- Associated Press - Monday, August 29, 2016

Omaha World-Herald. August 24, 2016

Berlowitz lesson: A public job shouldn’t be used as a private weapon.

The actions of former Bellevue City Administrator Dan Berlowitz embarrassed the City of Bellevue and its taxpayers.

Berlowitz faces three misdemeanor charges - disturbing the peace, trespassing and assault - after he allegedly caused a scene at the office of a Bellevue dentist, his wife’s former employer.

More to the point, Berlowitz used his city position as a weapon, based on what the dentist alleged in a Sarpy County sheriff’s report.

According to the report, Berlowitz told the dentist’s receptionist he had not only private business but also city business with the dentist.

Berlowitz allegedly threatened the dentist, implying that as city administrator, he could bring Bellevue Mayor Rita Sanders and Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov down so hard on the dentist’s business it would become “your mausoleum.”

Sanders and the Bellevue City Council concluded that Berlowitz had crossed the line. Sanders, long a Berlowitz defender, recommended he be fired, which the council voted to do unanimously.

He nearly lost his job in 2015, with the mayor casting the deciding vote on his reappointment.

“Mr. Berlowitz, I have had your back,” Sanders said Monday night. “You worked hard for the city, and you were paid accordingly. But on June 21 … you caused a situation all on your own.”

Taxpayers may well be squeamish about the city firing Berlowitz without cause, which means paying him $120,000, plus 10 months of health insurance. Sanders defended the decision to pursue a clean break by noting it avoids the potential for a lawsuit and lets both sides move forward. Berlowitz sued a previous employer, the City of Seward, Nebraska, after not being reappointed by a new mayor. He received a $30,000 settlement.

The important lesson from the Bellevue allegations is that public employees should not use their power or position for personal purposes. The power of a public office, or a public job, is entrusted to them by the citizens they serve. If that trust is betrayed, it’s time to part ways.


The Kearney Hub. August 25, 2016

Alcohol takes heavy toll here, in other states.

Compiled by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, these facts are a reminder of how far our state still has to go in combating alcohol abuse. It’s a threat to families, personal health and public safety, yet Nebraskans too often look the other way when a friend has had too much to drink, and then does something foolish such as getting behind the wheel of a car.

Consuming five or more alcoholic beverages in just one night can affect your brain and physical activities for up to three days. The bigger immediate worry is whether your impairment might contribute to a serious accident.

According to DHHS, the average blood alcohol level for individuals arrested for drunken driving is about .161, or twice the legal limit. For an adult of average weight, hitting the limit for legal impairment of .08 takes only about two beers, but after that, a person’s blood alcohol concentration puts them at a crash risk that’s 11 times higher than a non-drinking driver.

If you think that’s a sobering thought, how about this: A roadside survey determined that after 9 p.m., one of every 12 drivers on the road is legally drunk. If one of those drivers is arrested, he can expect court expenses, fines, increased insurance rates and other costs to reach $5,000 or more, says DHHS, and his license will be suspended.

Some Nebraskans are slow learners. About one-third of drivers arrested or convicted of drunken driving are repeat offenders.

Not all news about alcohol abuse in Nebraska is bad. At least we didn’t make the top 10 list for drunken driving arrests, as reported in 24/7 Wall St. In reverse order, the top 10 states are: Texas, 10; West Virginia, 9; South Dakota, 8; Alabama, 7; Oklahoma 6; Mississippi, 5; Wyoming, 4; South Carolina, 3; Montana, 2; and, North Dakota, 1.

Beer consumption per capita in North Dakota is 45.8 gallons, highest in the nation. North Dakota ranks second with 23.8 percent binge drinkers and third with 32.8 percent of minors consuming alcohol.

The report by 24/7 Wall St. didn’t include stats on broken homes, unplanned pregnancies, joblessness or many of the undesirable outcomes of alcohol abuse, but North Dakota has more fatalities from drunken driving accidents than any state: 10.3 deaths per 100,000 residents - a figure that rose 64.2 percent from 2002 to 2012.

On average, North Dakota drivers in fatality accidents have blood alcohol levels of about .160 - almost the same as the average Nebraskan arrested for DWI.


The Grand Island Independent. Aug 26, 2016

Nebraska’s biggest family reunion kicks off today.

Today Grand Island and the Nebraska State Fair roll out the welcome mat for Nebraska’s biggest multiday event. With the fair now in the seventh year at its new residence, the 2 millionth visitor to this venue will cross the gate today, heralding the continued success of the fair’s regeneration.

