A free-market advocacy group has filed a complaint with the state attorney general against the Lincoln-Lancaster County Public Building Commission, alleging the body violated the state’s open meetings laws earlier this month.
Americans for Prosperity-Nebraska announced today that it filed the complaint over the way the PBC advertised – or failed to advertise – a hastily called Dec. 1 meeting to buy a building near city hall. The only public notice of the emergency meeting was a flier posted on a bulletin board inside the City-County Building, and a notice on a website the morning of the meeting.
The director of the Nebraska chapter of Americans for Prosperity, Brad Stevens, said in a press release, “Hanging a flier inside the City/County building announcing this irregular meeting of the PBC is an insult to taxpayers.”
During the meeting, the PBC voted to buy the office for $1.77 million. The purchase still must be approved by the City Council and County Commission.
“Citizens should not have to swing by city hall to learn how their tax dollars are being spent,” Stevens continued. “State law ensures government must adequately inform the public before moving forward with spending millions on purchasing new property. We intend to ensure the law is followed in this case.”
Don Killeen, building administrator for the PBC, said the city attorney said the flier met the state law’s requirements for public notice of an emergency meeting. Normally, the PBC’s regular meetings are advertised in the newspaper.
The building is owned by Alfred Benesch & Co., which acquired the building last year after merging with HWS Consulting Group. But Benesch has a corporate policy of not owning its buildings, Killeen said Tuesday, and so had been in talks with the PBC since spring about possibly selling. Under the proposed deal, the PBC will lease the building back to the company for about $200,000 a year for five years.
Killeen told Nebraska Watchdog the emergency meeting was called to get the word out to Benesch employees quickly, rather than drag things out. Benesch officials were concerned that if they sold the building to someone that wanted to use the property, that would “force them to do something else,” such as move.
The PBC is a little-noticed and rarely-covered commission comprised of two Lincoln City Council members and two county commissioners who oversee the building and management of buildings for the city and county. It is funded by a countywide property tax.
However, the commission has long operated out of the spotlight – its meetings aren’t televised, its agendas aren’t easy to find, and the commission’s website isn’t easy to find.
Ironically, AFP-Nebraska was accused by Common Cause of Nebraska of failing to register lobbyists in Nebraska, although ultimately the case was dismissed by the state. Jack Gould, head of Common Cause, said regardless of who is involved, all public bodies should follow the open records/meetings laws.
In fact, just yesterday Attorney General Jon Bruning was accused by state Democrats of failing to follow the open records law by handing over documents they requested last week.
“The law is the law, it doesn’t matter who they are, they’ve gotta go by the law,” Gould said.
Reported by Deena Winter, firstname.lastname@example.org
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