Omaha Mayor Stothert discusses travel screening before trip to Sicily | Politics & Government

As she prepared to embark on a three-week trip to Sicily, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert defended her out-of-town trip, which has garnered increased scrutiny in recent weeks amid media attention and a controversial proposal to change the city’s map .

The trip, which has been postponed until 2021, is one of the final steps needed to establish the Sicilian city of Carlendini 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 money is being used for her trip, according to the Mayor’s Office.

The trip comes after weeks of heightened public concern about the frequency of the mayor’s out-of-state travel. Commenters on social media and elsewhere criticized Stothert and, at times, questioned her commitment to running the city.

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“I’ve been 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 in July reported that Stothert was out of town 39 days in the first six months of 2022, meaning she was out of town for about 21 percent of that time.

The World-Herald’s report came as members of the city’s Charter Assembly considered a proposal from Stothert that would allow city mayors to remain in office when they travel outside city limits.

Stothert argued that the current policy, which requires the City Council President to act as acting mayor whenever the mayor leaves Omaha, was outdated, especially at a time when technology would allow her or anyone else mayor to conduct city business while he was out of town. Despite its rationale, the proposal was not one of 10 charter amendments recommended by a City Council committee.

Stothert said much of her 2021 sabbatical was spent with family and friends following the death of her husband, Dr. Joe Stothert, who committed suicide in March 2021.

“You have to remember that in 2021, my husband killed himself,” Stothert said. “I needed some time to spend with my friends and family and I’m sorry if this upsets people. But I had to do it.”

Most of her time outside Omaha in 2022 was spent in St. Louis visiting her mother and sister, in Cincinnati visiting her son, and in Maryland to see Dr. J. Kevin O’Rourke, whom Stothert married in May.

O’Rourke plans to travel with Stothert to Sicily and plans 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 an eternal connection between the two cities. The purpose of the trip is to exchange ideas on art, culture, business and education with Carlentini, Stothert said.

Because the tour group’s schedule will be full while in Carlentini, Stothert said, she will not be attending a Nebraska Huskers football game 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 participate in Omaha’s Santa Lucia Festival.

“The 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.

Hailing from Carlentini, Italian immigrants more than a century ago poured into Omaha, creating the Little Italy neighborhood and creating a growing bond 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 sister cities: Yantai, China; Braunschweig, Germany; Naas, Ireland; Shizuoka, Japan; Siauliai, Lithuania; and Xalapa, Mexico.

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