Naming process the same

Thursday, December 10, 2015

McCOOK, Neb. -- The process to rename city property in honor of someone remains the same today as it was in 2009, beginning and ending with City Council, according to city staff.

A Gazette report earlier this week questioned whether the process to rename the McCook airport differed today when compared to a 2009 effort, which successfully lobbied to honor former Sen. Ben Nelson. In response, Public Works Director Kyle Potthoff said Monday the process remained the same and authority for such decisions has consistently been with City Council. City Council directed the Airport Advisory Commission to develop a recommendation on the 2009 naming effort and Potthoff said any new effort would also require City Council referral.

The 2009 airport commission was unable to reach a consensus on the naming issue and City Council ultimately approved the name change without a recommendation from the board. Resistance to the 2009 naming effort, among individuals on the advisory board, primarily stemmed from a preference for finding another way to honor the then-popular McCook native, according to a review of Gazette coverage from the era.

Potthoff said advisory boards serve as a great resource for City Council, however, in accordance with their role as an advisor they aren't mandated to weigh in on topics. He said board members serve a very valuable role when local decisions are made and the airport commission alone had weighed-in on several critical topics recently, including the selection of a commercial air service provider and a proposal to construct a new hangar.

City ordinance states "The Airport Advisory Commission shall consider all matters concerning the McCook City Airport referred to it by the City Council or the City Manager."

Potthoff also said requests for renaming city property were rare and the only other one he could recall was the 2007 effort behind naming Russell Park in honor of Carson Russell. Russell was a McCook attorney for more than 50 years and served two terms in the Nebraska House of Representatives. He also served on the McCook School Board and as city attorney.

Earlier this year Potthoff advised a member of the Airport Advisory Commission to direct parties interested in renaming the airport to City Council, prompting the original Gazette report on the topic. The referral aligns with the renaming process followed in 2009, according to former Mayor Dennis Berry, who said he hopes similar efforts are coordinated.

Berry said the 2009 process began when City Council was approached by a group of citizens he described as mostly supporters and friends of Ben Nelson, many of which had differing political views.

"It was before the council and sent back to the commission," he said, adding the commission was ultimately unable to make a recommendation either way and came to a split decision with no formal action taken.

Despite having differing political views than Ben Nelson at the time, Berry said he could see all the good the McCook native had done for the city and county.

"Without him we would not have maintained our EAS [Essential Air Service] funding, had Valmont or the Work Ethic Camp," said Berry, adding Nelson was also responsible for funding received by the college and McCook hospital during his political career.

McCook already had a history of honoring political leaders which Berry said supported the idea of naming the airport in honor of Nelson. He said Brooks Hall and Norris Park were similarly named in honor of political leaders with local ties and he hoped the tradition continued for former Nebraska Governors Frank Morrison and Dave Heineman. Morrison is a McCook native and Heineman resided in McCook during his youth.

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