Bellevue controversy now in voters' hands as special council election nears - Omaha.com
Published Friday, October 4, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 4:37 am
Bellevue controversy now in voters' hands as special council election nears

A Bellevue City Council vacancy dispute that has dragged on for seven months and divided the residents of Ward 1 is about to come to an end.

On Oct. 15, voters will choose among four men to represent southeast Bellevue.

One of the candidates was in the middle of the controversy over how to fill the seat, and voters could use the election as a referendum on how the current City Council and mayor handled the vacancy.

The new council member will have to make many important decisions that shape Bellevue and Ward 1, including votes on at least two budgets, the move of City Hall out of Olde Towne and the costly hiring of full-time firefighters.

Four people are running for the seat: former chief building inspector Steve Carmichael, local businessman Dave Compton, City of Omaha employee Steve Dawes and Michael Knebel, an active trader at TD Ameritrade.

Special elections generally don't draw a high turnout, but many Ward 1 residents tuned into the issue because of a battle between some City Council members and the mayor over the seat.

When former council member Scott Houghtaling left in March, Mayor Rita Sanders moved to appoint businessman Mike Hall to the spot.

Three council members, Carol Blood, Don Preister and Steve Knutson, blocked that appointment and Sanders' later appointment of IT specialist Bill Bonitz. They said Compton was the best choice and the mayor's nominee was less qualified.

That kicked off months of gridlock over the opening.

Ward 1 residents came in front of council every meeting asking for a resolution.

While the seat was vacant, the council raised property taxes, moved forward on a handful of expensive development projects and made other major decisions without a Ward 1 resident on the council.

Eventually the council and the mayor compromised and approved the special election.

Compton said he's been “hammered” with questions about whether his involvement in the controversy means he would always vote with the council members that supported him.

On the six-member Belle­vue council, votes are usually unanimous. But when there's a split, it's often Blood, Preister and Knutson voting together. With one seat open, that means a 3-2 split.

When Houghtaling was on the council, he usually voted with them too.

Blood and Preister are registered Democrats while the rest of the council members are Republicans. Houghtaling also is a Republican.

This new council member could change that dynamic and vote against the majority.

If it comes to a tie, the mayor can break it. More 3-3 votes would effectively put power into the mayor's hands.

Today is the last day to register to vote in the race. Residents can register at the Sarpy County Election Commission, 501 Olson Drive in Papillion, until 6 p.m.

In-person early voting at the election office began this week and runs through next Friday. Voters can drop off an absentee ballot at the election commission by Oct. 14. Ward 1 polls will be open Oct. 15.

The winner will occupy the seat until January 2017.

For more information, go to sarpy.com/election.

A look at the candidates in the special election:

Dave Compton, Republican

Compton is most closely aligned with the current council majority but he said he's an “independent thinker” and wouldn't necessarily always vote with the others. He said he often agrees with the council but has also clashed with individual members in the past.

He has long been involved with Bellevue and Sarpy County, including serving on various boards. He said he would make economic development his focus, and he thinks it should be the city's No. 1 priority.

Steve Carmichael, Republican

Carmichael would have liked to see more budget cuts this year.

He is a longtime Bellevue building inspector who retired and now works for Council Bluffs. He ran against Houghtaling last year and lost.

His proposals include re-­evaluating the move to a paid Fire Department. He said he brings a deep understanding of the workings of the city.

Michael Knebel, Libertarian

Knebel also would like to see more budget cuts. He said he'd like the city to consider privatizing services, including the Fire Department and recreation programs. He also said he would try to get rid of some of the city's building codes.

Steve Dawes, Democrat

He jokes that he is the “tax-and-spend Democrat” in the race.

His would like to see Ward 1 residents' utilities provider switched from Black Hills Energy to Metropolitan Utilities District.

He ran in the election last year, but after he lost in the primary he endorsed Houghtaling.

Candidate bios

Steve Carmichael

Age: 56

Party: Republican

Occupation: Council Bluffs chief building official; retired chief building official, Bellevue

Public offices held: none

Education: attended UNO

Religion: Presbyterian

Website: carmichaelforcouncil.org

Dave Compton

Age: 50

Party: Republican

Occupation: owner, DC Electric

Public offices held: Serves on various appointed boards, including the Bellevue Planning Commission, the Personnel Policy Board, and the Sarpy County Tourism Board

Education: GED

Religion: Lutheran

Website: facebook.com/DaveComptonForBellevueCityCouncilWard1

Steve Dawes

Age: 56

Party: Democrat

Occupation: civilian employee with the Omaha Police Department

Public offices held: none

Education: Omaha North graduate

Religion: Presbyterian

Website: stevedawes2013.com

Michael Knebel

Age: 32

Party: Libertarian

Occupation: active trader at TD Ameritrade

Public offices held: none

Education: attended UNL

Religion: nondenominational Christian

Website: facebook.com/electmichaelknebel

Contact the writer: Roseann Moring

roseann.moring@owh.com    |   402-444-1084    |  

Roseann covers Bellevue and Sarpy County crime.

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