Monday, December 18, 2006

Column 87 - Bohn Must Go

As one who is committed to seeing the issue through to a just conclusion, I’ve found the community’s response to the Bohn/Mapps issue at IVGID gratifying. At one holiday party I literally could not cross the room without being stopped repeatedly for a discussion of what is happening and people’s reaction to it. The main thing I noticed was the degree to which Chairman Bohn’s campaign of deflection and obfuscation seemed to be working in the absence of concrete information on why Ms Mapps resigned, when she resigned, and what she said in her letter(s) of resignation. As long as those things remained unknown, people naturally gravitated there rather than to the more important question of the propriety of Mr. Bohn’s withholding the information.

With the publication of Ms Mapps’ first letter in last Wednesday’s Bonanza, we have almost everything out in the open. We have seen both of Ms Mapps letters of resignation and, admirably, she has written her side of the story in a letter to the editor and submitted to an interview besides. So let’s review the bidding:

In early September, Ms Mapps submitted a letter of resignation to Chairman Bohn. This is the letter that was published last week. The letter contains serious accusations regarding the General Manager’s behavior toward a variety of people, and of Mr. Bohn’s handling of the issue. Ms Mapps chose to resign over these issues. You can argue with her choice, but:


The issue is also not what Mr. Horn did or did not do – these are matters for the Board to investigate and deal with. Ms Mapps says she requested that Bohn submit the letter to the other trustees so they would know why she was resigning. She states “They should have known and been told. That was John’s doing.” Even if she had not resigned, allegations as serious as those in her letter should have been made known to the Board, in confidence if necessary, but made known.

With regard to a specific allegation in Ms Mapps’ letter, she states she was told by Bohn that he had spoken to the Board Counsel about a concern she had and she later found out he hand not spoken to the Counsel – in other words he lied to her. In his brief interview, Bohn does not deny that charge.

We further know that, after a conversation with Bohn Ms Mapps wrote a much milder letter of resignation, which she was then persuaded by Bohn and possibly Scott Brooke to withhold until after the election. We also know that Bohn did not confer with any other Trustees about persuading her to do this, and that he stated in an earlier interview that he did it out of a concern for the “fairness” of the upcoming election. To withhold this information from the Board and the public would be questionable under any circumstances, and is at the least an inarguable conflict of interest when Bohn was a candidate in the election in question.

We also know that Bohn has given statements about his actions that are grossly inconsistent, saying in one case that he decided to withhold the information and later in an unagendized statement at the December 6 Board Meeting, placing all the responsibility for the decision on Ms Mapps with no reference to his own participation in the decision.

None of the above is speculation, analysis, or conclusion – these are the facts and they are on the record.

The residents of IVGID are free to draw their own conclusions, but if Bohn’s actions do not rise to the level of unethical behavior as defined in Nevada's Ethics in Government Law (NRS 281.411 through 281.581), then to paraphrase the immortal Barbara Jordan, perhaps that 20th Century document should be consigned to a 21st Century paper shredder.

In my last column I called upon those who are outraged by this flagrant abuse of the office of Trustee to be heard, and they have been. John Bohn has demonstrated and been publicly criticized for his contemptuous treatment of the public he was elected to serve. He treats public comment in a patronizing and offhanded manner, as if it were an annoyance.  He is probably also contemptuous enough of the public to think that this will die out over the holidays. Mr. Bohn, it will not die out. As an ex-military man I know you are acquainted with the requirements of honor and I call upon you to do the honorable thing and resign from the office you have dishonored. If you do not, I and many others have pledged to do everything in our power to see that you are removed. You have already put a Trustee through having to deal with resigning – do not force the voters into the further misery of a recall.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Column 87 The Government They Deserve

The phrase “public office is a public trust” is part of the American political ethic. NRS  281.421 (the state’s ethics statute) states that “In Nevada, a public office is a public trust held for the sole benefit of the people. Public officers and employees must commit to avoid conflicts of interest between private interests and public duties.”

In this regard, a great many people have spoken and written to me to express their outrage at IVGID Chairman Bohn’s withholding Beverly Mapps’ letter of resignation on his own decision, yet few seem to be taking any action. If I am the only voice for what seems to be pretty widespread community outrage, then what is predictable is that the issue will die a quiet and unfortunate death.

The tactic of some to attack the messenger (me) both personally and by distorting what is said and then attack based on those distortions has hit a new high (low?) on this issue, recalling Churchill’s observation that “Some people's idea of [free speech] is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage.”  Let me see if I can clarify a few things for those who are interested in facts and clarity.

First of all, none of this is an attack on Ms Mapps, or her resignation – this was her right. The issue, which some would have us ignore, is that the Chairman, a candidate in the election, (a) chose to decide what the electorate should or shouldn’t know, (b) chose not to consult with anyone else except the resignor and the attorney for the Board, and (c) chose to flout established Board procedure by withholding Board Correspondence from the agenda.

There is one point worth noting, though. Ms Mapps’ letter of resignation contained strong criticism of the Board, which criticism has been lost, in part because Chairman Bohn seems to have felt that the Board could wait to hear this criticism from one of its members who felt strongly enough about it to resign.

Secondly, this is not about how the election might have gone if this information was made public – the law is clear that the election would have been for two seats, with the third then appointed by whatever means the Board chose. One could, however, argue that the resignation and Ms Mapps’ criticism were something the voters had a right to know as they decided how to cast their votes.

Thirdly, as I’ve pointed out repeatedly, this is not about my supposed vaunted ambition to be on the Board – if that were what I wanted to do, the smart thing would have been to keep quiet, kiss up, and do my best to be appointed on December 13th. One factor in my withdrawing last week was that I got tired of this specious argument being used to deflect attention from the real issues.

I believe the facts indicate that, at the very least, John Bohn violated his public trust in that he had a conflict of interest. I do not find it credible that someone of his background and experience is, as one correspondent suggested, naïve or unaware of this. If he could not see at least the appearance of a conflict he acted incompetently; if he could see it he acted unethically; if he did so in order to maintain the dubious power of being a Trustee and the minor honorarium it carries with it, he acted criminally. I don’t claim to know which is the case, but I do believe that the residents of the District are entitled to an accounting by Mr. Bohn and also from Ms Mapps, who remains an elected official. What we have gotten instead is silence from them and  attacks, distortions, and name calling from people “defending” them.

