Update: Grand Island "Crushed", Will Fight Vets Home Decision
Grand Island leaders say they are devastated and will fight a decision to relocate the veterans home they have hosted for the past 126 years.
"Crushed" was the word Chamber of Commerce President Cindy Johnson used.
She was part of the Home for our Heroes committee that put together Grand Island's package to retain the veterans home.
Johnson issued a formal statement, expressing "extreme disappointment" regarding the site selection committee's recommendation.
However, she said, "We will continue to fight for our veterans and the retention of the Veterans Home in this community as they have fought for all of us."
Johnson said Grand Island's proposal was developed with the best interests of veterans in mind.
She called the decision "an affront" to veterans and "an insult" to employees.
She said it's unlikely staff members will move with the home.
Normally in these situations, a community would graciously accept defeat.
However, Johnson said, "That would be appropriate only if the process was fair and open. The State's selection process for the Veterans' Home was not. The decision to move the facility was effectively made a year ago when conversations occurred between Kearney and State officials about relocating the Veterans Home. Kearney officials have acknowledged, publicly, that they submitted preliminary proposals to the State for feedback. The State set up a Request for Statement of Interest and Offer process which was meant to give the illusion of being fair and open, but in fact, the decision to relocate the facility was already set in motion."
She said Grand Island leaders knew of that, but "chose not to focus on those issues."
Grand Island leaders were shocked to learn their proposal was ranked third, behind not only Kearney but Hastings as well.
Johnson said, "Although on the surface, the criteria appeared to be appropriate, the resulting rankings reflected preordained conclusions."
She said the governor's decision is not the final one.
"Grand Island will fight this decision," she said, saying they will take up the battle in the legislature.
Johnson said lawmakers "expressed misgivings as to why a public facility – one that cares for the vulnerable population of nursing home veterans - would be relocated. They expressed concern about pitting one central Nebraska community against others, vying for EXISTING jobs – not new jobs or new financial investments into the state. Unfortunately, their foresight proved to be accurate."
Many in Grand Island took to social media to share their thoughts.
"Sad news for my hometown," David Black wrote on Twitter.
Gabe Milhon told NTV on Facebook, "To auction off the men and women who fought for this country like cattle to gain for political measures and making life more harsh on the Veterans is NOT A WIN in my book."
Peggy Marker wrote, "Now we know how Lincoln felt when they lost the State Fair and State Volleyball. I think we did the same thing they did... assumed it was ours and we didn't have to put forth as much effort to keep it."
Jacob Perez was disappointed, but said Kearney had proved itself. He wrote, "Kearney truly has the better infrastructure to support it. I feel terribly for the families affected and hope maybe for a chance to prove we are "home" but the vets will be so much better served by the public transportation system they have there."
Through Facebook, Judy Schroeder said, "I am thrilled for Kearney. These Vets deserve a brand new facility. It's the least we can do for them!"
But Grand Island's leadership team says they believe there is sufficient cause for federal authorities to review the process and avoid "the unnecessary disruption of the lives of veterans."