Former state Sen. Heath Mello will return to the Capitol later this month as the University of Nebraska's chief lobbyist.

Mello was announced as NU's new associate vice president for university affairs Wednesday. He succeeds Ron Withem, who held the role for 20 years.

As NU's lobbyist and director of state relations, Mello will be responsible for coordinating partnerships between the university and its legislative partners, as well as its constituents throughout the state.

"Working with Heath as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, I saw a talented leader who could solve problems while balancing diverse opinions and ideas," NU President Hank Bounds said in a statement.

Bounds added Mello "understands the importance of relationships in making higher education a key driver of economic and workforce development across the entire state."

An Omaha native and NU alum, Mello served eight years in the Legislature, including as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. In a statement, Mello said he was honored by the opportunity to work with the university in helping "to grow our state educationally and economically."

"I know President Bounds and the university leadership team value partnerships and collaborations to build a more prosperous future for Nebraskans and I'm excited to assist them in this noble endeavor," he said.

Galen Hadley, a former Speaker of the Legislature, applauded Mello as "someone who was fair, honest, and worked to build consensus with colleagues, our governor and many other stakeholders."

Current Speaker Jim Scheer said Mello is capable of setting politics aside to work for the benefit of the state.

"He will excel at this in his new position at the university," Scheer said.

Mello will start Dec. 18, according to the university. His annual salary is set at $165,000.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.

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