Douglas County Board debates pandemic relief and New Omaha City Council holds first meeting
Legislative chambers were heated as the Douglas County Board of Commissioners and the County Finance Department debated the county’s relationship with the private firm Deloitte during Tuesday’s board meeting.
“This is a waste of money,” said Commissioner Jim Cavanaugh. “Deloitte had a contract with us under the CARES Act that was a waste of money and basically told us that our 2,100+ employees are too stupid to take on the administration … I don’t think so.”
The county previously hired the administrative and financial services firm to manage $ 166 million in CARES Act funds. With another $ 110 million flowing through the US bailout plan, Deloitte County has tapped again despite objections from some commissioners who prefer to keep costs down and shop locally.
County finance director Joe Lorenz advocated a solution, saying the county must do everything possible to ensure it complies with complex and dynamic federal guidelines. Should the auditors discover mishandling funds, Douglas County would be on the hook to repay them. A company like Deloitte that has experience in disaster management is best equipped for this, said Lorenz.
“We don’t use them to do the job,” said Lorenz. “We use them as consultants.”
Tuesday’s resolution, passed 4: 3 with Commissioners Cavanaugh, Mike Boyle and Maureen Boyle voting no, gave Deloitte up to $ 200,000 to continue the services through the end of the year. Of the total, $ 43,000 would be carried over from previously allocated funds. Another $ 157,000 would be used to reimburse FEMA and NEMA for their efforts to help Douglas County’s Department of Health run COVID-19 tests and vaccines.
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While other county health authorities allowed the state to fund and run the vaccination process, Douglas County took a different approach. Lorenz said DCHD spent at least $ 10 million in vaccination costs that are due to be reimbursed by state and federal governments.
“NEMA / FEMA has a reputation for being difficult to use,” said Lorenz. “This is another area that [Deloitte] can support us. “
Nonetheless, many commissioners expressed concerns and frustrations. Commissioner Mike Boyle asked why the county is not treating this hiring like a normal bid process where commissioners could hear from and rate multiple candidates. Commissioners Cavanaugh and Maureen Boyle both said continuing to work with Deloitte was a missed opportunity to work with smart local accountants who would boost the local economy. Deloitte has an office in Omaha as well as in more than a hundred cities around the world.
Commissioner Mike Friend said he did not like Deloitte’s “stance” but said the time to raise those concerns began in spring 2020 when federal aid arrived, well before he was even on the board. Freund asked Lorenz what happens if the board of directors no longer works with the company.
Lorenz said the risk of accidentally violating policies and the possibility of fraud would “significantly” increase without Deloitte’s help.
The district board discussed postponing the vote for a week by referring to the finance committee, but the motion failed and the resolution was passed.
The board then passed resolutions recognizing June as LGBTQ + Pride Month and National PTSD Awareness Month.
Douglas County’s Director of Health, Dr. Adi Pour, briefed the county board on COVID-19 in Douglas County and the vaccination schedule. The good news is that the number of new cases continues to decline. But the county is still struggling to bridge the herd immunity gap through vaccination.
The federal goal is to get 70% of American adults to have at least their first dose of the vaccine by July 4th. Douglas County is around 64%, and Pour said she believes that goal is achievable. However, vaccine delivery has slowed and certain communities like Black Omahans, of which only about 30% have received at least one vaccination, have been more difficult than others to convince to vaccinate.
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The county, which has long tried to focus COVID-19 news and build trust through relationships with community leaders, will have several pop-up vaccine pages in the coming weeks. A list of temporary and permanent locations can be found on the district’s website.
Pour said that while everything is trending in the right direction, the fight against COVID-19 is ongoing.
“It’s not over until it’s over,” she said.
Hours later, the Omaha City Council met for a brief and comparatively less controversial session. It was their first meeting after the inauguration of three new members on Monday.
One of these newly elected members, District 2 Councilor Juanita Johnson, began the meeting with a proclamation recognizing June 19 as June 10.
Johnson, the only black member of the city council, thanked the NAACP Omaha office and its president Vickie Young for their contributions to the city. Councilor Pete Festersen added that the proclamation will be submitted to the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation on June 19.
The city council unanimously approved liquor licenses for two new Omaha restaurants: Koko’s Chicken at 2571 South 177th Plaza and Bravo Cucina Italiano at 17151 Davenport St. Mula, a Mexican restaurant on 40th and Farnam Streets, also received approval for a liquor license for a proposed Complement to its outdoor terrace.
Ross Koley, owner of a Grateful Dead-themed bar called Brokedown Palace, has been granted a liquor license to host a music festival at 8805 Maple St. June 24-26. Festersen, who represents the bar district, asked Koley about noise complaints from last year’s Run for the Roses festival.
Koley said he had received complaints from a neighbor, but spoke to neighbors to make sure there weren’t any problems. Festersen suggested stopping the music at 11 p.m. instead of 12 p.m. each evening, but the city council approved the liquor license without changes.
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