David Simon said that “one of the sad things about contemporary journalism is that it actually matters very little. The world now is almost inured to the power of journalism. The best journalism would manage to outrage people. And people are less and less inclined to outrage.” That seems to be the case here in Incline where outrage is short-lived, and seldom translates to action. The Board meets tonight to decide on their procedure for interviewing candidates and next week to select a new Board member. Both meetings will include public comment. If you feel strongly one way or the other on the issues I’ve outlined here, I urge you to go to the meetings and use your three minutes of public comment to demand an accounting and express yourself.

If you will allow me one last quote, de Tocqueville said that “in a democracy, the people get the government they deserve.” I will do my best to make sure this issue doesn’t go away, but if I am the only voice of the outrage many people profess, then the issue will fade away and, I suppose, the residents of Incline will have the government they deserve.

Column 86 (National) A Modest Proposal

A Modest Proposal

As you can imagine, I found the results of the mid-term elections, in the words of that guy in the credit card commercials, “rewarding – very, very, very, rewarding.” As Frederic Hertzberg in the current New Yorker, “This election was a crushing rebuke to Bush and his party. The rest is interpretation. Nearly everyone agreed that public anger about the Iraq catastrophe was paramount. To the surprise of much of the political class, exit polls suggested that corruption was almost as formidable a factor, especially among Independents and disaffected Republicans.”

The spinmeisters on the Right are working overtime to put some lipstick on this pig, but clearly Bush has spent not only his supposed political capital, but that of a lot of other Republicans as well. Now the Democrats are in control of the Legislative Branch, and could be considered to have the edge in the race for the Presidency in 2008. Unfortunately, that consideration requires that we ignore some unpleasant realities about my party of choice.

Without stretching too much, one could make the case that the Democrats did not win the election so much as the Republicans lost it. The incompetence and corruption on the GOP side made it easy to run on a “we’re not them” platform, and while I wish it weren’t so, the Democrats did not have much more of a coherent story or message than they did in 2004. For the Dems to take advantage of their newfound political capital we will have to do more than clean things up over the next two years – we will have to find our ideological feet and get them solidly underneath us.

The key issues of the day are, for the most part, not very arresting or not ones on which the left and right disagree in compelling ways. The war in Iraq is an unmitigated disaster, and the only real issue is how to withdraw and how fast. Predictably Bush will find some way to get the GOP off the hook on this one over the next two years and, by referencing the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, defusing the war as a political issue. Minimum wage, gay marriage, the death tax do not admit of a clear political divide and in any case are not real “grabbers.”

There is, I think, an issue on which the two parties clearly divide and that is of sufficient importance and impact that the Democrats could build a platform around it, and that is the environment. At this point the scientific community is as unanimous as it can ever get on the issue of climate change. While pundits, columnists, and novelists who would be pundits insist the scientific evidence is equivocal, there has not been a single peer-reviewed scientific article that dissents from the view that the climate is changing in the direction of global warming and that that change is potentially calamitous. Even Bush has admitted that America’s addiction to fossil fuels, particularly oil, is dangerous, the Republican Party remains in thrall to oil interests and to vested big business interests in general.

So my recommendation to the Democrats, regardless of whom they run, is to start early and often to build a campaign around the environment – not spotted owls or endangered fish (though those are important also) but around energy policy, alternative energy sources (solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and, yes, nuclear), and reversing global warming. That’s a horse (or a donkey) they can ride to the White House.

Column 85 - He's Back

He’s b-a-a-a-ck.

I warned people who didn’t like my column that they should vote for me or I might be back. Well… Seriously, though, Andy has been doing a great job and has graciously offered to alternate weeks (and months for the national columns) with me, so here I am.

It’s been an interesting six months. Everyone should run for office at least once in their life if only to get a feel for what the political process looks like from the inside. I must say that the local races were (with one notable exception) remarkably civil, particularly as compared to the state contests, and while I’m disappointed that Nevada didn’t follow the national trend toward rebuking the Administration, I was gratified by the results nationally, some of the state results, and most of the local results.

Now we have a new wrinkle in local politics. IVGID Trustee Bev Mapps has resigned, and in her letter of resignation takes a swipe at her fellow Board Members. It seems odd to me that Ms Mapps’ idea of how to meet the Board’s responsibility “to provide a level of oversight to IVGID and its management” is to resign, but that’s what she has done.

What seems more odd to me is that Mapps’ letter of resignation is dated September 11th but was not made public until after the election. Rumors abound that someone received the letter well in advance of November 8th, so one has to wonder if someone sat on it and why. Would the results of the election have been different if Mapps’ charges were known and if it were known that the first duty of the new Board would be to appoint another member? I believe that the residents of IV/CB have a right to know if this news was withheld and by whom, and to inquire into the motives and ethics of whoever was involved in hiding this information.

Chairman Bohn is quoted in the Bonanza article giving a whole list of criteria the Board will consider in making this appointment including the ambiguous “personality that would be a good fit with the other trustees.” Conspicuous by its absence is any reference to the fact that there was just an election in which 40% of those voting expressed their preference for new people and new thinking on the Board. It seems to me that this should be the major thing the Board considers.

The first announcement was that the Board would interview candidates and make a decision on January 10, after Mapps’ resignation takes effect on December 31st. Now the date has been moved up to December 13th, when Mapps will still be on the Board. Again, one wonders why. The Board has 30 days from December 31st to make an appointment before the issue goes to the County, so why move it up? Will Mapps vote on her own replacement or will she (as I believe she should) recuse herself?

Also, if four Board members vote on the fifth, what happens in case of a tie? NRS 318 calls for the County Board of Commissioners to fill vacancies on the IVGID Board – presumably the County Board has delegated this responsibility to the IVGID Board, but who breaks a tie? My guess would be the Commissioners – do IV/CB residents want this decision taken at the County level?

Obviously I have a dog in this fight. I still want to be on the Board for all the reasons I made clear in my campaign. More importantly I want to see the views represented by the 2,649 votes cast for Tripp Hudson and for me (only 1,266 less than the combined total for the incumbents) honored in filling the vacancy on the Board.

The Bonanza has opened a forum on the North Tahoe Living website ( on this issue and I urge residents to make their views known to the Trustees, to Jim Galloway our Commissioner, and to each other through the forum and the paper. Most importantly, let the IVGID Board members know if you want them to honor the results of the election or if you are OK with their electing a Trustee to a two-year term on their own.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Column 83 - Experts

IVGID could save a lot of money by firing their entire professional staff – I mean the golf staff, the tennis staff, the ski staff, the Rec Center staff – the whole lot. After all, they can just ask some Incline residents how to maximize the return on our multi-million dollar investments, particularly in the recreation area.

