez Mora's business or alter any existing contracts with her company.
Freeman said her appointment would not create an ethical problem unless she got involved in decisions related to services provided by her business.
A 2002 edition of MECA's business ethics code prohibits its employees, officers and directors from “engaging or participating in transactions that involve, or appear to involve, a conflict of interest.”
“All transactions between MECA and individuals or entities doing business with MECA must be consummated at arm's length,” says the code.
The ethics code defines a conflict of interest in part as any situation in which an employee, officer, director or related person has an “interest in or a relationship with individuals or entities doing business with MECA.”
According to the code, this includes situations in which a person serves as an owner or controlling shareholder, and when a person “is in a position to receive a benefit, financial or otherwise, in connection with a transaction involving MECA.”
Lund said that the company would need to be part of the bidding process if it sought any future contracts and that Gutierrez Mora would need to recuse herself from any related discussions or votes.
Beverly Kracher, executive director of the Business Ethics Alliance at Creighton University, said that's common practice for businesses and public organizations. She said conflicts of interest are frequent issues because the people appointed to boards usually have some kind of a relationship to the organization or the issues it supports.
“That's one of the reasons you want them on the board,” she said. “That also means you want them to have the greatest integrity as they ensure that duty to take care of that organization.”