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Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers

July 8, 2019

Lincoln Journal Star. July 5, 2019

Lincoln, Omaha wise to partner for tech hiring

The Midwest’s budding tech industry may be called the Silicon Prairie, but it needs workers to help sow the seeds that will create future growth.

Given the demand for those employees, however, they’re often few and far between. Competition among businesses and cities is frequently fierce.

Bearing that in mind, the recently announced Opportunities in Tech partnership between Lincoln and Omaha - including both chambers of commerce and a variety of companies in both cities - marks a positive development. Rather than having the state’s two largest metro areas attempt to poach talent from each other, collaborating to recruit it to the area makes so much sense.

With so many ties binding Lincoln and Omaha, their pull becomes stronger when the cities work as one instead of against one another. Rather being divided in hopes of conquering, this “super region” with 1.3 million residents, as Lincoln Chamber of Commerce President Wendy Birdsall calls it, becomes more powerful with the combined resources of both communities.

The mutual benefit becomes clear when one looks at Lincoln’s leading high-tech employers. Many of them - Hudl, Nelnet, Spreetail, etc. - are headquartered in the capital city but have offices and presences in Omaha. Given their proximity, many employees commute between the two cities.

With the dearth of available employees forcing these companies to turn to remote workers or offices in larger tech hubs in other states, Nebraska needs every advantage possible in its attempts to lure these workers to the Cornhusker State.

Though it’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, the folly of such high-stakes competition between geographic neighbors can be seen in the Kansas City metro area.

Businesses have long played Missouri and Kansas against one another to see which state offers the best tax incentives, often jumping back and forth across state lines in a process that’s cost hundreds of millions of dollars over an arbitrary line on a map. After years of this border war, leaders both states are examining the best way to end this expensive game of tag.

Lincoln and Omaha could easily have fallen into a similar trap. Instead, they’ve correctly realized both communities benefit from growing the pool of available workers in these good-paying jobs. It follows in the footsteps of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Partnership, which has united similar organizations in six counties “in the metropolitan region for the benefit of all.”

If either Lincoln or Omaha win in attracting new talent, the other will benefit. The large number of entertainment options in and the short distance between these cities mean that a resident of one community will almost certainly spend money in the other.

That’s a good thing - and indicative of the broad thinking required for Nebraska to grow its workforce well into the coming years and beyond.


Grand Island Independent. July 3, 2019

Independence Day carries a powerful message

This week we observe another birthday of our country’s birth. Across the nation people in communities large and small will enjoy a day off from work. They will have fun and participate in some 15,000 fireworks displays. They will gather with friends and family and consume some $6.7 billion worth of food and drink. More beer is sold on July 4 than any other time of the year. The 150 million hot dogs consumed — if laid end to end — would stretch from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles more than five times.

This is a day we should celebrate and remember. In July of 1776 our colonial forefathers adopted one of the most important documents ever written. It declared our independence from England and the result, after a long and difficult Revolutionary War, was an independent country which today has individual freedoms and opportunities without parallel in history. It would provide its citizens the highest standard of living any people has ever enjoyed. It would use its military might to help keep freedom alive at crucial times in history.

The Declaration of Independence was the first formal statement by a nation’s people asserting their right to choose their own government. It was an idea whose time had come and an idea which has contained great power since it was formally accepted 243 years ago. It contains ideas feared by those who want despotic powers. It contains ideas that many men and women have been willing to die to preserve.

The preamble to our Declaration of Independence includes ideas so bold that they can be considered audacious.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable right; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Given that some of the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence were slave owners did these authors really believe what they wrote about equality and inalienable rights? History does not tell us why a Thomas Jefferson, who owned slaves and had children with one of his slaves, wrote those words. However, the Declaration of Independence has met the test of time and its words say much about the kind of nation we are.

Surely the ideas stated in the Declaration of Independence help explain why so many people who were born in other countries have wanted to live in the United States. The immigrants coming to our southern borders come because they know that for them it is a place with greater security, freedom and opportunity.

