By Jasmine Maharisi – News Editor
Representatives from the Mayor Suttle Recall Committee were on campus Tuesday and Wednesday, approaching students and asking for signatures in an effort to recall the Omaha mayor.
The committee is attempting to collect 27,000 signatures by Nov. 19 in an effort to force a recall election. The committee has not revealed how many signatures they have collected so far.
The representatives didn’t say the petition was for recalling Suttle per se, but said it was to give voters an opportunity to decide whether they want to recall him.
Some volunteers read from the petition before each person signed. The volunteers said more information would be available on the effort once enough signatures were collected.
A student was approached and asked for five minutes of her time to sign the petition. She strained to understand what she was being asked to sign.
“I’m so confused,” she said with a laugh. She didn’t sign the petition.
Moments later, Campus Security approached the petitioners and told them to stay in the area behind the Milo Bail Student Center rather than on the sidewalks across campus and outside the Criss Library.
Campus Security also asked them to remove their signs forked along the pep bowl and hung near the petitioners.
In the past few days, the committee has been hitting the pavement hard in attempt to collect signatures. They’ve hired paid circulators to approach Omaha voters, according to the Omaha World-Herald, but haven’t confirmed how much the petitioners are being compensated.
A committee petitioner on campus Wednesday refused to reveal his name and declined an interview with The Gateway. He said he “was just there to do his job.”
When asked if he was being paid, the petitioner replied: “That’s none of your business.”
When it was pointed out to the petitioner that he was on the UNO campus property and it was the job of the student newspaper to report on campus events and to be the voice of the students, he was dismissive.
“No, no, no,” he said. “You’re just a paper. You don’t speak for all the students.”
The petitioner gave the name of the recall committee’s public relations representative, Jeremy Aspen. When asked if Aspen was on campus to talk with, the volunteer avoided the question and made a comment about common courtesy and the “Omaha way.” He said this was Nebraska and not some “cut-throat city,” apparently referring to The Gateway’s inquiry.
The volunteer then said it was illegal to report on the scene and that the attempt to do so was obstructing him from doing his job. When it was pointed out that The Gateway is staffed by students representing the student body, he held firm and reiterated that his rights were being violated.
Another Gateway editor spoke to a petitioner in a similar encounter on Tuesday. The petitioner revealed that he’s not from Omaha, but is from California and working for a company hired by the recall committee to collect signatures.
According to Nebraska Legislative Bill 39 passed in February 2008, circulators must be residents of the state in order to collect valid signatures.
Violations are punishable by a $500 fine and three months in jail.
The Gateway attempted to contact the Mayor Suttle Recall Committee office but was unable to reach anyone at the office or leave a message requesting comment.
The anti-recall office, Forward Omaha, said it has received several complaints from the UNO community about the petitioners.
“There’s been a number of illegal actions happening on the UNO campus,” said Noelle Obermeyer, co-treasurer of Forward Omaha. “Most of the volunteers are paid and aren’t giving people the full story.”
Obermeyer said the recall petitioners are required by law to read aloud two documents to potential signees, one referencing the purpose of the petition and the second document containing a response from Mayor Suttle.
The mayor’s office confirmed this was the legal requirement.
Only part of one document, a brief phrase printed on the petition explaining its purpose, was observed being read to students on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Gateway’s editors observed multiple instances where neither document was read aloud.
Obermeyer also said she received a complaint from a foreign exchange student who was approached by the petitioners. The petitioners were criticizing Suttle, namely the recently passed 2.5 percent restaurant tax, which the petitioners claimed was 25 percent.
“Be suspicious,” Obermeyer said. “They are acting as field people selling a product that doesn’t exist.”
On both days, UNO student protesters stood beside petitioners, holding signs that read “I support Mayor Suttle.”
It’s unclear how long petitioners will be on campus collecting signatures. To understand both sides of the issue visit the anti-recall campaign website at forwardomaha.com and the recall campaign website at mayorsuttlerecall.com.
Copy Editor Jeff Kazmierski and Production Manager Nick Cavallaro added to this report.
*This article was revised on Nov. 15.