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Omaha Library Board president opposes bill to make board seats an elected position | Politics & Government

Omaha Library Board president opposes bill to make board seats an elected position | Politics & Government

The president of Omaha’s Library Board of Trustees has voiced his opposition to a bill that would make his and every other seat on the board an elected, rather than appointed, position.

Library Board President Mike Kennedy told The World-Herald that the proposal in the Nebraska Legislature doesn’t represent good public policy. He said it could lead to expensive campaigns and “candidates who may want to run, but ultimately are priced out of it.”

Mike Kennedy, president of the Omaha Public Library Board, said making the board elected rather than appointed could hurt would-be candidates who could not afford to campaign.

“Volunteer board members would have to spend thousands of dollars to run a citywide race to get their message out,” Kennedy said. “It would cost them thousands of dollars.”

State Sen. Terrell McKinney of Omaha introduced the bill in response to concerns from constituents frustrated with the city’s planned move of the downtown library to make way for a new corporate headquarters.

Omaha Library Board members are currently appointed by the mayor and approved by the City Council.

Under Legislative Bill 1256, board members instead would be elected to serve four-year terms. The board would be made up of one member from each council district and two at-large members who are registered to vote in the city.

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The Omaha Public Library Board of Trustees voted Jan. 20 to approve two lease agreements needed for the relocation of the library, with public services shifting from the location at 14th and Douglas Streets to a building at 1401 Jones St.

After the Library Board’s approval, both lease agreements went before the City Council, which signed off on the agreements Feb. 1 after more than two hours of questions and debate.

“When it’s clear to me that the city is prioritizing development over the concerns of the public, to me that’s the line you draw in the sand to say: ‘No, that process isn’t right,’” McKinney told the Legislature’s General Affairs Committee at a Monday hearing.


The Omaha Public Library Board of Trustees has gained more public attention and meeting attendance in recent months because of plans to move the downtown library. Board President Mike Kennedy says the controversy over the issue should not warrant changing how board members are chosen.

By December, the city plans to move the services from the W. Dale Clark Library and demolish the 45-year-old building, opening the parcel for a new Mutual of Omaha headquarters.

Criticisms voiced to the City Council centered on financial feasibility, accessibility of the new locations and transparency. Those objections were raised at Monday’s hearing as well.

Kennedy, who has served as a library trustee since his appointment in 2015, said the board as it exists is “diverse, nonpartisan, and has worked well for decades.”

“I don’t think it’s good public policy to change how the board is selected because of one policy disagreement,” Kennedy said.

If the bill is approved, Kennedy said, he’s unsure he would run for a board position.

“I still have the rest of my three-year term,” Kennedy said. “I love our libraries. All of our library board members do.”

Kennedy was one of three people to write a letter opposing the bill.

Tom Warren, Mayor Jean Stothert’s chief of staff, was the only person who testified against McKinney’s bill on Monday.

“Converting the Omaha Public Library Board to an elected board would undermine the authority of the mayor and politicize these voluntary appointments,” Warren said.

“I don’t think this would undermine the authority of the mayor or her leadership,” he said. “I just think it would more so lend a voice for the people of Omaha.”

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