2020 Primary Voters’ Guide: Douglas County Commissioner, District 5

The League of Women Voters of Greater Omaha contacts candidates during each election cycle and invites them to participate in the print and online editions of the Voters’ Guide. Candidates provide their biographical information and their positions on selected issues. Candidates are aware in advance that the biographies and answers will be printed exactly as submitted without edits for content, spelling, punctuation or grammar.

The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan organization that never supports or opposes any political party or candidate for office.

PDF of 2020 Primary Douglas County Voters’ Guide | Find voter information specific to your ballot at vote411.org.

The primary election is May 12. Find out more about voting by mail: Extensive guide | Quick video guide

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Candidates

Maureen Boyle (D):

Website: www.MaureenBoyleMD.com
Occupation: OB-GYN physician
Current Public Office, dates held: none
Past Public Office, dates held: none
Education: Marian High School; University of Nebraska at Omaha, Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, major in finance; University of Nebraska Medical Center, Medical Doctor
Military Experience: none

Joe DiCostanzo (D):

Website: www.joedicostanzo.com
Occupation: High School Assistant Principal
Current Public Office, dates held: None
Past Public Office, dates held: None
Education: University of Nebraska- Lincoln, B.S. Harvard Graduate School of Education, M.Ed.
Military Experience: None
Volunteer Experience: Benson Neighborhood Association, NLC Omaha, Benson Theatre Board of Directors

Josh Henningsen (D): 

Website: www.JoshHenningsen.com
Occupation: Legal Counsel, Nebraska Legislature
Education: University of Iowa College of Law, University of Kansas
Volunteer Experience: Metcalfe-Harrison Neighborhood Association, St. Pius St. Leo Education Committee, youth basketball coach

Michael Young (D):

Website: www.michaelyoung2020.com
Occupation: Technology Management Consultant & Business Owner | Technology Consulting Solutions.
Current Public Office, dates held: Metropolitan Community College Board of Governors, District 2 (2016-Present), Transit Authority of Omaha Board of Directors Chairman (2010 – Present)
Education: Metropolitan Community College University of Nebraska at Omaha
Volunteer Experience: 100 Black Men of Omaha (Member), Association of Community College Trustees – Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee Member (representing MCC), Carole’s House of Hope (Board President), Partnership 4 Kids (Book/Goal Buddy)

Candidate Responses

What element of the county’s government is most effective, and why?

Maureen Boyle: As a physician, I’m a fan of prevention first, then treatment. It is prudent to spend a few dollars today to save dollars later. The Douglas County Health Department’s WIC program is an example of this. Nutrition and education are provided to pregnant women, infants, and children. The early years are critical in child development. By stimulating growth and learning while young, we set kids up for success. This is not just cost-effective; it is the right thing to do.

Joe DiCostanzo: I feel the emergency management agency has been one of the most effective elements of county government. Government tends to work best with multi-agency coordination, and that is at the heart of the EMA. Activities like public alerts and siren notifications can seem very simple, yet there is much planning that needs to be done. As a high school administrator, I know how to effectively prepare and have prepared large groups of people for many different emergency scenarios.

Josh Henningsen: Douglas County employees are a hardworking and committed workforce. Unfortunately, the county departments they work for are often hampered by the county board’s unwillingness to give them the resources they need to be as effective as possible.

Michael Young: The most efficient system within our county government is our revenue collection system and dissemination of funds for our educational systems. We have much room for improvement though, and it’s time that we take a hard look at what we do well and what we don’t, bringing in a 3rd party to help us evaluate if needed. The issue of Lincoln not taking serious budget constraints to counties and our districts is also a game we can no longer play as we seek to improve our revenue collection efficiency.

What are some ways to provide property tax relief? Are there any services you think should be cut, and if so, why?

Maureen Boyle: First, look at spending. For example, in HR, it is cost effective to minimize turnover for valuable front-line employees like CNAs, nurses, and corrections officers. It’s more economical to keep these workers happy than to replace them. We should have a robust retention program. Second, we could look at more economies of scale between city and county services. Third, due to COVID-19, the county has expanded availability of services online. This can be a new way to do business.

