Omaha City Planning Director: Back to the future and a double dip?

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By Editorial Staff

The City of Omaha Planning Department was regular fodder for all Republican Omaha mayoral candidates. Regardless of who emerged from the Republican primary, Omaha City Planning Department Director Rick Cunningham’s days were numbered.

The city has an interim planning director and is looking to hire a full time director when an unlikely name popped up. Political Insiders Report was conducting research on another story when a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act )request turned up an email exchange that made us completely change gears.

Steve Jensen was the City of Omaha Planning Director from June 2005 to August 2009. You might remember Jensen’s name from stories the Omaha World Herald ran on former city employees and their pensions. The story on the top ten pensions can be found by clicking here. Jensen’s pension raised many eyebrows as he received the third highest pension in Omaha of all time coming in at $114,405 annually. It was also surprising that he was one of a very few to receive a six figure pension while not working for the Omaha Police or Fire Departments.

Now that Jensen is retired why is his high pension relevant you ask? Here is why. There seems to be a push in City Hall or people in the planning department to re-hire Jensen as the City Planning Director. Jensen was very well thought of in the planning department however currently Section 23-309 of the city code prohibits former employees of the city to receive a pension and a salary at the same time. That is what is called a double dip. There are provisions that allow pensioners to work in a very limited capacity for the city but not full-time.

There is also a push in City Hall to change the code to allow Jensen to receive his six figure pension and receive a six figure salary from the city.  Mikki Frost is the Director of Human Resources for the City of Omaha and has been exchanging emails with City Council President Pete Festersen. In one email Frost states the following. Please click image below to enlarge.

Jensen

So it seems that Mr. Jensen’s motivation is not to “make money.” So receiving an annual pension of over $114,000 and becoming the planning Planning Director for a salary of $100,000 is not making money? It should be noted that Mr. Jensen also is the Principal of Jensen Consulting that could potentially provide a third source of revenue.

Even though the city has budgeted for a salary of $140,000 for the Planning Director and Jensen is proposing  to only receive $100,000 salary we believe this is a very penny wise, pound foolish approach. Allowing Jensen to concurrently receive a salary and pension from the City would set a precedent that could allow the floodgates to open for other City of Omaha pension earners.  As in this instance,  to double dip by retiring and then getting rehired full time will cost the city considerably more than any initial salary savings.  The $40,000 in salary savings would pale in comparison to the amount taxpayers would pay if others started double dipping.  To see the full email exchange and proposed rules change, click Email exchange and proposed changes.

Fortunately, at this point, the Omaha City Council has some of the same reservations that we do. Time will tell what the city decides to do to fill the very important post of City Planning Director.

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