Omaha: Firefighters' Fundraising Illegal

OMAHA, Neb. --

 

The Omaha city attorney said firefighters broke the law when they engaged in fundraising on the city's time.

The legal declaration is a check on the City Council, which signed off on the fundraising plan, and a setback to firefighters, who said their fundraising generates thousands of dollars each year for disabled children.

In his legal opinion, City Attorney Paul Kratz wrote, "The use of city-paid time in this matter is prohibited by the Nebraska accountability and disclosure commission and does not comply with city ordinance and personnel policy.

"The city has no authority to use city-paid time or equipment to promote the activities of private organizations, no matter how worthy the cause, unless the activities fulfill the city's mission and duties."

Fire Union President Steve LeClair said he will request a copy of the legal opinion that conveys the illegality for any city employee to fundraise on city time.

For nearly two weeks, the council let Omaha firefighters fundraise in the streets on city time.

The council passed an ordinance last month allowing firefighters to "fill the boot" -- members pass around a firefighter's boot to collect cash -- for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

But Councilman Ben Gray said he had reservations.

"I don't know if anybody asked if it was legal or not, so I thought I would make the request," Gray said.

Gray was concerned about two issues: firefighters' safety and the potential illegality of their efforts.

LeClair said he was disappointed.

"I find it very interesting that this legal opinion has been sitting in a dusty law book for 60 years," LeClair said. "If it's unconstitutional, then I'm an unconstitutional kind of guy, because I think raising money for disabled children is a good thing to do."

Gray said the council will have to revisit the issue and fix it. He said the finding shouldn’t hurt the firefighters' efforts.

He said they made $10,000 more for the MDA last year when they weren't on city time.

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