Principled opposition to a government body’s action is legitimate. As is running for office as an outsider with a fresh perspective.
If elected, that person should use the array of tools at his or her disposal to express opposition. Those tools include asking tough questions, marshaling arguments at decision-making meetings, building board support, holding public forums, engaging constituents, then casting a vote.
That’s the way democratic government is supposed to work.
But if public officials step beyond the bounds of their offices and work to short-circuit decisions made by their elected bodies, that can be a problem.
That’s why allegations of interference and conflict of interest now surrounding Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District board member Scott Japp raise concern.
The NRD does important work in guarding water quality and protecting eastern Nebraskans from flooding. One study, for example, found that large-scale flooding in the Papillion Creek Watershed could cause $490 million in building damage, $189 million in damage to public infrastructure and displace 7,100 people.
Japp has been elected to the NRD board twice by his constituents, many of whom oppose some of the NRD’s dam-building plans.
Those voters have every right to have their voices heard. But the man they elected for representation often seems to wind up in the middle of confrontation, in his official capacity and now beyond.
The NRD’s board has voted to censure Japp for what it called a pattern of rude and abusive behavior, and the agency told local governments that Japp doesn’t speak for the NRD.
And his decision to engage in efforts outside of his official role — efforts that other NRD officials say complicate the group’s flood-control mission — raises difficult questions.
Japp has not yet commented publicly on the purpose of his pitch (on behalf of a private company) to acquire mineral rights on land the NRD wants for a 225-acre northwest Omaha dam site. Other board members say his efforts are interfering with NRD acquisition of the needed land. Board member Rudy Tesar said Japp has created “a terrible conflict.”
NRD officials have met with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office about Japp’s actions, and the 11-member board’s chairman says legal options will be reviewed.
Here’s hoping this matter can be reasonably, quickly and publicly resolved. The situation is unhealthy for the NRD, the board and its flood-control mission.
While voters are served well by smart, independent-minded elected officials unafraid to ask questions or demand fiscal accountability, the majority still rules. The vote to approve a $42.6 million bond issue for the dam was 8-3.
As David Klug, an NRD board member who also opposed the funding, said: “I didn’t vote for this project. But a supermajority of the board did. In my mind, that means a supermajority of the people who are represented by them want to move forward with this.”