Published Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 4:39 pm
Kearney Hub editorial: Doing right by vets means a fair fight

This editorial appeared in the Kearney Hub.

Lace up the boxing gloves, Kearney. This is a fight, but it’s a fight we must win for the right reasons and by sticking with the rules. It’s the fight to become the host city for the new Central Nebraska Veterans Home.

It’s the fight we must win because it’s what is best for central Nebraska’s veterans. We must play fair because sticking with the rules, keeping our word and following through on our proposal will mean doing what’s right for the veterans who will occupy the new VA home.

Just as important, sticking with the rules is true to the character of our community. It signals we are unwilling to compromise our principles, stoop to underhanded tactics or allow vanity and selfishness to overcome our judgment or color our actions.

Why are we in this fight?

We Kearneyites figured we had landed the right to become the host city of the new VA home in July when we won the four-city competitive bidding. Our proposal scored 1,033 points out of a possible 1,200 and bettered those of Hastings, Grand Island and North Platte.

In fact, Kearney’s well-conceived and executed proposal won in five of the nine selection categories and bettered Grand Island’s score by 144 points. Stunned that their proposal finished third, GI leaders and residents have reacted as we would expect.

They’ve accused Kearney and Gov. Dave Heineman of cheating and asserted the bidding process was a sham, even though lawmakers overwhelmingly supported it and leaders of the four cities signed off on the ground rules.

There’s more. Allegations and second-guessing by GI residents have filled their local newspaper. Some of the stuff is ridiculous, including much of the criticism about Kearney’s site, which had been a part of the Kearney Army Air Base during World War II. Most recently, a GI resident complained that if a pond were built near the new VA home in Kearney, birds attracted to it could collide with airplanes and the results could be tragic.

What’s tragic is that, even though they signed off on the ground rules and submitted what they believed would be a winning proposal to retain the VA home in their city, GI leaders now are throwing their support behind yet another proposal, some three months after the state’s official bidding concluded with Kearney on top.

GI’s latest proposal was drafted by residents of the VA home and sent to VA officials in Washington, D.C. The credibility of the proposal is questionable. The plan suggests retaining much of the current VA home’s structure, which engineers say is unsuitable for the major alterations necessary to update veterans care to modern standards.

The latest proposal may lack credibility, but it’s one of Grand Island’s many attempts either to discredit Kearney’s plans to become the new host city or to cast suspicion on the official bidding process that GI lost.

Either way, the trend is established, and eventually Grand Island’s numerous complaints could confuse federal officials who will be asked to allocate $74 million to help build the new $121 million VA home in Kearney.

To their credit, Kearney leaders have been mostly silent, despite continued unfair and inaccurate criticism from GI. Likewise, many Kearneyites also have refused to engage in a shouting match.

Like it or not, Grand Island has brought the fight to our door, and it is now time to respond — but only in a manner that puts veterans first and is true to our community’s character.

Kearneyites are big-hearted, broad-shouldered and able to take a punch. Let’s tap our strengths in this fight. Rather than running our mouths, let’s begin by laying the groundwork so that when veterans arrive here, they’ll feel right at home.

An army of GI volunteers has embraced the veterans at the current facility and made them a part of the community. Kearney can learn from that good example and perhaps improve on it.

We have other opportunities. The new VA home will have special amenities not available in Grand Island, including a $1 million memorial. Let’s get together now and plan to make the new VA home the best for our veterans. Let’s get things moving in a positive direction.

Let’s do things the Kearney way.

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