Joe DiCostanzo: The continued increase of property taxes is a complex issue, and if it was an easy fix, our property taxes would be lower. The best way to cap property taxes from the county level would be to have a strong strategic plan that include property tax freezes and seeks for ways to better coordinate resources provided to county citizens. Once the strategic plan is being conducted, then there will be savings that should be passed on through property tax relief.

Josh Henningsen: High property taxes are most often caused by unfunded mandates from the state and federal government. To provide property tax relief, the county board must develop strong relationships with state and federal representatives to advocate for sufficient funding for all new state and federal programs and requirements. The county board can also engage in a more robust strategic planning process to allow more thoughtful investment to maintain infrastructure and provide services more efficiently.

Michael Young: The best way to increase revenue while providing property tax relief in Douglas County is to decrease our inherent cost of operating and be more thoughtful of how to expand margin. One of my 5 Pillars is economic development based on transitoriented design. As Chair of the Transit Authority, I helped execute the 2012 alternative analysis, allowing us to find efficient ways of operating to get better services instead of spending more or cutting essential services. Douglas County can do the same.

What do you see as the three most compelling problems facing your office?

Maureen Boyle: 1. The budget. The board exists as a mandate from the state; so are some county services. Managing the budget can be a challenge when assigned projects you have to pay for. 2. Mental health. Needs are intensifying. Treatment options are scarce. The county is the “provider of last resort” and obligated to meet those needs. 3. Criminal justice. We are not consistently meeting the needs of those “in the system”. Prevention is more efficient than treatment. The question is how do we go about it?

Joe DiCostanzo: Public safety is a top priority. This includes juvenile and adult detention, protecting the public, while ensuring offenders are set up for success after detention. Protecting tax payers by coordinating services to ensure maximum services are being delivered for each dollar being spent by the county. Ensuring Douglas County government is accessible, transparent, and accountable. All county meetings should be moved to the evening and all county business should be accessible online.

Josh Henningsen: The courthouse no longer has sufficient space to accommodate the courtrooms, attorneys, and other court personnel necessary to operate efficiently and provide access to justice. The jail is on the verge of serious overcrowding and understaffing issues. The juvenile justice system is poorly coordinated and provides inadequate community-based services. All three of these problems are symptoms of a larger failure over recent decades to develop and implement plans to address future needs.

Michael Young: The top three issues I see from the County perspective are: economic development, transparency and, most importantly, communication. It is high time our leaders stop restricting the line of communication – from decisions made in executive sessions to bringing in a Communications Director. An example is the lack of cohesive messaging on the COVID-19 response. A Communications Director can take on a role within the County to talk us through both crises and everyday issues we face as a community.

What should the county do to address climate change issues?

Maureen Boyle: Everything possible. We should transition to electric vehicles for the county fleet. Convening with OPPD board members to brainstorm joint projects can be considered. When bidding on projects, preference should be given to contractors proficient in renewable energy. This is a big deal.

Joe DiCostanzo: It is essential to take actionable steps now to create a long-term solution to climate change. A plan should be created to set a target of transitioning to a carbon neutral footprint by all county buildings and operations. An example would be transitioning the county transportation to zero-emission vehicles. The county should also lead in creating a cross-sector alliance, in which entities (public and private) would sign on with goals to reduce their carbon footprint in all their business.

Josh Henningsen: As a member of the Metro Area Planning Agency, the county has an important role in addressing climate change issues. The county can do more to provide more environmentally sound options for recycling and solid waste disposal. The county can also do more to push for a more efficient regional transportation system. The county also needs to be more prepared to handle increasingly likely emergencies like severe weather events and flooding.

Michael Young: Dealing with climate change is a double-edged sword, requiring a double-edged response. We must take a hard look at what are we going to do to ensure the best services possible while also taking responsibility for our planet. We can be efficient with services and still employ better, more eco-friendly practices. On the Transit Authority I helped bring buses running on compressed natural gas to Omaha. This reduced our emissions by almost 1,800 tons of carbon dioxide per year and reduced cost.

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