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Petition for mayoral recall in Geneva

GENEVA — A petition calling for the recall of Geneva’s mayor is circulating here.

The petition filed by Steven Ewalt of Geneva in July cites “Financially, Socially, Ethically, irresponsible to the citizens of Geneva,” as the reason Mayor Eric Kamler should be removed from office. Kamler has been mayor of Geneva for about seven months.

The petition will need 332 signatures by Sept. 16. If enough signatures are collected, the Fillmore County Courthouse will have 15 days to verify the signatures. If enough signatures are verified, Kamler will have five days to stay in office or resign. If he does not resign, a recall election will take place, asking city residents to vote yes or no on removing Kamler from his post.

If enough signatures are verified, the recall election must occur between 50-80 days after the person being recalled — in this case, Kamler — is notified. The city council may vote to add additional elections to the ballot, in which case the recall election could be no more than 90 days after notification.

If the recall election occurs and if the vote is in favor of removing Kamler, the mayoral position will become vacant. The president of the Geneva City Council, Josh Turner, would take on the role as mayor, according to Nebraska statutes.

If the recall fails, Kamler would be protected from another recall petition for 12 months.

Kamler said he believes the reasons for the recall are vague and unfounded.

“I’m still trying to decipher what the reasons are. The ‘ethically’ and ‘socially’ ones are extremely vague,” Kamler said.

Ewalt has not responded to requests for comment from the Hastings Tribune. In an interview with Geneva’s local newspaper, The Nebraska Signal, for last week’s edition, Ewalt said he was not planning to speak about the recall effort with news reporters from outside the Geneva community.

An advertisement in The Nebraska Signal, also in last week’s edition, cited several reasons for Kamler’s proposed recall. The advertisement was paid for by Citizens to Recall Eric Kamler.

The advertisement cites the replacement of previous City Attorney Joe Bixby, who had held the post for 39 years, with David Solheim. Solheim started a law firm in 2017 in Crete.

Solheim was appointed as city attorney during a council meeting Dec. 3, 2018, with four votes yes and two votes no. The two council members who voted no had suggested having a city attorney from Geneva would keep money in the town and make operations easier.

The advertisement points out that Solheim is paid $4,000 more for city attorney services this year than the previous attorney — an increase from over $12,000 to over $16,000. The advertisement also says Solheim has limited municipal experience.

Solheim’s biography on his firm’s website says he was deputy Washington County attorney in 2012 and became the Hancock County attorney in Hancock County, Iowa, in 2013.

Solheim is paid $4 per hour more than the previous attorney. Kamler said the $4,000 difference so far is because several city projects have required more hours of legal work than normal. Kamler also said having an outside city attorney reduces potential conflicts of interest when the attorney represents the city of Geneva and a citizen of Geneva.

Kamler said he also offered Kristen Lovegrove, a Geneva-based lawyer, the position, but she turned down the offer. Kamler said Lovegrove had recommended Solheim.

The advertisement cites an increase in Kamler’s and City Council members’ wages. Nebraska State Statute 17-612 prohibits salaries of city councils from being changed during their term, with exceptions that have not applied to Geneva’s council.

Kamler said this was an oversight and they will be corrected during the Sept. 2 council meeting. The correction would allow for the salary increase, $500 for each council member and $1,000 for the mayor, but the increase won’t go into effect until after each person’s term of office expires.

The advertisement also suggests Kamler has a lack of commitment to Geneva because he owns a 15% interest in a bar in Lincoln. Kamler also serves as community liaison-agriculture specialist for U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb.

Kamler said he has spent at least $500,000 in Geneva since buying a home and moving to Geneva six years ago. Kamler grew up in rural Fillmore County north of Shickley, graduated from Fillmore Central High School in Geneva, and considers Geneva his hometown.

“When this job with Congressman Smith came up, it was something that would complement my role as mayor,” Kamler said. “I’ve gotten to meet mayors and city council members from across the whole state, and I’ve learned a lot and brought that knowledge back to Geneva.”

The pro-recall advertisement also cites increased taxes because of new city projects.

During a budget workshop Aug. 28, city officials proposed a cut of 7% in the property tax rate to support city government in 2019-20. Kamler said proposed cut will be voted on Sept. 16. Kamler said the city would be able to make the proposed cut because of increased property valuation and a new fertilizer plant that was built in 2016.

Kamler said the feels he recall has ‘torn the community apart.” He said young people are being discouraged from joining a community center committee to start a new community center. The committee was put together about two years ago.

“Young people that want to get involved are nervous to be involved because they’re afraid of being ridiculed for something,” Kamler said. “It’s discouraging to people that want to get involved, when they want to try to serve the community.”


Dorian triggers massive flooding in Bahamas

NASSAU, Bahamas — Hurricane Dorian unleashed massive flooding across the Bahamas on Monday, pummeling the islands with so much wind and water that authorities urged people to find floatation devices and grab hammers to break out of their attics if necessary. At least five deaths were blamed on the storm.