What gave me this brainstorm was reading all the sage advice proffered by residents regarding maintenance of the golf course, how to speed up play, and similar advice over the past couple of years about golf course maintenance during the winter, staffing of the golf course and tennis programs, how to run the ski area, dogs on the beaches, etc. It seems we have an awful lot of people who must be experts on these matters. I don’t have any idea of their credentials, but they give their opinions with great certainty and not a hint of a possibility that trained professionals might know more than they do.

Now don’t get me wrong – everyone has a right to their opinion, and the First Amendment guarantees their right to express it. At the same time, I’ve never cared for what an old boss of mine used to call “a guy in a diner.” If you’ve ever been in a diner late at night you’ve encountered the guy who sits at the counter with a cup of coffee and offers (usually loudly) to all within earshot his opinions on the government, the economy, and anything else he can think of.

Too bad there’s not a diner in Incline – it would make a fortune.

I suppose for someone who expresses views publicly to criticize others who do so might be unseemly. I like to think, though, that I do my homework and while some (many) might not agree with what I say, I think most would agree that I have some basis for it beyond just how I would like it to be so that it’s convenient for me.

IVGID hires really top quality professional people, from the General Manager on down, to be stewards of valuable assets belonging to the entire village. Stewardship means to hold in trust property belonging to another and to maintain or hopefully increase the value of that property. IVGID professionals are hired for their expertise and expected to do just that – to ensure a return on our investments. In doing this, they must make decisions that will not meet everyone’s desires. The fact that the golf course is a public facility owned by the District, does not mean that everyone should be able to do whatever they want with it, whether it’s cross-country skiing in winter or driving carts on the fairways in the spring, if those activities will, in the judgment of the experts, damage the asset.

In case I’m not making myself clear, the key word in the last sentence is experts. Not everyone is an expert and to say, in effect, “I own the golf course so I know what is best for it” is like putting water in the gas tank of your car and expecting it to run just because you think it should.

These self-appointed critics also make their attacks personal. The IVGID staff put hours of work and study into their recommendations (if you don’t think so, go to a Board meeting when any of them are presenting to the Board and you’ll see the professionalism and careful analysis behind their reports), but never mind that: if you don’t like what they recommend, call them names, say they’re “spending like a drunken sailor,” and generally disparage their hard work and dedication. If you seriously think you are their employer, you should know better than to treat valued employees that way.

But what the hell. If you’re a guy in a diner, you don’t have to be responsible, just sling mud around to show how much smarter you are than everyone else. After all, no one will hold you accountable if it doesn’t turn out.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Column 81 (National) - Iran

Try out this scenario: In the Middle East there is a country populated almost completely by Muslims. The political leader of that country is notoriously intemperate in his public remarks, including being publicly committed to his country’s right to develop, own, and if need be to use weapons of mass destruction, though the evidence that the country has, at present, more than trace amounts of WMD materials is scanty at best. What should the US do?

Based on past experience, the answer for President Bush might well be a preemptive strike.

Preemptive warfare by presidents is not a new phenomenon. In 1848 a young congressman expressed his opposition to going to war against Mexico in this way: "Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose -- and you allow him to make war at pleasure. If, today, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, 'I see no probability of the British invading us'; but he will say to you, 'Be silent; I see it, if you don't.' “ That congressman was Abraham Lincoln.

As Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. points out in a recent article in the Washington Post, this is precisely how George W. Bush sees his presidential prerogative: Be silent; I see it, if you don't .The guiding strategy during the Cold War was the formula developed by George Kennan of “containment plus deterrence.” Remember, our enemies in the Cold War had real WMDs. For those keeping score at home, we won the Cold War without invading anyone. Now George Bush has changed US strategy from the Kennan formula to Be silent; I see it, if you don't and the 33% of Americans who still support him blindly follow.

There is no question that nuclear weapons in Iran’s hands would be a disaster. The Iranian President has called for the destruction of Israel, has denied the Holocaust, and is an avowed enemy of the West. But Iran does not have nuclear weapons now and has a long ways to go until they have them (even the Bush Administration is not pretending that WMD’s currently exist this time). This means plenty of time to bring international pressure to bear and if that fails to put together a true military coalition so that turning Iran from a destructive path is a world, effort, not another US solo adventure.

Unfortunately we have an election coming up in November, one in which the Republicans stand to lose a lot of their power and that will be seen as a referendum on the Bush Administration. With Karl Rove now giving his full attention to politics and Bush’s demonstrated win at any cost mentality, we can expect lies, dirty tricks, smears, and the probability of an “October surprise” is high. Some think that surprise will be the resignation of Dick (the mighty hunter) Cheney and his replacement with someone more popular to gain votes in ’06 and tee up a candidate for ’08. I fear, however, that there will be “evidence” produced in August or September that will lead to the bombing and/or invasion of Iran in October, and that will be a disaster that will cost thousands of lives in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world.

It’s time for Americans to stop buying “'Be silent; I see it, if you don't” from an president and an administration that has consistently lied and distorted the facts. The Kennan formula was good enough for Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and even Nixon, in the face of a genuine nuclear threat, and it is what will work now – contain Iran in a circle of international pressure and deter them by threat of worldwide retaliation. Preemptive war is not a viable option.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Column 79 - The Nevada Races

With the primaries about four months off and the election not until November, you wouldn’t expect things to be heating up in the state races quite yet, but you’d be wrong. Maybe it’s because we have the unusual situation of every constitutional office being up for grabs with no incumbents running this year (the first time since statehood), or maybe it’s just the tenor of the times, but things are already starting to get interesting.

Apparently Senator Bob Beers or his campaign sent out an April Fools Day press release saying that Jim Gibbons had come out in favor of Beers’ pet initiative, the TASC (Tax and Spend Control) amendment. Now Gibbons, displaying his characteristic lack of humor and tendency toward overreacting has demanded that Beer retract the joke release and has threatened legal action. To be fair, one of our local TV stations (who hereby forfeit the “sharpest tool in the shed” competition) thought the release was straight and aired it as fact, but having read the release I think that is more of a comment on the political savvy of the news editor than on the plausibility of the release. You can read the release at and judge for yourself.

I have to admit that as a Democrat it’s fun to see GOP candidates tearing at each other for a change. Here we have the delicious spectacle of Gibbons taking his usual loud and pompous umbrage at Beers suggesting that he (Gibbons) is a fiscal conservative! As the regular reader of this column (there must be one) will know, my first priority in this year’s race for governor is ABG (anybody but Gibbons), but between Beers’ ill-advised advocacy for TASC and his apparent lack of judgment (and a sense of humor – the release is sophomoric), I’m not sure he’d be that much better.

