Omaha Mayor Stothert addresses travel screening ahead of Sicily trip |

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

The trip, which has been postponed to 2021, is one of the final steps needed to solidify the Sicilian town of Carlentini as Omaha’s seventh sister city. Stothert plans to travel to Italy on Friday and return on September 10. She pays for her own expenses and no taxpayer money is used for her trip, according to the mayor’s office.

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

“I was 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 Thursday phone interview.

Through a request for records, 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% of this time.

The World-Herald report came as members of the City Charter Convention considered a Stothert proposal that would allow city mayors to remain in office when traveling outside city limits.

Stothert argued that the current policy, which requires the president of the city council to serve as acting mayor whenever the mayor leaves Omaha, was outdated, especially in a time when technology would allow him or her to any other mayor, to manage city affairs outside the city. Despite his reasoning, the proposal was not among the 10 charter amendments recommended by a committee of city council.

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

“You have to remember that in 2021 my husband took his own life,” Stothert said. “I needed some time off to hang out with my friends and family, and I’m sorry if that upsets people. But I had to.

The majority of his time outside of Omaha in 2022 was spent in St. Louis visiting his mother and sister, in Cincinnati visiting his son, and in Maryland seeing Dr. J. Kevin O ‘Rourke, whom Stothert married in May.

O’Rourke plans to travel with Stothert to Sicily and intends to move to Omaha this fall. Like the mayor, O’Rourke will pay his own travel expenses.

Stothert and the mayor of Carlentini, Guiseppe Steffio, signed a “friendship agreement” in September 2021 in recognition of a century-old bond between the two towns. The purpose of the trip is to exchange ideas about art, culture, business and education with Carlentini, Stothert said.

Because the travel group’s itinerary will be packed at Carlentini, Stothert said, she won’t be attending a Nebraska Huskers football game being played 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 main thing: it’s diplomacy,” Stothert said.

Omaha’s travel delegation of approximately 80 people 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.

Coming from Carlentini, Italian immigrants flocked to Omaha more than a century ago, establishing the neighborhood of Little Italy and creating a thriving bond that continues in Omaha to this day.

It was partly 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 existing sister cities: Yantai, China; Brunswick, Germany; Naas, Ireland; Shizuoka, Japan; Siauliai, Lithuania; and Xalapa, Mexico.

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