“We are in the midst of a historic tragedy,” Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said in announcing the fatalities. He called the devastation “unprecedented and extensive.”

The fearsome Category 4 storm slowed almost to a standstill as it shredded roofs, hurled cars and forced even rescue crews to take shelter until the onslaught passed.

Officials said they received a “tremendous” number of calls from people in flooded homes. A radio station received more than 2,000 distress messages, including reports of a 5-month-old baby stranded on a roof and a grandmother with six grandchildren who cut a hole in a roof to escape rising floodwaters. Other reports involved a group of eight children and five adults stranded on a highway and two storm shelters that flooded.

The deaths in the Bahamas came after a previous storm-related fatality in Puerto Rico. At least 21 people were hurt in the Bahamas and evacuated by helicopters, the prime minster said.

Police Chief Samuel Butler urged people to remain calm and share their GPS coordinates, but he said rescue crews had to wait until weather conditions improved.

“We simply cannot get to you,” he told Bahamas radio station ZNS.

Forecasters warned that Dorian could generate a storm surge as high as 23 feet.

Meanwhile in the United States, the National Hurricane Center extended watches and warnings across the Florida and Georgia coasts. Forecasters expected Dorian to stay off shore, but meteorologist Daniel Brown cautioned that “only a small deviation” could draw the storm’s dangerous core toward land.

By 10 p.m. Monday, the storm’s top sustained winds had fallen to 130 mph, still within Category 4 range. It remained almost stationary, centered just 30 miles north-northeast of Freeport — about the same distance from the city it had been at 9 a.m. Hurricane-force winds extended outward as far as 45 miles from the center.

The water reached roofs and the tops of palm trees. One woman filmed water lapping at the stairs of her home’s second floor.

In Freeport, Dave Mackey recorded video showing water and floating debris surging around his house as the wind shrieked outside.

“Our house is 15 feet up, and right now where that water is is about 8 feet. So we’re pretty concerned right now because we’re not at high tide,” said Mackey, who shared the video with The Associated Press. “Our garage door has already come off. ... Once we come out of it with our lives, we’re happy.”

On Sunday, Dorian churned over Abaco Island with battering winds and surf and heavy flooding.

Parliament member Darren Henfield described the damage as “catastrophic” and said officials did not have information on what happened on nearby cays. “We are in search-and-recovery mode. ... Continue to pray for us.”

A spokesman for Bahamas Power and Light told ZNS that there was a blackout in New Providence, the archipelago’s most populous island. He said the company’s office in Abaco island was flattened.

“The reports out of Abaco as everyone knows,” spokesman Quincy Parker said, pausing for a deep sigh, “were not good.”

Most people went to shelters as the storm neared. Tourist hotels shut down, and residents boarded up their homes. Many people were expected to be left homeless.

On Sunday, Dorian’s maximum sustained winds reached 185 mph, with gusts up to 220 mph, tying the record for the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever to make landfall. That equaled the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, before storms were named. The only recorded storm that was more powerful was Hurricane Allen in 1980, with 190 mph winds, though it did not make landfall at that strength.

The Bahamas archipelago is no stranger to hurricanes. Homes are required to have metal reinforcements for roof beams to withstand winds into the upper limits of a Category 4 hurricane, and compliance is generally tight for those who can afford it. Risks are higher in poorer neighborhoods that have wooden homes in low-lying areas.

Dorian was likely to begin pulling away from the Bahamas early Tuesday and curving to the northeast parallel to the southeastern coast of the U.S. The system is expected to spin 40 to 50 miles (64 to 80 kilometers) off Florida, with hurricane-force wind speeds extending about 35 miles (56 kilometers) to the west.

An advisory from the hurricane center warned that Florida’s east-central coast could see a brief tornado sometime Monday afternoon or evening.

A mandatory evacuation of entire South Carolina coast took effect Monday covering about 830,000 people.

Transportation officials reversed all lanes of Interstate 26 from Charleston to head inland earlier than planned after noticing traffic jams from evacuees and vacationers heading home on Labor Day, Gov. Henry McMaster said.

“We can’t make everybody happy, but we believe we can keep everyone alive,” the governor said.

A few hours later, Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, ordered mandatory evacuations for that state’s Atlantic coast, also starting at midday Monday.

Authorities in Florida ordered mandatory evacuations in some vulnerable coastal areas. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned his state that it could see heavy rain, winds and floods later in the week.

A hurricane watch was in effect for Florida’s East Coast from Deerfield Beach north to South Santee River in South Carolina. A storm surge watch was extended northward to South Santee River in South Carolina. Lake Okeechobee was under a tropical storm watch.

A National Guard official, John Anderson, said many people were complying with the evacuation orders.

“We have not seen much resistance at all,” he said in a phone call with reporters. People do understand that Dorian is nothing to mess around with.”

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Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Associated Press writers Ramón Espinosa in Freeport, Tim Aylen in Freeport and Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.