Fortunately we have some good alternatives on the Democratic side and, so far at least, the two main candidates have refrained from the kind of internecine warfare that has killed off so many Democratic candidates in the past few years. Both Dina Titus and Jim Gibson have spoken to the Incline Democratic Club in the past months, and I was very favorably impressed by both of them. Senator Titus has some very creative ideas on how to approach state issues, and Mayor Gibson has good ideas of his own as well as a solid track record as Mayor of the state’s third largest city, and both would, I think, make excellent governors.

Gibbons, on the other hand is the perfect representative of the Republican Party in 2006. He is arrogant, not very bright as far as I can tell, and ready to respond to any opposition with guns and epithets blazing. The simple fact is that America is getting sick and tired of the neoconservative GOP’s culture of cronyism and corruption, and their hiding, from the President on down, behind the 21st Century version of red-baiting and spurious arguments about national security to justify actions that would have gotten any pre-9/11 president impeached.

We in Nevada have before us this year a unique opportunity to send a clear message to the Republican Party in Congress and to the President that, like at least two-thirds of the people in the country we are mad as hell and we aren’t going to take it any more. We are spending billions of dollars on a war that was, at best, ill-advised, the President holds himself above the law, authorizing surveillance on Americans without benefit of due process (e.g., by obtaining a FISA warrant), authorizing the leak of classified material, directly violating the law, and top GOP members of Congress have been caught up in corrupt relationships with a lobbyist that and other corrupt activities, and the American people are sick of it.

My only concern is that if there is a clear off-year shift toward the Democratic candidates Bush will have to do something desperate to try to salvage the ‘08 elections. Like invading Iran. But that couldn’t happen, could it? Could it?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Column 78 - Democracy in Action

Having lived in Incline for almost 11 years now, I’ve seen my share of community controversy. We’ve had the Chateau controversy, the skateboard park, issues over the beaches, golf and tennis personnel, and of course the perennial dog park issue.

The recent debate over IVGID’s purchasing 5 acres of land at Incline Lake for $1 million was a controversial as any I’ve seen, but was different in some important ways that, I think, show how much we’ve grown as a community.

I don’t know how many people attended the IVGID Board’s meeting last Wednesday, but the room was more than packed, with a significant number of people standing in the lobby. The debate began (or continued, actually) with the Board discussing the pros and cons and asking questions of IVGID staff and others that were clear and thoughtful, however pointed they may have been. The debate among the Trustees was respectful without losing any of its force. Then, when Chairman Bohn opened the floor for public comments he divided the room with pros lined up on one side, cons on the other and neutral commenters in the middle. The comments went on for some two hours, and the tenor of the debate was again rational and respectful, though by no means dispassionate. The Board sat until 10 pm and when everyone present who wished to be heard had been heard, they voted in favor of the issue 3 to 2, a margin that, I think, reflected the community’s sentiment.

I have not always been a fan of IVGID Boards. In my early years here I was “asked to leave” more than one Board meeting after loudly objecting to what I felt were unfair or high-handed interactions with the residents who were present. This Board, however, went out of its way to hear every voice on the issue and their internal debate reflected not only their own views, but the input they had received. It was a show of participatory local government at its finest.

One complaint I have heard from time to time around controversial local issues is that the Board didn’t listen. I don’t think anyone can claim that about this Board on this issue, unless their criterion for listening is agreement. Personally, my criterion for listening is learning – if I walk away from a conversation having learned something, I have listened. If the person with whom I am speaking has learned something from my view, I have been listened to. Realistically, I think this is a more realistic criterion for listening than agreement, particularly on complex issues where a variety of views are being expressed. By my observation, this Board learned and listened, and whether you agree with their decision or not, they gave it their best and I congratulate each of the 5 Trustees.

Now the real work begins. As Trustee Gene Brockman pointed out at the meeting there has been, from the beginning, a ‘chicken and egg” problem that has complicated debate on the purchase. One often-heard objection has been that no concrete plan has been submitted for the use of the land (though many ideas have been advanced). On the other hand, the Board was loath to commit staff time and IVGID funds to the creation of a business plan before it was decided whether the land would be bought. Arguments could be made for planning first versus purchasing first, and the Board opted for purchasing first. Now, assuming the purchase will be consummated (this depends in part on approval from the State), we need to see which of the possible uses provides the best return on investment and that will be the occasion for another round of decision making. While a Nordic Ski Center has been the idea that has been heard the most, consideration must be given to year-round uses and to business issues including profitability and ROI. Other ideas have been advanced, including leaving the land in its natural state, perhaps selling the coverage to recoup the purchase price. Here again all voices should be heard and, based on the Board’s exemplary performance in making the purchase decision, we can, I think, expect a clear and participatory process.

Ain’t democracy grand?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Column 77 - An Historic Week

Monday the Place-Based Planning (PBP) process kicked up into full gear. In the afternoon the consultants met with the “Working Group” to plan the evening session, and in the evening over 100 people came to the Chateau for the first of three working sessions that will form the Washoe/IVCB part of the ultimate plan that goes to TRPA.

The Working Group are the 12 person committee that was the focus of the “pay to play” controversy earlier this year. After clearing up some miscommunication it turned out that IVGID had only 6 seats on this committee, and Washoe County the other 6. Commissioner Jim Galloway appointed the 6 from the County, including several from IV/CB. (I’m an IVGID appointee to the Working Group) The Working Group will provide the continuity between the Community Workshops, provide a direct link for the community into the process, and will work directly with the consultants to ensure that the output of those workshops is retained and translated into the final plan.

That 100 people came Monday evening for a three-hour working session is testimony to the work that Incline Vision has done since the Community Meeting in November. The people at the meeting said what they thought were the most important places in the village and also what they saw as the greatest opportunities for improvement over the next 20 years. Given the high degree of agreement among the ten teams working independently, what they came up with was probably pretty representative of thinking in at least one segment of the community.

Still, there is work to do. Unlike November’s meeting, Monday’s workshop was populated, largely by older, established residents. Missing were young families and their children, Latinos, renters, and probably part-time residents as well. The Working Group needs to make a concerted effort to collect and communicate these groups’ input to the consultants and to have these groups represented in large numbers at the second and third Community Workshops.

