- Associated Press - Monday, October 31, 2016

Omaha World-Herald. October 28, 2016

Nonprofits should not stray from their missions.

The problems at Goodwill Omaha highlighted by World-Herald reporting this week provide important lessons for directors of not only Goodwill, but of all nonprofits. Namely:

“ Remember the basic mission, and monitor operations and policies regularly in order not to stray from it. Goodwill Omaha has long contributed in positive ways to the community, but reporting by Henry J. Cordes and Matthew Hansen revealed troubling ways in which the local nonprofit has gotten off track.

The World-Herald found that, for its size, Goodwill Omaha was paying more of its leaders six-figure salaries than was seen at any of the nation’s 78 largest Goodwill affiliates.

Another concern involves how much funding Goodwill Omaha is devoting to mission programs such as job training and assistance programs, compared with its peers. Despite having similar revenue totals, the Iowa City Goodwill spent $2.3 million on such programs in 2015, while Goodwill Omaha spent about $600,000.

“ Balance efficient management with proper messaging to employees, clients and the public about dedication to the mission. Goodwill is a sizable, complex organization, requiring capable executive talent to manage operations.

But salaries and perks for those positions can’t be excessive, especially if some of the agency’s programs are struggling for funds. Frontline employees are sure to be disillusioned in such a case.

“ Integrity matters. It was alarming to learn that Goodwill directed employees in one of its longstanding programs to take Chinese-made products and repackage them for sale in bags labeled “Made in America.” Some workers doing the repackaging were teenagers with disabilities who took part in Goodwill’s Work Experience Program. It’s difficult to see any rationale for such an action.

Good governance is critical to all nonprofits. Board members should use this example as a wake-up call and review procedures for governance, compensation and operations as a part of their fiduciary responsibility as directors. Omaha is blessed with a robust nonprofit and social services community. That community needs to thrive going forward, and strong governance helps to ensure that.

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The Grand Island Independent. October 28, 2016

Guard members shouldn’t have to repay bonuses.

The Pentagon and Defense Secretary Ash Carter made a wise move Wednesday in suspending efforts to make 10,000 California National Guard members repay re-enlistment bonuses.

These efforts had made the Defense Department appear heavy-handed and ungrateful.

After all, many of these Guard troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan after their enlistment. Because of this service in dangerous conditions, they deserve thanks, not threatening calls from collection agencies.

The problems seem to have stemmed from overzealous recruiters and incentive managers who were falsifying enlistment numbers to increase their bonuses. Some may have misinformed recruits about whether they were eligible for the bonuses. Any investigation should focus on recruiters who benefited from committing fraud.

The bonuses were intended for specialists whom the military greatly needed. However, in California they were given to almost anyone who re-enlisted.

The service men and women may have unwittingly followed recruiters’ instructions or advice. Years later to be asked to repay as much as $25,000 is egregious.

These men and women served their country honorably during the war on terror. Their country shouldn’t treat them as someone who took money they hadn’t earned.

Fortunately, President Barack Obama and members of both parties in Congress have spoken out against this. Now they need to make sure the Pentagon doesn’t burden these troops.

The group called the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is asking the government to permanently stop the collection efforts and return any money already collected.

This is the course the government should take. Just pausing the collections until the political heat blows over isn’t good enough. They need to stop.

Certainly, the Pentagon is charged with watching taxpayers’ money and preventing fraud. However, many of these troops didn’t have any idea they didn’t qualify for the bonus. It was “the fault of the system, not of any recipient,” said Brian Duffy, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States and its Auxiliary.

Veterans shouldn’t be treated this way, even if they received a payment in error.

“Thousands of our service members are paying the price for mistakes made by California National Guard managers, some of whom are now serving jail time or paying restitution for their crimes,” said Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (both California Democrats) in a letter to Carter. “It is outrageous to hold these service members and their families responsible for the illegal behavior of others.”

The suspension is a good first step, but Carter needs to go further and stop these collection efforts for good.

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Lincoln Journal Star. October 28, 2016

Gage County needs help from state.