Our tradition of fireworks on July 4 dates back to the Revolutionary War. John Adams said he hoped the anniversary of our independence would be marked for years to come by “guns” and “bonfires” and “illuminations.” Just one year later on July 4, 1777, Philadelphia marked Independence Day by adjourning Congress and celebrating with bonfires, bells and fireworks. After almost 250 years, the tradition continues.

Fireworks were first made in China. In 2016 $292.2 million worth of fireworks were imported to the U.S. from China. Whether the current trade disputes between China and the United States has affected the import of fireworks for the 2019 Fourth of July has not been in the news. Better to enjoy the day and worry about trade disputes later.

Happy Independence Day!


Omaha World Herald. July 6, 2019

The state takes a big risk with its child welfare changeover for Douglas, Sarpy

State leaders were badly stung a decade ago when their attempt to privatize Nebraska’s child welfare services threw the system into disarray. It took years to straighten out the problems and restore public confidence. That tumultuous experience provided an important lesson: Stability is vital for the child welfare system, whose services help abused and neglected children.

Now, concerns have understandably arisen that a new state decision threatens the stability of child welfare services, this time for Douglas and Sarpy Counties. The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services has selected a new, out-of-state private child welfare provider for the two counties, with the provider’s low-cost bid a key consideration. Kerry Winterer, a former head of Nebraska HHS, wrote in a Midlands Voices essay Friday that the decision is a major mistake.

The current provider, PromiseShip (the only remaining private child welfare in Nebraska), scored higher than its competitor — St. Francis Ministries, a Salina, Kansas, nonprofit — on measures for service quality and management. But HHS awarded the contract to St. Francis, which offered a bid of $196 million over five years, far lower than PromiseShip’s proposal of $341 million.

St. Francis currently serves more than 31,000 people through subsidiaries in Nebraska and six other states, plus two Central American countries.

HHS officials say that they will hold St. Francis to the needed standards for service delivery and cost management and that the Kansas-based nonprofit offers the best opportunity for innovative service.

The state has an enormous responsibility to get this right. Child welfare service for Douglas and Sarpy Counties is complicated, demanding work requiring a high level of competence. PromiseShip — a collaborative nonprofit that includes Boys Town, the Child Saving Institute and Heartland Family Service — currently handles 40% of the state’s caseload and some 59% of the cases requiring the most extensive intervention. The total number of children served last year in the two counties was just under 5,000.

Public confidence will be gravely shaken if these tasks are mishandled. Critics point to various concerns regarding St. Francis:

“ Multiple placements. Kansas has transferred children multiple times at a rate far higher than in Nebraska: 7.1 times for every 1,000 days spent in Kansas foster care in 2017, compared to Nebraska’s statewide rate of 2.56 moves per 1,000 days in January 2017. This issue spurred a lawsuit against Kansas state officials.

“ Caseloads. Nebraska law limits HHS workers to 12 to 17 cases. St. Francis’ proposal for a Nebraska contract was built around a target of 25 cases per case manager.

“ Contract cost. In its protest to the state, PromiseShip stated that Nebraska’s per-case cost, statewide, was $3,000 in 2017 and $3,100 in 2018, whereas in its bid St. Francis proposed a per-case cost of $1,130 in year one and $1,650 in year two. St. Francis’ contract with Kansas “has been amended multiple times” to increase the payment rate to the nonprofit, PromiseShip wrote. State Sen. Sara Howard of Omaha, who chairs the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, said she has concerns over whether St. Francis could fulfill the contract at the proposed rate. During the failed privatization effort a decade ago, cost issues forced all private providers but one — the agency now named PromiseShip — to pull out of service delivery in Nebraska.

St. Francis says it can achieve significant cost savings through innovative service-delivery approaches, a key goal in having a private provider.

The state Department of Administrative Services, in its response to PromiseShip, said that cost was only about 25% of the bid selection criteria. A team of HHS financial officers “questioned both vendors on costs, cost management and other financial particulars, assessing them qualitatively on their responses.”

The state intends to “ensure that once services are provided, case management ratios fall within statute,” Administrative Services said.

With this decision, the state is taking a major risk. It’s imperative that the transition be made seamlessly and that the state rigorously ensure that service is delivered at the appropriate standard. Meeting those obligations is crucial to make sure that abused and neglected children receive needed help and that the system retains a vital need: stability.


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