It’s important to remember that this is a process that is intended to be as inclusive as possible. If you feel that you or some group of which you are a part is not being heard or represented, don’t wait for the Working Group to find you – contact us to ensure we get your input. I can tell you for sure that all the data collected by Incline Vision and that will be collected in the workshops is being kept, listened to, and will be included in the end product, which will be a report and recommendations from the consultants to TRPA. At the end of the day what will translate all this into a real, concrete future for Incline and the Basin is new regulations, ordinances, and thresholds on the part of TRPA, the counties, and the communities and the consultants’ report will presumably be the basis for these changes.

The next Community Workshops are on May 22 and July 17 – mark your calendar now and plan to be there with as many of your friends and neighbors as you can bring.

The other big event this week is the IVGID Board meeting Wednesday night, where the Incline Lake purchase will get its final hearing and be put to a vote. After considerable study and thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a gamble worth taking. A million dollars is real money, to be sure, and anyone who thinks our payment as residents will end with a one-time assessment of $125 is probably naïve. Notwithstanding that I think we should take the opportunity. A Nordic ski area for the winter and another recreation area for summer use are probably a good bet to produce revenue and, as importantly, enjoyment for residents and increased tourism income. If the negotiations with the Forest Service don’t work out, the added investment over the initial million will not have been great and the land is likely to be salable at a profit that will match any other prudent investment of the money.

Maybe it’s the circles I travel in, but I haven’t spoken to anyone who opposes the purchase. I suspect opposition is out there and waiting for the Board meeting to come forward. If so, then Wednesday’s meeting should produce some interesting debate; if not, then those who attend will be present for an important piece of Incline’s history.

Column 76 - Iraq

Wars do strange things to presidents – they often become insular, defensive, and paranoid about dissent. This phenomenon is not limited to presidents of either party or to the current president. We saw it, for example, with both LBJ and Nixon during the Vietnam era.

This President, and his advisors seem to have a view of the war that fewer and fewer people share with them. This has been true to some extent for most of the three years since we invaded Iraq. The President has his own set of facts that often do not coincide with what is observable to others, starting with WMD’s and yellowcake from Niger, and now including “victory” and “civil war.”

Mr. Bush said this week that we will stay in Iraq until we achieve victory, and clearly expects this involvement to extend well beyond his administration, but he has yet to define what he has in mind by “winning.” If the goal was to bring democracy to Iraq, they have a democratically elected government, and a recent poll of the Iraqi people found that 87% of them want us to leave. Democracy would seem to indicate that if we leave at the request of a government that represents the will of its people, we’ve won - Zbigniew Brzezinski has proposed just such a plan.

Former Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi stated unequivocally this week that Iraq is in a state of civil war, but the President denies it while admitting that there is a “significant insurgency.” This is mincing words at best, and when Donald Rumsfeld says that leaving now would be like turning post-war Germany back to the Nazis, it seems to indicate that (a) there is a civil war and (b) we are propping up the weaker side, but the President denies that there is a civil war.

This week President Bush said “if I didn’t believe we would win, I would not send our young people over there,” and I believe he is sincere in that statement. What bothers me is that this President is willing to send our troops in harm’s way based on his private belief, a belief that is not shared by military strategists that are far more expert than he is.

The President’s justification for our long-term commitment in Iraq is based in his “War on Terrorism” which, as Brzezinski has pointed out, is a euphemism. War is “a state of usually open and declared armed hostile conflict between states or nations,” but terrorism is not a nation or state, it is a strategy of killing people to alter the political process.

Notwithstanding this, Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld continue to use this “war” as a justification for an unprecedented accretion of power to the Executive Branch, and when others object, they again redefine reality. For example, no serious Democrat has, to my knowledge, advocated eliminating the use of surveillance against suspected terrorists – they have objected to doing this illegally, particularly when fast, effective legal means exist. Yet the President in last week’s news conference said that if the Democrats are against using these weapons against terrorism, they should run on that platform, blithely ignoring the key factor, namely his breaking the law.

At the end of the day the issue is not whether we should be in Iraq. The overwhelming majority of Iraqis and an increasing majority of Americans say we should not. The issue is why we are there and how we will exit, and this president seems to think we should trust him on the first and to be content to leave the second to future presidents to work out.

Lastly I’d like to take a few things out of the conversation. I am unequivocal in my support for our armed forces. My opposition to the war does not in any way disrespect those who are, in line with their commitment in joining the armed forces, prosecuting it to the best of their ability. Second, I reject any imputation that dissenting from the administration’s policies or actions is in any way unpatriotic –I concur with Jefferson’s statement that “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.”

That I have to say all that, to me, speaks to the sorry state that political dialogue in this country has come to.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Column 75 - We Ain't Had Our Best Day Yet

People sometimes ask me if it’s hard to write a weekly column. My stock answer is that it’s not, if I have a topic – the hard part is coming up with something to write about each week that will be informative and, hopefully, stimulate some thinking beyond the reflex attack that comes when someeone’s pet ox is gored.

This is one of those tough weeks. It seems like everything is either settled or on hold, and all of it has been discussed to death – Incline Lake, Place-Based Planning, the Shorezone standards, workforce housing, the tax revolt, timeshares – I for one don’t have anything new to say and don’t see the point in rehashing old conversations. I had hoped to devote this column to the County Democratic Convention, to which I was to be a delegate, but a combination of business and family matters precluded my attending, and so I don’t know what went on there as I write this.

Seems like the most interesting thing going on is the season premiere of The Sopranos, and even that’s not “local” in focus.

I’ve had occasion these past several weeks to spend more time than usual in the Bay Area, specifically in San Jose. I’ve been struck all over again with all the reasons I moved to Incline over ten years ago. The traffic, which I honestly thought could not have gotten worse, has. Last week Emy and I made the mistake of going shopping at the Valley Fair Mall at about 4 pm on Saturday. First of all, I’m quite sure there were more people in that mall than live in Incline. The parking lot, which is two levels and about the area of Tyrolian Village, was jammed, and every driver seemed to think he or she had a right to a parking space within 50 feet of a mall entrance. I also noticed something I’ve observed in airports, namely the number of people who seem oblivious to the fact that there are other people around, and that those other people actually occupy physical space and, when they walk or drive, have a certain momentum on a certain trajectory. Many people move as if they are alone in the world or, at least, others should make way for them.

Now I’m not saying that none of that happens in Incline, though I confess to a bias that has me, when someone acts this way in Raley’s, to seek evidence that they are flatlanders visiting and not locals. I do know that, even when Raley’s parking lot is jammed on a weekend, people with Nevada plates seem generally polite and cooperative, and the only thing I’ve seen that is close to a traffic jam is leaving the ski areas at 4:30.

