Joseph J. Barmettler 10/27/16 10/27/16 9:46:55 AM
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|Joseph J. Barmettler
September 10, 1933 - October 12, 2016
There were bigger municipalities than La Vista in 1963.
But none were more important to Joe Barmettler, who took on the job as city attorney of the Sarpy County community back in those early days of one of the most turbulent of American decades – back when La Vista was only a village.
Barmettler passed away on October 12, after a sterling career in law and a life well lived that remains an example to others. For years he was managing partner of Fitzgerald, Schorr, Barmettler & Brennan.
Those who knew Barmettler and worked with him will tell you he was a steady hand on the growing community that continues to thrive and expand.
However, that seems overshadowed by praise for his consideration of others, the manner in which he served his clients, his willingness to help young attorneys develop their craft, and a general civility he brought to the sometimes-contentious work of economic development.
“He was always, always a gentleman, and always open to looking at your point of view,” said John Fullenkamp, an Omaha real estate attorney who sometimes found himself on the opposite side of development issues with Barmettler. “At the end of the day, that’s all you can really ask for.”
La Vista Mayor Doug Kindig wasn’t in office when Barmettler began his work for the Sarpy County community, but he has a tremendous appreciation for the groundwork he lay and the work they did together.
Kindig said the news of Barmettler’s passing hit hard, but “even in passing, I think Joe was able to teach us a lesson.”
Barmettler’s large family attended his funeral and, while such services are often described as a celebration of a person’s life, “In this case, it truly was.”
The mayor recalled how La Vista had just achieved village status a couple years before Barmettler became involved.
“Without his wisdom and leadership, I truly don’t believe we’d be where we are today,” Kindig said.
One of the fondest memories comes from Kindig’s early days on the city council. Things didn’t seem to be working out for a planned new business under the law, and Kindig asked if an exception could be made in this one case.
“Joe looked at me and very quietly said, ‘If you make an exception to a law, you no longer have a law,’” Kindig recalled. That still comes to mind several times during the course of a year, Kindig said.
“That’s the one thing about Joe Barmettler I think I’ll take to my grave.”
Bob Cannella and Tom McKeon of Fitzgerald, Schorr, Barmettler & Brennan remember their former colleague and mentor with great fondness. In addition to the City of La Vista, they remembered that Metropolitan Community College, the Village of Boys Town and Jim Earp Chrysler-Plymouth were other clients.
The two said Barmettler did a lot of civic and pro bono work, and was active in the St. Cecilia and St. Robert’s parishes.
It was Barmettler, Cannella said, who hired him as a runner for the firm in 1971. Barmettler, he recalled, loved the practice of law and demonstrated that love by putting in however many hours were needed to do the job for his clients.
“The hours he used to work…he might come in at 9 and still be here at 7, 7:30,” Cannella said. “His clients, who worked with him, just had an immense amount of confidence in him.
“When he left us he definitely left a void there in our firm,” Cannella said. “Because of people like him, I’m still here now.”
McKeon now serves as city attorney for La Vista.
“He just took a real interest in anyone he was working with,” McKeon said, and that included people inside and out of the firm. “They really felt fairly treated.”
“He required … for subdivisions to be done in a responsible manner,” McKeon said. “I think that was a relatively novel concept [at the time].”
Cannella added: “He developed the concept of subdivision agreements. It’s common today.”
McKeon also remembered Barmettler for his patience and willingness to help young lawyers.
“His door was always open,” McKeon said.
He recalled how Barmettler would take as much time as needed to explain a situation in detail to his clients, “In non-lawyer language.”
Fullenkamp has many memories of Barmettler.
“I dealt with Joe a lot because I represented developers in La Vista and Joe was city attorney,” Fullenkamp said. He remembered Barmettler for his resolve, among other things.
“Probably over the years, I had disagreements with Joe,” Fullenkamp said. “Firm, but fair… he had a clear vision from which he didn’t waver.”
People often think lawyers cannot disagree and continue to respect each other, Fullenkamp said.
“With Joe, that was just not the case.”
Barmettler wasn’t afraid to tell you he disagreed, but Fullenkamp pointed out it was done in “a very honest and straight-forward way.”
Fullenkamp feels La Vista would have survived without Barmettler because of its location, but as city attorney he had a firm grasp on the direction he thought the city should take.
“Joe had a plan for La Vista and he followed it,” Fullenkamp said.
Kindig also shared a deep appreciation for the guidance Barmettler provided, and in helping to form the SID laws that are so important to a community’s growth.
One piece of work in particular stands out for the current mayor.
“Joe also was helpful in us getting the I-80 interchange,” Kindig said. “That really opened up our entire western edge to easy access.
“Most of those developments out there would not have happened without that interchange.”
Barmettler’s work continues to pay dividends for his clients. The manner in which he lived his life also left a lasting impression.
A funeral Mass for Barmettler was held Monday, Oct. 17, at St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic Church. His large family – including his widow, seven siblings, seven children and 15 grandchildren – survive him.
– By Andy Roberts