Jamie Gutierrez Mora is resigning from the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority board amid questions about her eligibility to serve and her voter registration.
Gutierrez Mora planned to speak to the MECA board chairman Wednesday.
Her formal resignation will need to be accepted by the board.
She told The World-Herald Tuesday evening that she made the decision after having conversations with several people, including some of her supporters on the Omaha City Council. She said she was “deeply troubled” by the controversy over her membership on the board and decided that it was time to end it.
“I was prepared to stick it out as long as it took,” she said. “There was so much confusion over the rules and a lack of consensus on a resolution to the matter that I just think it was time to move forward.”
Since last month, she’d been facing questions from city and state officials over whether she was a “resident elector” of Douglas County, as required by an agreement between the city and MECA.
City Attorney Paul Kratz determined that Gutierrez Mora did not meet the standard because she lived in Bellevue, not in a South Omaha rental property she and her husband also own.
Secretary of State John Gale has launched an investigation into Gutierrez Mora’s Douglas County voter registration.
Gutierrez Mora said she considers both residences — and a third she owns in California — as places she lives. She believed that owning the Omaha property, along with her longtime connections to the city as a business owner and member of several community groups, was enough to qualify her as a resident.
City Council President Pete Festersen called the resignation a “mutual decision” meant to put an end to a saga that was taking attention away from MECA’s work. The organization runs the CenturyLink Center and TD Ameritrade Park, along with the Civic Auditorium.
Festersen said he and the four other council members who last week said they backed Gutierrez Mora — Garry Gernandt, Ben Gray, Chris Jerram and Rich Pahls — remain supportive of her. That group, he said, was involved in the talks with Gutierrez Mora that concluded in the decision that she would resign.
“The issue was highly politicized and became a distraction for everyone involved,” Festersen said. “We felt it was important to rise above that and provide a solution that could allow consensus and keep MECA focused on managing the financial well-being of our public facilities.”
He said the City Council will appoint a new MECA board member soon.
MECA board chairman John Lund said Wednesday that he expected to meet with Gutierrez Mora to go over the resignation process. He said he was looking forward to the board being able to spend time on coming events and would await the council’s recommendation of a new board member.
“I’m very grateful that this distraction is over,” he said. “I think we have lost some focus.”
In the meantime, Festersen is working on a proposal that would “clarify” the rules for who can serve on the board.
“In my opinion that should be ‘residents of the City of Omaha,’ not ‘resident elector’ or ‘qualified elector’ of Douglas County.”
Festersen said the revised rules could help ensure that MECA and the city don’t end up in another controversy like the one surrounding Gutierrez Mora or an earlier dispute over the residency of former board member David Sokol.
Sokol was briefly removed from the board when he moved out of state and changed his voter registration. He was reinstated after he re-registered to vote in Douglas County.
Mayor Jean Stothert was not involved in the talks over Gutierrez Mora’s resignation, Festersen said. Gutierrez Mora had been scheduled to meet with the mayor Monday, but she asked to cancel Sunday evening, saying she needed to get more information about Gale’s investigation. Stothert declined to reschedule.
Stothert told The World-Herald Wednesday morning that Gutierrez Mora’s departure from the board was a good move.
“This is a preferred outcome, that she resigns,” Stothert said. “However, this outcome should have been a result of her wanting to do the right thing and not a deal that was brokered with supporters.”
The mayor said she had waited to make a formal decision on the matter but agreed with Kratz’s opinion and had been closely following the secretary of state’s investigation. She said it appeared the situation could have become more complicated had Gutierrez Mora stayed on the board.
Stothert said her interest was the same as Gale’s: figuring out if Gutierrez Mora was a lawfully registered voter. “I think everything was pointing towards it coming out that she was not,” Stothert said.
A spokeswoman for Gale confirmed Wednesday morning that the investigation is ongoing.
Gutierrez Mora said she’s confident that it will show she has not done anything unlawful.
Festersen praised Gutierrez Mora as a “civic-minded business leader” who was a good fit for MECA.
“The hope of many on the City Council is that Gutierrez will consider serving on the MECA board again in the future should she meet this new, clearly defined standard once it is established,” Festersen said.
Gutierrez Mora said she isn’t ruling out a return to the board.
“I appreciate the confidence the City Council has in me,” she said. “I think it would be an honor to serve as their appointee ... in the future. A lot can happen between now and then.”