Emails Show Kearney Ahead in Vets Home Planning - KHGI-TV/KWNB-TV/KHGI-CD-Grand Island, Kearney, Hastings

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Emails Show Kearney Ahead in Vets Home Planning

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With their eyes on a $125 million dollar prize, the tri–cities compete for a new veterans home. 

Each city's sales pitch for a new veterans home is under wraps. But in theory, communication from city administration to the city council is a matter of public record. 

And NTV asked for it, to see where cities may be going.

Response from Hastings

The city of Hastings was first to respond to our public records request.

City Administrator Joe Patterson said there's only a short update from earlier this month. 

The city council has considered several potential sites, but did so in a closed session.

Hastings officials declined to release more, saying the effort is headed by Hastings Economic Development -- a private entity.

And Hastings leaders say many issues remain unresolved, waiting to be finalized before the June 11 deadline.

Response from Kearney
 
While Hastings waits to the last minute, emails show Kearney has been working on a proposal for more than a year.

City Manager Mike Morgan sent a June 2012 email to council members.

Morgan told NTV that veterans groups approached Kearney and encouraged the city to make a bid.

Based on the records NTV requested, Kearney intends to offer free land for the veterans home.
The city also promises lower utilities costs.

A September 2012 email is marked "confidential", but was sent to all city council members, making it subject to open records laws.

In that email, Kearney officials say they intend to offer access to UNK nursing assistance, plus the potential for $1.5 million from city sales tax.

Documentation shows Kearney officials made a presentation to state veterans officials in September, which received positive response.

When the governor announced the project was going forward in January, he said Grand Island was the front runner, with its 125 year history.

Response from Grand Island

But unlike the other cities, Grand Island chose not to release emails to NTV.

NTV's request was for those emails sent by city administration to the city council. 

But City Attorney Bob Sivick said releasing emails prior to the June 11 deadline "will disclose information that would give advantage to the city's competitors and serve no public purpose."

Asphalt Bid Requests

NTV made a second public records request of each city, for comparison. 
 
Grand Island did respond to a more mundane request for asphalt bids. The city attorney hand delivered pages and pages of information, and charged $9.25 for photocopies.

State law allows fees for copies.

Hastings emailed a single spreadsheet and Kearney said it had no asphalt bids. 

As for the vets home documents, they're a snapshot in time. It's anyone's guess if the final proposals will differ from what these communications indicate. Final proposals are due June 11. 

Officials in Kearney told NTV they're committed to being open and transparent. Video of council meetings can be found online, and co can countless documents.

And civic leaders in Grand Island say they have nothing to hide, and part of the reason they have nothing to release, is because what's been given to the city council has been done in public.

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