So overall I think we have it pretty good here, issues notwithstanding. I had to miss the opening meeting of the basin-wide Place-Based Planning group to which I had the honor of being named, but I’m optimistic about the process. I’ve heard good arguments both ways on the wisdom of the land purchase at Incline Lake, and have enough confidence in the IVGID Board to feel it will turn out well, and overall I think the future looks pretty good.

There’s an old Peanuts cartoon where Lucy, in her advice booth, tells Charlie Brown that it stands to reason that, at the end of the line, there will have been one day in our lives that will have been the best day we had, and one that will be the worst. Then she asks Charlie Brown “What if you’ve already had your best day?” For me, it’s an article of faith that my best day hasn’t happened yet, and I think that’s true for us as a community as well. If you had told me ten years ago that 350 people would come together and launch an active planning process I would have thought they were nuts, yet here we are.

So this is a column about nothing (hey – it worked for Seinfeld!), the point of which is “we ain’t had our best day yet!”

Monday, March 06, 2006

Column 74 - Timeshares

Anyone who has lived in the Bay Area will be familiar with the radio and TV commercial for a dairy called Berkeley Farms that ends with a bovine voice exclaiming “Farms? in Berkeley? Mooooo!” The local version of this at the moment seems to be Timeshares? in Incline? Noooooo!”

To make it clear at the outset, I’m no big fan of timeshares, and neither do I consider them a blight on the universe. Actually, aside from assiduously avoiding getting hooked into listening to marketing pitches on them, I don’t have much opinion either way on timeshares (though by way of full disclosure, I did attend a presentation years ago at South Shore and came away with a really nice set of cheap, shoddy luggage).

I am a fan of reason, though, and it seems to me that the current brouhaha over the issue of timeshares in Incline is lacking in that fine commodity.

There may be some fine point of law or regulation that distinguishes between a time share and a house that is rented out as a vacation rental, but in practice I can’t see the difference. If I (or my brother, my cousin, and my friends Ed and Don and I) buy a house, use it for ourselves for a few weeks a year and rent it out to vacationing families the rest of the year, that seems pretty much the same thing as a time share to my untrained eye.

Now here’s the joke: There are houses and condos all over Incline that are rented out on exactly that basis. Timeshares in Incline? We’ve always had them!

Now here come Paul Zahler and Phil Gilanfarr wanting to put them up near Diamond Peak and you’d think somebody was proposing affordable housing or something.

What I’ve heard from the anti-timeshare side is concerns about traffic, parking, noise, and the like. OK, those are valid concerns for anyone in any neighborhood, but from my understanding what is being proposed is not a high-rise or condo development but a number of single family homes. Again, I think the concerns are legitimate, but they are not, I think, concerns that are unique to time shares. When my neighbor across the street put his house on the market and, while it was being sold, rented it out in three sections to groups of young, unrelated people, I had the same concerns, and had recourse if I wanted to pursue it under the CC&R’s of the neighborhood. How is this different from a timeshare, and how is it different if Messrs. Zahler and Gilanfarr went in and built a bunch of houses that they then sold? Particularly if the purchasers then rented them out as vacation rentals?

Somehow I think there is more involved here than meets the eye. For one thing, Paul Zahler has been subjected to some personal attacks on the issue that I think are out of proportion to a relatively simple zoning dispute. I don’t know Paul well, we don’t socialize, and we don’t agree on a lot of political matters. I have, however, served with Paul on a number of committees and boards and have had occasion to scrutinize his performance in public service on the CAB and the Fire Board and it’s my view that he is an honest man, however misguided he may be politically, and that he has a big and authentic commitment to the community. Those things alone, in my view, make ad hominem attacks a particularly egregious form of opposition. I’ve met Phil Gilanfarr in a business context and have no reason to think that either Paul or Phil are up to any nefarious business here – they’re just doing what architects and developers do – looking for an opportunity to develop something – that’s their profession.

The point is, once again, that we live in a community and that living in a community means that (a) there are laws and regulations that apply equally to everyone – they aren’t something to be invoked when the ox being gored is yours and (b) Sometimes, as Mr. Spock said, the good of the many may outweigh the good of the few, and some people are not going to like something that, under our laws, is perfectly legitimate to do. Let’s decide this issue in the realm of laws and regulations, not in the court of public attack.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Column 72 - Dick Cheney

Dick Cheney – L’Etat, c’est lui.

In the grand scheme of things, the furor over the Vice President’s hunting accident would be a tempest in a teapot. Hunting accidents happen – it’s almost inconceivable that a group of people armed with rifles or shotguns and firing at fast-moving game will not occasionally hit something other than what they were aiming at, and sometimes that will be another hunter. It’s fortunate that the outcome of this particular accident was not much worse.

In our free society, when something that could happen to anyone happens to a public figure, it becomes fodder for the talk mill and the comedy shows – Carter had his encounter with the “attack bunny,” Clinton his stops at McDonalds, and Ford his famous falls and Quayle his spelling impairment – so at worst l’affaire Cheney should have been good for a few laughs at the Veep’s expense.

But humor ranks right below candor in this administration’s value system. Not long after the incident, the blogosphere began buzzing with stories of lies and cover-ups and then on Saturday the AP published an article detailing what it called “a week of shifting blame, belatedly acknowledged beer consumption (not ‘zero’ drinking after all) and evolving discrepancies in how the shooting happened, its aftermath and the way it was told to the nation.”

Arrogance has been a hallmark of this administration, and Cheney is in a close race with Rumsfeld for most arrogant. Beginning with the campaign, every piece of unwelcome information has been met by defaming the messenger. Questions about Bush’s military record and Cheney’s having “other priorities” than serving in Viet Nam? Get Rove’s minions together to smear John Kerry and Max Cleland, who did answer the call to serve. Unwelcome facts about the supposed yellowcake from Niger? Send Scooter to smear Joe Wilson and expose his wife as a CIA agent. And so it goes right up to Cheney and the White House blaming the poor sap who got shot.

While there is no evidence that beer drinking impaired Cheney’s judgment, drinking while hunting is an unsafe practice. The solution? Lie. Katherine Armstrong, the ranch owner and doyenne of Texas Republicans said “No one was drinking. No, zero, zippo” – that they drank Dr. Pepper with their lunch. Later Cheney acknowledged that “I had a beer at lunch.”

