When she joined the MECA board and registered to vote, Jamie Gutierrez Mora said she firmly believed her longtime business, volunteer and civic connections in Omaha — and owning property in the city — provided ample reason for her to be considered a Douglas County resident.
In an interview Saturday with The World-Herald, Gutierrez Mora pushed back against questions raised about her eligibility to serve on the prominent Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority board.
She said she acted in good faith when she listed a South Omaha rental property she and her husband own as her home address on her résumé and voter registration forms, rather than a Bellevue home the couple also own.
Gutierrez Mora said her husband lived at the South Omaha home for about 20 years before the two were married. After they married, the Moras moved into another home together and converted the South Omaha house into a rental property, keeping one unit for their own use.
Gutierrez Mora declined to answer questions about how frequently she stays overnight or spends time at that apartment, saying only that she spends time in the homes she owns in Omaha, Bellevue and Carmel, Calif.
“I spend time at all three locations, and I believe I live in more than one place,” Gutierrez Mora wrote in an email following the interview.
Saturday’s interview was the first time Gutierrez Mora had agreed to speak publicly since the controversy began several weeks ago.
Omaha’s city attorney has concluded that Gutierrez Mora does not live in Omaha and is not a “qualified elector” as required to serve on the MECA board.
Late last week, Secretary of State John Gale announced that he was investigating whether Gutierrez Mora had been truthful when she registered to vote and signed an oath that states: “To the best of my knowledge and belief, I declare under penalty of election falsification that: I live in the state of Nebraska at the address provided in this application.”
But Gutierrez Mora is undeterred.
She said her roles as the owner of an Omaha business, a key leader of several community groups and a native Omahan — along with owning property in Omaha — are all evidence that Douglas County is her home.
“That is about living in Douglas County,” she said. “My involvement is about living. It’s not just sleeping and eating. It’s the dollars I spend, the taxes I pay. That’s what the oath talks about: ‘To my knowledge and belief ...’ That was my belief, and it is my belief.”
Gutierrez Mora is the owner of Midwest Maintenance Co., a South Omaha-based janitorial company started by her parents.
The company, which has provided cleaning services at the CenturyLink Center since it opened a decade ago, holds one of MECA’s largest contracts. Gutierrez Mora has said she would recuse herself if business related to her company comes before the board.
MECA is a quasi-public agency created by voters to oversee construction of the CenturyLink Center arena and convention center and, after it opened in 2003, to manage the facility. The MECA board also now manages TD Ameritrade Park and the Civic Auditorium.
Gutierrez Mora, 47, has been active with a number of organizations including the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben, Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, United Way of the Midlands and the Women’s Fund of Omaha.
She was appointed to the MECA board in March by a unanimous vote of the Omaha City Council.
In August, however, questions were raised about the “resident elector” qualification, which is part of the development agreement between MECA and the City of Omaha for the CenturyLink Center.
City Attorney Paul Kratz launched an investigation following a World-Herald article that looked into Gutierrez Mora’s voting, property and other public records.
Gutierrez Mora listed the Bellevue home, which was purchased in 2009, as her home address on business forms filed with the Secretary of State’s Office, and it was the address on her driver’s license as recently as April.
She switched her voter registration from Sarpy County to Douglas County on Dec. 28, listing the South Omaha property as a home address.
In his legal opinion, Kratz concluded that Gutierrez Mora did not actually live at that home.
“It is inconceivable,’’ he wrote, “that she has moved from her large Bellevue home to a small, old, multi-unit house in Omaha.”
Gutierrez Mora said she does consider the property her home — one of three among which she divides her time. She told the City Council about all three properties and said she had selected the South Omaha property as her “domicile of record.”
“Because of my residence in Douglas County, and I feel I have strong ties to Douglas County, I believe I have the right to vote,” she said.
Five of seven City Council members have said they back Gutierrez Mora and would like to see MECA’s residency requirements altered.
Mayor Jean Stothert and Councilwoman Aimee Melton, however, said they do not believe the rules should be expanded to allow for board members who live outside Douglas County, no matter their Omaha ties.
Melton compared the situation to Council Bluffs residents who may work and spend much of their time in Omaha but are still unable to run for elected office in Omaha.
Gutierrez Mora said the comparison doesn’t fit her situation.
“This is the MECA board, this is a volunteer position,” she said. “I’ve been asked to serve on this board, and I would like to step up to give my time to a city that I was born and raised in and grew up in and have absolutely a huge stake in.”
Stothert and Gutierrez Mora are scheduled to meet Monday.
The mayor could act to remove her from her position, but would need the support of the City Council. The MECA board can also act independently to remove board members.
Gutierrez Mora noted that Stothert supported her appointment as a City Council member and said she is hopeful about the upcoming conversation.
“She knows what we’re looking at here together,” Gutierrez Mora said. “She knows how I exposed myself in that (appointment) process and that I did put everything on the table, and that I have nothing to hide.”
Gutierrez Mora said she doesn’t believe the secretary of state’s investigation will turn up evidence of wrongdoing.
“I will tell you, I don’t think I did anything wrong,” she said. “It has never been my intention to mislead anyone, misrepresent anything. I think that needs to be considered.”