Citizens’ Academy

A series of conversational workshops designed to provide skills and knowledge to help residents shape the future of our city.

The North Omaha Citizens’ Academy has been rescheduled for Saturday, May 4th at Metropolitan Community College – Fort Omaha Campus, Building 10, Room 110. Panelists from the City of Omaha and other municipal/government agencies will discuss Local Government & Advocacy, Housing, Transportation, and Planning & Development.

This event is FREE to attend. Breakfast & lunch will be provided. Childcare will be available. And space is limited, so register today.

Meet the Presenters & Panelists

Local Government & Advocacy panelist Councilmember Ben Gray was elected to the City Council in 2009 and was re-elected in 2013 and 2017. He is the Councilmember for District 2 which is in the northeast quadrant of the city.

During his time on the Council, Ben has championed a number of social and political issues which include a more level playing field for small contractors, secured funding to create the “Step Up” summer jobs program, worked to push a master plan for North Omaha, fought for the civil rights of the LGBT community, worked with council colleagues to pass legislation in an effort to help those chronically unemployed and

supported and helped create the “Good Neighbor” ordinance that addresses problem liquor establishments. Ben also championed the newly formed Land Bank in an effort to address problem properties and the numerous empty lots across the city but specifically in his council district.

Prior to being elected to the Omaha City Council, Ben was a photo-journalist for KETV Channel 7. While in television Ben produced and hosted the longest running public affairs show in the history of Omaha television, “Kaleidoscope” which was on the air for 30 years. Ben has won numerous local, regional and national awards as a journalist, talk show host and photographer. Ben has won a number of awards for his on-going work with “at risk” youth as well as hard core gang members. Ben is married to Freddie J. Gray and they have a blended family of seven children, twelve grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

Ben is currently the President of the Omaha City Council.

Housing panelist Marty Barnhart is vocationally diverse, a proven leader, and people motivator. He has served business and non-profits, developing deep relationships in Omaha and across the United States. Marty led the Land Reutilization Commission for 13 years returning nearly 7000 tax delinquent properties to a revenue producing status. Currently, he serves as the Director of the Omaha Municipal Land Bank. His role as Director of the Land Bank allows him to bring positive changes to people and property all over our metro area. The Omaha Municipal Land Bank serves as a Catalyst for Transforming Distressed Properties into Community Assets.

Transportation panelist with a firm belief in the power of the built environment to improve the quality of people’s lives, Stephen Osberg is focused on creating a region that supports the needs of all of its businesses and residents. His transportation planning experience at the City of Omaha and in the private sector, with projects in locations ranging from urban to rural in character, provides unique insight into the impact of transportation infrastructure on the health of jurisdictions throughout the region. As Director of Transportation Development for the Greater Omaha Chamber, he works to promote transportation options that are affordable, convenient, economically stimulating, and fiscally prudent.

Local Government & Advocacy panelist Precious McKesson is a proud graduate of Omaha Public Schools. Precious attended College in Birmingham, Alabama before returning to Omaha to raise her daughter. For 12 years, Precious has played a major role in the community as a mentor, Community Activist, volunteer, organizer, community liaison, and neighborhood leader. She serves as the President of the North Omaha Neighborhood Alliance (NONA), Volunteer Coordinator for Omaha United for Youth; is 2017 Young Black and Influential Award Recipient, 2018 NAACP Freedom Fighter Award Recipient. Precious gives her time back to her community by sittings on numerous boards of directors including NAACP, ENCAP, Omaha Municipal Landbank, Friends of Planned Parenthood Board, and most recently she was elected to the National Board of Directors for Neighborhood USA (NUSA). Currently she works at the Nebraska State Legislature as Urban Affairs Committee Clerk, and 1st ever African American Constituency Director for the Nebraska Democratic Party. Most importantly, Precious enjoys being a mother to her 15-year- old daughter, Taylor.  

Local Government & Advocacy panelist Julie Smith is an Omaha native who has a passion for all things community engagement related. From her teen years throwing peace rallies to her graduate work studying how to increase the efficacy of public participation, she’s always been inclined to work in pursuit of a healthier democracy.  Her dream job at One Omaha has given her the opportunity to influence Omaha’s civic engagement landscape on macro and micro scale, while developing programming to develop strong connected communities. But her favorite job is being mom to a wise and altruistic 9 year old named Driver.

Housing panelist Andy Wessel is a Community Health Planner with the Douglas County Health Department and the co-chair of the Heartland 2050 Housing and Development Committee.  Beginning with his selection in 2017 for the Kresge Foundation’s Emerging Leaders in Public Health initiative, Andy’s work has focused on building the capacity of the Health Department to address housing stability and affordability.  Additionally, Andy helps facilitate the work of the Health Department’s Health Equity Team as well as an external group of local health equity champions called Common Quill.

Planning & Development panelist Megan Walker is an Associate Transportation Planner at the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA), she holds degrees in Urban Planning and Political Science from Virginia Commonwealth University. As a transportation planner she oversees public involvement for the transportation department, administers programs promoting alternative modes of transportation, and works on efforts to coordinate various regional transit projects. Megan believes in bringing parity to all modes of transit and developing a more sustainable transportation system.

This event is FREE to attend. Breakfast & lunch will be provided. Childcare will be available. And space is limited, so register today.


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