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Omaha City Council denies controversial board appointment

Posted at 6:54 PM, Jul 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-27 22:17:15-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Two weeks ago, people in the North Omaha community told the Omaha City Council they did not want Ben Gray on the city’s land bank board.

“Ben Gray does not represent District 2, his last name is Gray cause his black has faded,” said Sherman Wells, an opponent of Gray’s appointment.

The community members wanting change, which also included Omaha City Councilmember Juanita Johnson, said North Omaha voted to remove Gray from city government. Some questioned his qualifications and most said he doesn’t represent the community.

“The mayor keeps picking from the same pool of individuals that look like me, that don’t represent people that look like me, and we’re tired of it,” said Haynes.

Tuesday, the Omaha City Council made the final vote — denying Gray's appointment to the Omaha Land Bank Board.

The Omaha Land Bank acquires and redevelops abandoned and dilapidated properties and is controlled by a board that is ran by city council members and citizens.

Terence Haynes, a vocal opponent of Gray's appointment two weeks ago, was pleased with the three council members who listened to his community.

“I feel like people that voted no allowed their moral compass to guide them in the right direction,” said Haynes.

Councilmember Johnson called it a small win, but a victory nonetheless.

“When we stick together we can accomplish a lot,” said Johnson.

While there was no formal hearing Tuesday, Gray fought back two weeks ago during the public hearing.

He pointed to a Facebook post from Johnson that started the uproar, a “call to action” over his appointment.

Gray said he tried to help Johnson after he beat her.

“Then to turn around and see a Facebook post, call to action, to what...come after me?” said Gray.

He said he’s simply tried to work together.

“I’ve not caused any division and I have not been involved in any efforts, whatsoever,” said Gray.

In a statement, Mayor Stothert said Gray was the best candidate and "it is disappointing that his qualifications and years of service on this board, and to City Council District 2, have been ignored and criticized."

Johnson said now she can focus on bigger issues in her district and the land bank can focus on building generational wealth for her constituents.

In the future, she wants more collaboration from the city in every city council district, especially her district, due to poverty.

“I think the level of intensity in District 2, when you leave us out of the process, it becomes bigger than other places,” said Johnson.

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