There is more, of course – the minimizing of the extent of Whittington’s injuries, the fact that Cheney’s licenses were not in order, and the speculation of experienced hunters that if, as was stated, the victim was 30 feet from Cheney, and if he were wearing the sort of layers of clothing that would be expected given the temperatures, the pellets should not have penetrated and harmed him below the one that hit his face – yet clearly they penetrated enough to get into his system and be carried to his heart. Most importantly there is the constipated flow of information both to the White House and to the public that has the appearance, at least, of an attempted cover-up.

Dick Cheney epitomizes the attitude of this administration that they are accountable to no one but themselves, and least of all to the public. They lie, cover up, and rationalize their behavior under the umbrella of national security and the war on terror. Yet these chickens are starting to come home to roost. In an administration that was accountable, that had not lost touch with all but the most blindly partisan segment of the public, that had an approval rating that was not in the cellar, this would have been an unfortunate case of bad judgment. In the case of this administration and its arrogant disregard for the public, it is an example of Lord Acton’s maxim that power corrupts.

Column 73 - Place-Based Planning

The next phase of the Pathway 2007 Place-Based Planning process has begun, but not without its share of controversy.

Any planning process that hopes to be effective starts with a poorly understood process called “visioning.” In visioning, stakeholders in the process come together to address the question of what the group hopes to be for the near- to intermediate-term future. This is by it nature a process that begins with art, and is never intended to reach to the level of science. It is intended to create the design parameters for the planning that is to follow, and that planning is to flow from and be informed by the vision. One of the less understood aspects of vision is that, once formulated, it is not intended to be fixed in stone, or even in Jell-O. The vision of the United States, which we could encapsulate as “the land of the free,” has morphed continually as times and thinking changed and that had not previously been included in "the free" came to be part of the vision. After vision comes planning, beginning with sorting out all the ways the vision might be fulfilled lo find the most feasible and valuable and in the end, there must be changes in policy and even law to reflect the new vision and its values.

We in IV/CB started early and have been ahead of the curve entering into the Place-Based Planning efforts and whether by following our example or just because it's the right way to go, the PBP Process is doing with other constituencies what we have already done. The problem is, they seem to want us to follow their, plan. In Incline Vision Chair Bea Epstein's words, "to go forward by going back;" this we should not do.

A case in point is the request from PBP for us to form a committee to sit with similar committees from around the Lake to ensure that all the PBP efforts are consistent. Now I'm all for consistency, and this is a reasonable request right up until they start to tell us how to constitute the committee. I guess it's appropriate for the consultants to have guidelines, and I understand that some communities around the Lake have needed them. What  worries me, though, is the a appearance that the consultants seem to plan to take a cookie-cutter approach to the process. I warned early on of the danger of any approach that could appear to ay to Incline Vision "That's nice stuff you've done, and now were here to show you the right way.” I'm not saying they're doing that - what concerns me is that even the perception that they are might be sufficient to kill the momentum that  Incline Vision has built up.

For this reason, I think that Incline Vision is doing the right thing by, on the one hand setting up a committee to take place in this phase of this process and on the other hand setting up that committee according to its own view of who from IV/CB should participate. The work of Incline Vision and its subcommittees thus far must be preserved and built upon, and the level of participation by community members in Incline Vision is critically important to the future of our village. Equally importantly, Incline Vision, by dint of its early start and the effectiveness of its work should take a leadership role in the PBP process and the overall visioning process around the Lake, and this is clearly the path being pursued by Ms Epstein, Mr. Brockman, and the others on the Incline Vision Organizing Committee. They should continue to do so.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Column 71 - For the Democrats 2008 Begins Here & Now

For the Democrats, 2008 Starts Here and Now

Last Saturday I attended the Washoe County Democratic Party’s Precinct Caucus. In his column last week, Jim Clark did a good job of explaining how the Caucus/Convention system works, so I won’t go over that again. As one who values grassroots participation in the political system, though, I have to say I was impressed at what I saw and participated in.

There were about 350 people there from all over the county. County Chair Chris Wicker told me that this was a surprising turnout – they expected around 200 people, maybe 250 at most. There are probably a lot of reasons for the turnout, but certainly the fact that this year, for the first time in Nevada’s history, every constitutional office in the State is, as former Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa put it, “up for grabs.” No office has an incumbent standing for it, and so the races are wide open.

Another factor clearly affecting people’s participation is a deep discontent with what the Republican Party has given us at the national level over the past five years. At a time when even rock-ribbed Republicans like former congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) are questioning the legality of the President’s actions, Democrats who had despaired for their party almost as much as for their country are starting to think it will be possible to break the GOP’s one-party government, and that the state races in 2006 are the place to start a movement toward 2008.

While I was gratified to see what I think are some outstanding candidates for offices such as Governor (Dina Titus and Jim Gibson), US Senate (Jill Derby) and others, I was dismayed to see that there are 8 county offices and 5 state offices with no Democrats declared (I’m not counting Washoe School District Board of Trustees, the State Board of Education, or the UNR Regents). I have to wonder why.

On local offices I believe that party politics don’t mean much. Alan Tiras is standing for Jim Mancuso’s judgeship, and while Alan and I mostly don’t agree on anything at the State and National level, I’m supporting him without reservation in his run. But when I look at Sharron Angle and the damage her Prop 13 mentality could do, I can only stand dumbfounded that no one from my party is challenging her, and the same goes for the Lt. Governor’s office and for the District 4 State Senate seat now held by Randolph Townsend.

So I’d like to say to my fellow progressives that 2008 starts now, and starts here. There is every indication that, at the national level, things are only going to get worse, and if we are going to avoid disaster, we need to start now, and at the State level. The Washoe County Democratic Convention will be held March 11th at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center. Our precinct is entitled to 4 voting delegates and as of now has one – me. In addition, any Democrat can and should attend. Go to for information. Between now and then, Jim Gibson will be at the monthly meeting of the Incline Democratic Club on February 23 at the Library and I hope you’ll be there to meet and question this candidate for Governor.

On an entirely different and unrelated subject, if you missed Macavoy Layne’s (Joe Tahoe’s) column last Wednesday lamenting the departure of Mary Jurkonis from the Bonanza, you should look it up online at Mac really said it all, and I won’t try to match his well-known eloquence. All I can say is that Mary did a really remarkable job and did it with ineffable style and grace. I know she still lives here, I know she’s not really gone, and I’m sure Lee Denmark will stand on her shoulders to take the Bonanza to the next level in its contribution to the community. And all that said, we’ll miss her. So long, Mary, and thanks for the cake.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Column 70 - "Pay to Play" or The Cost of Doing Business?

