Omaha World-Herald. April 29, 2021.
Editorial: Landfill scamming revelation is a huge failure by Douglas County
Government has a responsibility to meet a fundamental test: It must carry out its services efficiently and justly. And it must make sure its actions build trust with the public.
If the court upholds the criminal charges filed against five county landfill employees and two business owners, Douglas County government will have failed that test on both counts. That would be a major failure by local government, and county officials must take action to prevent such abuses for the future.
Under the scheme, some landfill employees allegedly showed favoritism toward certain dump truck owners, who had to pay a mere $20 or $26 flat fee instead of the proper hundreds of dollars. The owners, authorities charge, then compensated the landfill workers with cash, gift cards and even hams.
No one knows the exact amount stolen. One estimate put the amount at $350,000 over a three-year period. And the abuse may have stretched across decades. Some employees told the Sheriff’s Office that the abuse extended back to 1995 — which would amount to a staggering long-term dereliction of duty by Douglas County government.
According to the legal filing, some landfill employees skewed the landfill computer system so that it gave a false reading of individual trucks — lowering their weight by tons. In some cases, the employees allowed trucks to drive by the scale without weighing.
When Waste Management, which handles garbage pickup in unincorporated Douglas County, conducted an internal investigation, it found that over 12 weeks, five employees lowered one company’s dump fees 336 times. That would equate to about $350,000 over three years.
This major revenue loss — which, again, apparently is impossible to accurately access — deprived funds to not only the landfill property owner and the trash contractor but also to the county government and the state. Hardworking county taxpayers will hardly be pleased at how this alleged scamming siphoned off revenues that could have supported the county budget.
In the wake of this alarming situation, Douglas County officials must take action. The County Board needs answers from Kent Holmes, supervisor of Douglas County Environmental Services, on why oversight was so lax for so long. The county must adopt new procedures and monitoring protocols to ensure responsible conduct. The Legislature should consider taking a look at the state law on felony theft, since the statute of limitations currently is limited to three years.
It’s rare for Douglas County government to have a scandal of this financial magnitude and scale of embarrassment. That’s all the more reason for the county to demonstrate now that it’s taking action on needed fronts — to provide answers, hold people accountable, tighten procedures and rebuild the damage to the public trust.
Lincoln Journal Star. April 30, 2021.
Editorial: Spring Game shows return to normal is getting nearer
The world is ready to mingle again, ready to break curfew after a yearlong grounding. It’s ready to resume the life we used to know.
That’s exciting. And a bit scary. Lest we forget that breaking curfew most times was followed up by another round of being grounded.
That said, tread lightly. Nobody wants a return to normalcy more than we do, but we’ll never stop preaching caution.
And so Saturday might feel like a gameday -- albeit, the annual glorified scrimmage, but always a suitable reason to pull out the grill, toss a few bags and enjoy a few cold ones -- this is really just a test run to see if we’ll be able to handle a little more in September.
More than 42,000 fans -- about half of capacity -- will be allowed inside Memorial Stadium on Saturday for the Red-White Spring Game, making it the biggest mass gathering in Nebraska in about 18 months.
While it’s an outdoor event with fresh air and warm temperatures, we continue to urge everyone to follow the directed health measures put in place by the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department.
Do the right things by wearing a mask, maintaining proper social distancing practices and showing the same kind of patience and responsibility that has allowed us to curb the coronavirus’s spread in recent months.
With more than 41% of the state fully vaccinated, Nebraska is on its way to getting back to taking part in the things we once took for granted.
Still, make no mistake. Saturday’s spring game is only a test, the next progression on the road to what we really want -- full houses allowed inside Memorial Stadium in the fall.
That happens only if we handle this weekend properly and show that the gathering of thousands won’t create a super-spreader event.
We are optimistic about the prospects.
Other parts of the world are already moving forward. In New Zealand, more than 50,000 showed up to a concert last weekend to officially announce to the world that the island nation had officially beaten COVID-19.
The world is waking up. It’s ready to party -- and so are we, just as we turn the calendar to May and the quickly approaching summer months.
Saturday’s spring game is not just a test for the Husker Football team but to see how we as fans handle a Husker Saturday. It’s also a litmus test for other activities planned in the coming months.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln announced this week that Jazz in June, the annual outdoor event, will take place every Tuesday evening on the grounds of the Sheldon Art Museum.
The downtown music venues are also gearing up for live shows. Their schedules are quickly filling up, and Zoo Fest, the annual outdoor music festival held each July, is ready for a return.
In short, it’s not hard to envision a return to life as we once knew it in the near future.
But responsibility is still required. And it begins on Saturday with the spring football game.
McCook Gazette. April 29, 2021.
Editorial: Be prepared when wild land fires threaten
Hail up to 3 inches in diameter in the St. Francis, Kan. area wasn’t welcome, but the rain that accompanied it throughout Southwest Nebraska and Northwest Kansas was a welcome reprieve from drought conditions.
More rain is needed if precipitation is ever to be more common than the Red Flag warnings issued by the National Weather Service office in Goodland, Kan.
Check out a public service ad sponsored by Edgewater Insurance and the Gazette on page 6 of Tuesday’s edition for tips on keeping your home safe.
It’s of most concern to rural residents, but it’s vital information for everyone in the region -- we all remember the fire that started north of McCook on March 6, 2018, destroyed John and Jennifer Kugler’s home on the edge of McCook and could have easily burned down many more homes if not for the swift and heroic action of local firefighters and volunteers.
Red Willow Western Rural Fire Department has a complete program available on how to prepare homes before, during and after an event, and is available to talk to homeowners, the community and subdivisions about the zones and items that can assist in slowing a wildfire down and protecting the home.
“Most people don’t realize that wildfires can create their own weather, and most homes that are in the path of a wildfire generally catch fire from radiant heat from the fire and ember dangers around their homes rather than direct flame from the fire,” said Billie Cole of the RWWRFD.
“There are numerous resources for homeowners about becoming fire wise, creating zones around homes, and education on ember dangers and other topics.”
Topics include vegetation management such as home ignition zones, landscaping and maintenance; fire-resistive construction such as roofing and vents, decks and porches, siding and windows; and preparation steps such as emergency responder access, having an emergency action plan, two ways out of your neighborhood and predesignating meeting place, not waiting to evacuate if threatened by a fire, an annual insurance policy checkup and home inventory.
Anyone who is interested in learning more can contact any RWWRFD member and ask about wildland-urban interface information. For more information, call the fire department at 308-345-7674, the McCook Police Department at 308-345-3450 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. More information is also available at Firewise.org.