Longtime Omaha City Clerk Era Ends as Buster Brown Steps Down 3/30/17 03/31/17 12:33:58 AM
Printer Friendly Version
Buster Brown served 11 Omaha mayors in his Omaha-Douglas Civic Center office.
Longtime Omaha City Clerk Era
Ends as Buster Brown Steps Down
By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily RecordToday, Buster Brown, known locally as just “Buster,” will take time to celebrate his many years of service to the citizens of Omaha with friends and colleagues at a retirement party in his honor.
Recently, he took a little time to look back on 34 years of problem solving at City Hall, where he spent a decade as deputy city clerk before being promoted to city clerk.
In a newspaper article written 20 years ago when Buster became city clerk, former City Councilman and Mayoral Aide Jim Cleary was quoted predicting, “I think before he leaves City Hall, he will create his own legend.” Few would disagree.
While he’s been approached about other jobs, he said he’s been perfectly happy in this one, with no political aspirations.
“There’s always something new.”
He sometimes found himself on the other side of the fence politically with the administration but never let that interfere with doing his job. The mayor is the boss, he said, regardless of party.
“I could have retired a few years ago, but I’m still having fun,” he said.
BackgroundBrown’s background is full of interesting stories. He has a twin sister who was born the year after him. (He was born 15 minutes before midnight on December 31; she was born 15 minutes after midnight on January 1.) “If it weren’t for year-round daylight saving time during the war, we would have been born on the same day,” he said. “But it was great – we got to celebrate twice.”
Brown’s great-grandfather was a Union soldier in the Civil War. He and his brother marched to the sea across Georgia with General Sherman. They had enlisted because they were promised free land when they won the war. His brother was killed, but Brown’s great-grandfather collected on that promise on farmland near Palmer, Neb. He told stories about the Pawnee Indians living there before they were moved off the reservation by the government.
The Brown family stayed on that land raising generations. “We still own that land,” Brown said. His twin still lives in Palmer, a town of 400 near Grand Island.
Growing up in Palmer, Brown attended a one-room schoolhouse and a very small high school. He left to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, studying political science with an eye on a career in teaching. Upon graduation, being number one on the draft list, he enlisted and went to Army Officer Candidate School and served in the Signal Corps.
He spent 1969 in Pleiku, Vietnam, returning to Nebraska at the end of his stint. He keeps in touch with some of the men, holding reunions now with a few of them every couple of years in their individual hometowns. “Eventually we get to all of them,” he said. “It’s fun.” (You hear the word fun a lot when you talk to Brown.)
When he came home, he earned a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and taught American government classes there for several years while working on a doctorate before he took a contract job in Omaha’s City Hall. The die was cast.
The JobWhat does he think is the best thing about this job?
“You get to know what’s going on in city government. You’re sort of in the know of what’s going on in city hall and city government. Everything comes through me, all the documents, so you know what’s going on. And you try to make sure everything’s done right, so we don’t get in trouble.”
When we remarked that he will be a hard act to follow, he said, “Not so hard.”
But many would differ.
Mayor Jean Stothert said, “When I was a brand new city council member nearly eight years ago, someone told me, if you need help, information or want a straight answer on anything, just ask Buster. That turned out to be great advice.
“Buster has been an excellent steward of the public business. He has always set a high standard of fairness, respect, ethics, honor and transparency. He is probably one of the few people at City Hall who can recite city code, quote the city charter and knows Roberts Rules of Order cover to cover,” she said.
“This job is more paper than anything else. Signing, signing, signing,” Brown said.
“We used to put together 12 packets every week for the board meetings. It was a big production. Now the agenda is online; we don’t mail it out [to the media and others] anymore.
“No council members get packets anymore. We make a packet for the public and for the mayor, but that’s it.”
Since 2002, all documents are scanned. “And we’re back-scanning all the ordinances, which is great for abstractors and title companies looking for something. With paper, it’s big heavy volumes to search through.”
He loves that the public can access so much online now. Of course, they still keep hard copies of everything “for historical purposes. We have the first ordinance ever passed by the city.”
And the worst thing?
Oh, there have been “a few” cranky people, and constant phone calls, he conceded.
“There was a guy calling, mad about something. Finally I said you really shouldn’t be doing this. If you don’t stop, I’m going to hang up. Then I did. He called back and apologized. … They usually just want to vent.”
“Once, there was a guy in South Omaha who knew Bernie Simon, who was then on the City Council. He complained about his neighbor’s barking dog. So we said, ‘Let’s see what we can do.’ They passed an ordinance, and then this guy went to court. At first the judge was understanding, but by the third time, the judge said ‘case dismissed’ before he heard anything because clearly this was a dispute and they shouldn’t be involved in it.”
Retirement“My deputy (Sandra Moses) is also retiring this year. A lot of history and knowledge is going out the door [with the two of us leaving]. But I’m not going anywhere. If they want to know anything, they can call me.”
What will he do with his time?
“I do want to work on my golf game. And we used to publish a list of officials every year, but we stopped in the early 1900s. I want to bring that up to date.”
His wife, Lynn M. Corbeil, retired five years ago as legal counsel from a private consulting firm. Before that, she was an administrative law judge for the Department of Labor for 15 years.
Now she volunteers. “She’s having a ball. Once a week she bakes cookies at the VA. She goes to each floor and bakes them – aromatherapy! Then she says to them, ‘Thank you for your service; would you like a cookie?’”
He said she also volunteers for the Veterans History Project for the Library of Congress, interviewing veterans, especially World War II vets. And she volunteers at the Convention & Visitors Bureau.
There might be more travel in the future. The couple belong to Friendship Force and have traveled extensively because of it.
The first was a trip to Belgium in 1987. They maintained those early friendships and have visited and hosted numerous times, attending weddings, and even traveling to Turkey to return to the family that hosted them there.
So, he’ll golf and maybe do some volunteering (“She’ll make me!” he laughed.)
“I may volunteer for the Douglas County Historical Society … that would be fun.”
And there are all those house projects, like remodeling the attic on their 101 year-old house in Field Club, after having already finished numerous other projects. Last year they threw their house a 100th birthday party. “We had almost 100 people there.”
And he won’t need an alarm clock anymore, but “our little Yorkie Lulu is my alarm clock.”
We can’t close without a word about his name. He took some ribbing about sharing a name with a popular cartoon character selling children’s shoes from the early 1900s. (November 12, 1905: “Buster Brown mania is at an all-time high.”) He has embraced the name and had some fun with it. And he said, nobody ever forgets it.
The City Council hired Papillion City Clerk Elizabeth Butler to succeed him. Her first day was March 20.
There will be a retirement party today for Brown from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Omaha-Douglas Civic Center in room 702. All are welcome.