City attorney finds MECA board member doesn't meet residency requirements -
Published Saturday, September 7, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 4:47 pm
City attorney finds MECA board member doesn't meet residency requirements

Jamie Gutierrez Mora does not meet residency requirements for serving on the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority board and could be removed, Omaha’s city attorney said Friday.

In a six-page opinion, City Attorney Paul Kratz said Gutierrez Mora’s property, voting and vehicle registration records make it clear the new board member lives in Sarpy County.

Kratz said Gutierrez Mora is not a “resident elector” of Douglas County, as required by a development agreement between the City of Omaha and MECA — even though she registered to vote in Douglas County late last year.

That distinction, he said, is grounds for her removal. Taking Gutierrez Mora off the board would require the support of both the mayor and the council. Alternately, the MECA board can act independently to remove a board member.

Kratz said his investigation was prompted by a World-Herald article that showed Gutierrez Mora had provided the city a résumé listing a South Omaha property as her address, though records indicated she had owned and lived in a home in Bellevue for several years.

Gutierrez Mora is the owner of a South Omaha-based company, Midwest Maintenance Co., that holds one of MECA’s largest contracts.

She has repeatedly declined to publicly discuss where she lives and did not return calls seeking comment Friday.

The opinion from Kratz notes a significant difference between the two homes: Gutierrez Mora bought the 3,500-square-foot Bellevue home in 2009 for more than $700,000, while the South Omaha property is a divided rental property owned by her husband with an assessed value of $125,000.

Gutierrez Mora also owns a home near the ocean in Carmel, Calif., with a tax value of just over $2 million.

During the board appointment process, Gutierrez Mora first gave the City Council a résumé listing the South Omaha address of her business, without a home address.

A day later, on Feb. 28, she sent an email to a member of the City Council staff. In it, she noted that she and her husband own residential property in Douglas and Sarpy Counties and in California.

She wrote that she had “selected our residential property in Douglas County as my domicile of record.”

Her resume was updated to reflect the addresses of her business and the South Omaha rental property.

Kratz said that wasn’t enough.

“It is clear that Ms. Gutierrez is, and remains, a long-time resident of Sarpy County and that she has no intention that the Omaha address be her permanent and principal home,” Kratz wrote. “It is inconceivable that she has moved from her large Bellevue home to a small, old, multi-unit house in Omaha. Simply listing the house as her domicile does not, in fact, make it her residence.”

Kratz said he didn’t believe Gutierrez Mora’s status as a registered voter in Douglas County was enough to meet the qualifications.

Gutierrez Mora switched her voter registration from Sarpy to Douglas County in late December, less than three months before the City Council appointed her to the MECA board. On her voter registration form, she listed the South Omaha address as her home – and signed an oath that states: “I live in the State of Nebraska at the address provided in this application.”

The oath says applicants who knowingly provide false information are guilty of election falsification, a felony.

Kratz noted that Gutierrez Mora has never actually voted in Douglas County despite two opportunities to do so. Instead, he said, she has a history of voting in Sarpy County.

Last month, Gutierrez Mora told The World-Herald that she changed her voter registration in order to get more involved in the community.

“When I moved to Sarpy County, my kids were little,” she said. “I was being pulled to get into politics, City Council, different political positions. I wanted to focus on my children when they were young. Now my kids are older, and it’s important to have voting rights in Douglas County. That’s why I eventually changed it.”

Kratz said Gutierrez Mora’s situation differs from an earlier debate over MECA residency rules involving former board member David Sokol, who was removed from and then put back on the board.

In that case, Kratz said, Sokol bought a home out of state but maintained a residence in Douglas County where it was likely “his intentions were to return each night.”

Mayor Jean Stothert did not immediately announce plans to act on the legal opinion.

“I will review the city attorney’s position and reserve my opinion until I talk to Ms. Gutierrez,” she said in a statement.

MECA board Chairman John Lund did not return a call for comment.

Council President Pete Festersen said he would not support any move to remove Gutierrez Mora from her position.

“Jamie Gutierrez is a taxpayer and a business owner in the city of Omaha, and she is a Hispanic woman who is very involved in our community,” he said. “These are desirable attributes of a MECA board member, and she continues to have strong support on the City Council.”

Festersen said he was not troubled by Gutierrez Mora’s choice to list a property she does not live at as her home address during the board appointment process.

“We believe she met the standard of a qualified elector and so did she,” he said. “The most important thing is that we’re seeking individuals that have the experience and capability to manage our public facilities and who are representative of our community and committed to its success. And she definitely is.”

Contact the writer: Erin Golden    |   402-444-1543    |  

Erin covers the Omaha City Council and the Mayor's Office.

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