As she prepares to embark on a three-week trip to Sicily, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert defended her out-of-town trip, which has received increased scrutiny in recent weeks amid media attention and a controversial proposal to change the charter. of the city.
The trip, which has been pushed back to 2021, is one of the final steps needed to solidify the Sicilian town of Carlentini as Omaha’s seventh sister city. Stothert plans to travel to Italy on Friday and return on September 10. She is paying her own expenses and no taxpayer dollars are being used for her trip, according to the Mayor’s Office.
The trip comes after weeks of heightened public concern over the frequency of the mayor’s overseas trips. Commenters on social media and elsewhere have criticized Stothert and, at times, questioned her commitment to running the city.
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“I’ve been out (out of town) six times in 2021, and I’ve been out six times so far this year,” Stothert told The World-Herald in a phone interview Thursday.
Through a records request, The World-Herald reported in July that Stothert was out of town 39 days in the first six months of 2022, meaning she was out of town for about 21% of that time.
The World-Herald report came as members of the city’s Charter Convention considered a proposal from Stothert that would allow city mayors to remain in office when traveling outside city limits.
Stothert argued that the current policy, which requires the City Council president to serve as acting mayor whenever the mayor leaves Omaha, was outdated, especially at a time when technology would allow her or any other mayor to city businesses while out of town. Despite its rationale, the proposal was not one of 10 charter changes recommended by a City Council committee.
Stothert said most of her time off in 2021 was spent with family and friends following the death of her husband Dr. Joe Stothert, who died by suicide in March 2021.
“You have to remember that in 2021, my husband killed himself,” Stothert said. “I needed some time off to spend with friends and family, and I’m sorry if that upsets people. But I needed it.”
Most of her time outside of Omaha in 2022 has been spent in St. Louis.
O’Rourke plans to travel with Stothert to Sicily and intends to move to Omaha this fall. Like the mayor, O’Rourke will pay his own travel expenses.
Stothert and Carlentini Mayor Guiseppe Steffio signed a “friendship agreement” in September 2021 in recognition of a centuries-old bond between the two cities. The purpose of the trip is to exchange art, culture, business and education ideas with Carlentini, Stothert said.
Because the tour group’s itinerary will be packed in Carlentini, Stothert said, she will not be attending a Nebraska Huskers football game to be played in Dublin, Ireland, on Aug. 27.
The trip comes about a month after Mayor Steffio visited Omaha to meet with Stothert and other community leaders and attend Omaha’s Santa Lucia Festival.
“Bottom line: it’s diplomacy,” Stothert said.
The approximately 80-person Omaha travel delegation includes members of the Sicula Italia Foundation, Sons of Italy, the Santa Lucia Festival Committee, the American Italian Heritage Society and the Omaha Sister Cities Association.
Drawn to Carlentini, Italian immigrants more than a century ago poured into Omaha, creating the Little Italy neighborhood and creating a thriving connection that continues in Omaha to this day.
It is in part because of Omaha’s large Sicilian and Italian population that the Omaha Sister Cities Association saw a potential new sister city in Carlentini.
Omaha has six existing sister cities: Yantai, China; Braunschweig, Germany; Naas, Ireland; Shizuoka, Japan; Siauliai, Lithuania; and Xalapa, Mexico.
Our best August 2022 Omaha staff photos and videos