MECA's rules should not be changed to allow non-Douglas County residents to serve on the organization's prominent board, Mayor Jean Stothert said Friday.
The mayor's comments came as Secretary of State John Gale announced he is investigating the residency of Jamie Gutierrez Mora, the newest member of the board that oversees the CenturyLink Center and TD Ameritrade Park.
Stothert said the group running the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority should represent the same group of people who voted to form the organization more than a decade ago.
“I do not agree with changing eligibility for one person,” she said, adding that “the citizens of Omaha voted on a ballot to form MECA, to build the CenturyLink Center, not the citizens of Sarpy County.”
Gutierrez Mora runs Midwest Maintenance Co., a South Omaha-based janitorial company that holds one of MECA's largest contracts. She was appointed to the board in March with a unanimous vote of the Omaha City Council, but has since faced scrutiny about her qualifications to serve.
On her résumé and on her Douglas County voter registration form filed Dec. 28, Gutierrez Mora said she lives in a South Omaha rental property owned by her husband. But Omaha City Attorney Paul Kratz concluded in his own investigation that Gutierrez Mora actually lives in a Bellevue home that she has owned for several years.
Kratz, who said his investigation was prompted by a World-Herald article, said Gutierrez Mora does not meet the requirement that its board members be “resident electors” of Douglas County.
Gutierrez Mora has declined to publicly discuss where she lives and has not returned calls seeking comment.
Stothert said Gale told her he agrees with Kratz's opinion.
Now, Gale said he will “gather material from the news media, public sources and from other sources,” to determine if Gutierrez Mora violated an oath she signed when she switched her voter registration from Sarpy to Douglas County.
Like other voters, Gutierrez Mora 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.
Stothert has said she is troubled by the idea that Gutierrez Mora had not been truthful about where she lives but would reserve judgment on the issue until the two meet on Monday. She declined to say if she planned to ask Gutierrez Mora to resign.
The mayor could send a resolution to the City Council calling for Gutierrez Mora's removal from the board, but it appears she may not have enough support.
Five of seven council members said this week that they support Gutierrez Mora and favor altering the residency rules.
But Councilwoman Aimee Melton, one of the two council members who said they agree with Kratz's opinion, said she also had concerns about expanding the geographic boundaries for MECA board members.
Councilman Franklin Thompson said he did not believe Gutierrez Mora meets residency requirements but is undecided about changing those requirements.
Stothert also dismissed concerns raised this week by Councilman Garry Gernandt, who said he worried Gutierrez Mora's status as a minority woman made her a target for removal from the board.
“This isn't about race at all,” she said. “It's about the law. Is she eligible, is she not eligible?”
Stothert said it's possible the matter could be referred to the Nebraska Attorney General's Office depending on the outcome of the Secretary of State's investigation.
The MECA board can also act independently to remove board members.
That move, however, is unlikely in the near future. Board Chairman John Lund said this week that the board will not take action until the city has come to a formal conclusion on the matter.