This week, the Douglas County Board elected Chris Rodgers as its chairman, and the Omaha Public Schools board elected Marque Snow as its president.
With Ben Gray as president of the Omaha City Council, that means that the Douglas County Board, the Omaha City Council and the Omaha Public Schools board are all led by African-American men.
While several black people have earned leadership roles on those various boards in the past, and it’s unclear if this event is a first, it’s a noteworthy occurrence for black elected officials to lead the three local government panels.
“I see it as significant,” said Franklin Thompson, who for 16 years served on the City Council and now heads the Omaha Human Rights and Relations Department.
Rodgers was elected 6-0 Tuesday (he abstained) as chairman. Marque Snow was elected as president of the OPS board with six out of nine votes Monday night. The City Council had unanimously re-elected Gray in June for a second term as its president.
As chairman or president, each presides over his group’s meetings; helps members resolve issues; and often represents his group at functions, in the media and with constituents.
Rodgers, who also served as County Board chairman in 2009, said the chairmanship is more work than power or glamour.
Still, as leaders of the elected bodies, the three can influence the issues that each takes on.
Rodgers called the confluence of their elections “an opportunity to be able to facilitate things together … to bring some issues to the forefront.”
Snow expressed hope that the three “can put our heads together and get some stuff done for the good of the community.”
Gray said the board elections show that “our colleagues have faith that we can do the job and be good representatives of the county, the city and the school district.”
All three are Democrats whose districts include north Omaha. Gray, in his third term, has been on the City Council since 2009. Rodgers, in his fourth term, has been on the County Board since 2004. Snow has been on the OPS board since 2013.
Thompson, a Republican who served four City Council terms, said having the three elected officials lead their boards at the same time shows an ongoing shift in how black people are viewed in American politics.
Long excluded, and then seen as right-hand men to white people, they are increasingly seen as leaders in their own right, “as a legitimate source for new ideas and new leadership,” Thompson said.