The staff and board of directors of the fair, the 1868 Foundation and the community of Grand Island have worked hard to prepare for and improve the fair experience.

Some 600 volunteers have worked to clean up the roadways in Grand Island and close to 1,000 more will play host to 350,000 or so fairgoers over the next 11 days.

Businesses and organizations throughout the community have shown their support by decorating hay bales, sprucing up their landscaping and displaying welcome signs. The city staff and law enforcement agencies have also been hard at work making preparations for a safe, enjoyable fair.

Following last year’s well-attended and memorable Keith Urban outdoor concert, three outdoor concerts have been scheduled this year, featuring headliner performers, beginning with Thomas Rhett tonight.

Fairgoers will also find an abundance of free entertainment around every corner. New or returning this year are the Lumberjills - a group of female logging sports entertainers; the Vicenta White Tiger Show, a featured act of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey circus; Flippin, a steam-punk aerial and acrobatic show; Street Breakz - a break dancing group; Mango and Dango and their Flying Umbrella Ship; the Procrastinators - percussionists who make music out of ordinary items; RoboCars - human transformers; Ozzy the Rockin Toucan and Dancing Diego the Ringtail Lemur; the Dark Knights jousters; and the Banana Derby, Capuchin monkeys racing each other on “dogback.”

Some two dozen other musical acts can also be enjoyed at different venues around the fairgrounds. A full listing of the concerts and fair activities can be found in the Official Program Guide or on the State Fair’s website. A phone app with schedules and a locator map is also available for downloading.

The beautiful new Thompson Foods Open-Air Arena has opened on the east fairgrounds. The equine events hosted there will anchor a growing number of attractions on that side of the fairgrounds that will help to ease congestion on the midway on busy days.

Also back this year are the poultry exhibits and events. The bird flu epidemic forced cancellation of those events last year and the fair just didn’t seem the same without crowing roosters.

The midway rides, the exhibition hall, Market Place goods, Birthing Center, 4-H exhibits, tractors, parades, animal and machinery shows and competitions, ice cream parlor, beer gardens, demonstrations, and incredible variety of delectable food choices are perennial Nebraska State Fair staples.

The highlight of the fair is, of course, the social aspect of family, friends and neighbors sharing an enjoyable, life-affirming experience that celebrates what is great and unique about the state of Nebraska.


Lincoln Journal Star. August 24, 2016

Sad state of affairs at City Hall.

In the original version of this movie, set on the banks of the Potomac, one political party had control of the executive branch. The other party controlled the legislative branch.

They bickered, conspired among themselves and expended vast quantities of energy trying to make the other side look bad. Eventually, government ground to a near halt while problems festered in the hinterlands.

Now a sequel is playing on the banks of Salt Creek, where Mayor Chris Beutler, a Democrat, has vetoed the budget approved by an all-Republican majority of the City Council.

As Shakespeare wrote, “A pox on both your houses.”

As we opined earlier, if forced to choose between the budget approved by the council and the one proposed by Beutler, we prefer Beutler’s. The mayor is right that it addresses problems including the pending devastation of the emerald ash borer now, rather than kicking the can down the road, to use a phrase that has been worn out by Washington.

But there’s enough blame to go around for the dismal state of affairs at City Hall. The Beutler administration certainly should have informed the council about the $1.1 million federal grant awarded Aug. 12 that might be used to pay the salaries of firefighters. The grant had obvious budget implications.

Meanwhile Republican Party operative Coby Mach is preaching to the choir on his radio talk show on KLIN, egging on the four Republican council members and sowing bad blood.

Things could get even worse if the four stage a legal battle over whether they have the right to pass a tax rate lower than required by the mayor’s budget. That move would take dissension in City Hall to an entirely new level.

We hope they don’t.

As issues go, this one is relatively minor. It’s uncertain whether the mayor’s tax hike will even show up when the overall tax rate, including all taxing entities, is calculated a few weeks from now.

It should be reiterated that the mayor and all seven council members were elected on a ballot that did not identify them by party. Partisan advantage should not be part of the equation at City Hall.

In the city of Lincoln, a fast-growing political affiliation is nonpartisan. Last we checked on active voters in the Capital City, there were 64,646 Republicans, 60,942 Democrats, 1,254 Libertarians and 34,228 nonpartisans.

In other words, about one in five active voters in Lincoln is registered nonpartisan.

When the conversation turns to government, those are the folks we want to sit with at Saturday morning coffee, see on the next bar stool and chat with on the church steps after services. May their numbers continue to grow.


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