The state should work with Gage County officials to help them cope with the unprecedented $28.1 million judgment in the Beatrice 6 case, called the biggest false confession case in the nation’s history.

The possibility of a loan from the state was suggested by Jeffry Patterson, one of the attorneys representing the six people who were convicted in the 1985 murder and rape of Helen Wilson in Beatrice.

Patterson noted the existence of a state law that allows any Nebraska political subdivision to apply to the State Treasurer’s Office for a loan at one-half of 1 percent interest.

No application for a loan has been made since it was put on the books almost half a century ago.

State Treasurer Don Stenberg didn’t sound too enthusiastic about granting a loan. He questioned whether the law could be used to pay judgments in federal court and also raised the possibility that the maximum loan under the law might be $5 million - the cap for claims paid out by the state.

Stenberg has asked Attorney General Doug Peterson whether the state is obligated to make the loan.

Meanwhile the judgment has been appealed to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. It’s not unlikely the jury award could be reduced on appeal, but even half the original amount is still a staggering sum. Gage County officials also have been poring through old records hoping to find some evidence the judgment will be covered by insurance. Chances seem slim.

There’s no doubt that if the judgment awarded by a federal court jury is affirmed, the taxpayers in Gage County are in a world of hurt.

The county, which has a population of about 22,000, collects about $9 million a year in property taxes. The Gage County Board would have to quadruple the property tax rate just to cover the bill, assuming that it would continue to provide the usual services of county government, such as the court system, sheriff’s office, road maintenance and so forth.

The county board might not even be allowed to raise the property tax rate by that much because it would bump up against the state-imposed lid. The tax rate lid that applies to Gage County is about 50 cents per $100 of valuation, according to Larry Dix, executive director of the Nebraska Association of County Officials. Gage County is at 29.7 cents per $100 of valuation.

There’s no doubt the case of the Beatrice 6 was a horrible miscarriage of justice. Combined, they lost more than 70 years of freedom before being exonerated by DNA evidence from the crime scene.

But if Gage County has to come up with this enormous sum in a short time, its residents will be financially devastated. The impact will be a major drag on the economy of the entire state. The state has an interest in keeping the damage to a minimum. If a low-interest loan is not possible under current state law, the Legislature should consider a change to allow it.

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McCook Daily Gazette. October 28, 2016.

Enforcing fashion at polling places goes too far.

Are the PC police fashion police as well?

Apparently they are, in the tiny town of Bulverde, Texas, 30 minutes north of San Antonio.

Brett Bartlett Mauthe arrived to vote wearing a hat supporting Donald Trump and a “basket of deplorables” T-shirt - a reference to Hillary Clinton’s remarks that half of Trump’s supporters were “a basket of deplorables” such as racists, sexists, homophobes or xenophobes, a generalization she later said she regretted.

Campaigning for a political candidate within a designated space around a polling place is prohibited most jurisdictions, and in Comal County, the space is 100 feet.

Poll workers asked Mauthe to remove his hat, which he did. They then asked him to turn his “deplorables” T-shirt inside out, and he refused.

The police were called, Mauthe was calm and cooperative when they arrived, but he was arrested and released on a $700 cash bond.

“I went up there and talked to him,” said Bulverde Police Chief Gary Haecker. “I told him ‘I support you and I appreciate what you’re doing. It’s your right, but you’re going about it the wrong way here.’ The election code has very specific rules. These are the rules and you have to abide by the rules.”

Really?

We find it hard to believe every polling place in the nation is devoid of “I’m With Her” stickers or “Make America Great Again” baseball caps worn by voters.

Or, how about Trump fans who are pledging to wear red on election day to show support for their candidate to overcome alleged media bias?

If everyone wearing red - or blue for that matter - is turned away from the polls, we will have remarkably low turnout.

Polling place campaign prohibitions were originally designed to prevent candidates or their supporters from in-person election-day intimidation of voters, and that’s an appropriate restriction.

More and more of us are voting in advance, making it easier to find time for sober reflection in relative privacy that is not available on election day.

With voter turnout struggling to top 30 percent in most recent elections, we shouldn’t have to worry about interference from the fashion police on our way to the polls.

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