Pay to Play or The Cost of Doing Business?

There has been a good deal of discussion about a number of community issues lately – to wit, the Place Based Planning effort, and particularly the request from TRPA for IVGID’s financial participation, the acquisition by IVGID of land adjacent to the Incline Lake property, putatively to be acquired by the Forest Service under SNPLMA, and (though not as recently) the sale of the Denio property on Route 28 to the Forest Service, also under SNPLMA. We can expect more of the same when round seven of the SNPLMA money comes up.

Any public discourse of this type is, I think, healthy for the community Still there is one aspect of it I find troublesome, and that is the strain of argument that seems to suggest that Incline Village/Crystal Bay can and should act independent of TRPA, Washoe County, and everyone else. I would characterize this line of thinking as naïve, at best.

Since the 1950’s every field of science – physical science, biological science, and social science – has moved toward acceptance of Systems Theory as a unifying principle that extends across all the fields. Simply put, Systems Theory stresses the interdependence of life. Anything that occurs in one sphere can and probably will have wide-ranging effects, and to the extent that we ignore this fact we will be blind-sided by unexpected results of what we do, effects that are sometimes at a far remove from our actions. Conversely, when we take a systems view and look at the dependencies that are affected by our actions, we will be more likely to effect positive outcomes.

The system that is the Tahoe Basin is made up a variety of subsystems – for example we have the high-end residential community where we live, the honky-tonk tourist atmosphere of the South Shore, the wooded and relatively sparsely populated areas of the East and West Shore and the more reserved tourist communities of the North Shore, as well as reserved forest lands. What happens in any of these areas affects all of them, and if you don’t think so, plan to go to dinner at Squaw during the winter or on the West Shore in summer and see if the traffic in those areas doesn’t have an effect on your plans. The Martis fire did not come over the mountain largely due to coordinated efforts at fuels management, and if it had, no one fire district would have fought it alone.

This being the case, to look at the request from TRPA for financial participation in the Place-Based Planning effort or at IVGID’s participating in the Incline Lake development by buying a five-acre parcel adjacent to it as “pay to play” is, I think, short-sighted. We really have a very poor choice in this – the Pathways 2007 effort is needed and proceeding. It is an effort at integrated (system-wide) planning for the Basin, and its results will affect our lives very directly. The Forest Service is likely to purchase the Incline Lake property, and we will be affected by what they do.

Rather I suggest we look at it as an imperative for the future of Incline Village. We must have a voice in the process, and if what it takes to gain that voice is financial participation, well is that so different from anything else in life? I own stock in several companies – my purchase of that stock gives me a voice I would not otherwise have in those companies. I must pay taxes as a condition of my citizenship and residence in the US, in Nevada, in Washoe County, and I must pay fees as a condition of my living in Incline, and these payments give me a voice in how those entities are governed. If Incline is to have an effective voice at the table, it is unreasonable to think that that voice will not have a financial obligation attached.

The alternative is to let Washoe County, TRPA, the State, and the Federal Government impact the quality of our lives and not to have any direct say in what happens. I for one don’t care to risk that.

As for $27 million for the Denio property, well that’s just silly.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Column 69 - Place-Based Planning

With regard to the Place Based Planning effort by TRPA, in my view there are three critical issues.

First, should IVGID participate at all, and why. Along with this comes the issue that the Bonanza called “pay to play” – should IVGID contribute financially to the effort as TRPA has requested? IVGID’s participation really shouldn’t be at issue in my opinion. Incline Village/Crystal Bay does not exist in a vacuum – we live in the Basin and what happens anywhere around the lake affects us. At the same time, we are as different from the other communities around the lake as we are from Reno or Carson City. These two facts make it critical that we participate in TRPA’s efforts to plan a coherent future for the Basin – if we did not participate we will be no less affected by the decisions and regulations that come from the planning process and we will not have been heard in the formation of those decisions and regulations.

As for financial participation, that’s a tougher question. TRPA has budgeted about $650,000 for Pathways 2007, and the $25,000 they are requesting from IVGID is just 4% of the total budget – not an amount that will make or break the project. It’s about .093% of IVGID’s operating budget of about $27 million, so not an amount that will make or break IVGID, either. At the same time, the IVGID Board of Trustees takes very seriously their charge to hold in trust the Village’s assets, including our financial assets, and aren’t inclined to just hand over $25,000, especially when we can expect to be tapped for further funds in the next couple of years.

As a consultant myself, I understand why what could be considered a token amount is being asked for. It is axiomatic in my business that the success of an engagement depends on how much skin the client or clients have in the game. Personally, I don’t think this is an issue – IVGID has so much at stake in the planning process that this amount of money won’t add much to that, and if the Board decides to go with in-kind contribution or no contribution I don’t think it will matter. TRPA can no more afford to move forward without Incline than Incline can afford not to participate – either would cripple the process.

The second issue is leadership. Once again, at last week’s Board meeting, the point that IVGID is charged only with water, sewers, and recreation was brought up. It’s time we retired this canard, which is only trotted out when the Board considers doing something that someone doesn’t like. The fact is that the Board of Trustees has for years taken the lead on issue that affect the quality of life in the Village, both now and in the future – Incline Vision is a prime example – and should continue to do so. As Trustee Gene Brockman pointed out at last week’s meeting, IVGID is as close as we have to a local government, and I endorse their taking on that responsibility. Even if it is beyond the letter of NRS 318, it is certainly within its spirit.

The last issue is more complex. Incline Vision has done a great deal of work already, particularly since the Town Meeting in November, and one might reasonably ask what will happen to this community-based effort when “outsiders” become involved. The other day, while at lunch at a local eatery, I overheard a conversation that amounted to “we don’t need outsiders coming in here and telling us what to do.” I think both of these concerns are legitimate, and both reflect some degree of misunderstanding. In point of fact, the Incline Vision Organizing Committee intended the Town Meeting to provide the impetus that would set the process in motion, and that once the subcommittees were in place and operating, there would be a need to integrate their work into Pathways 2007. Secondly, a consultant who knows his or her business does not “tell people what to do.” Rather, they objectively gather relevant facts and issues and map these onto the commitments and concerns of the client(s) – from this base, they help the clients to determine possible courses of action and to analyze what the outcomes of these courses are likely to be and how well they fit the clients’ intentions. No consultant worth paying would ignore the work Incline Vision has done, but would build on it, and would ensure that Incline’s purposes and concerns were served. Finally, this is not about “winning” or getting our way – it’s about creating a truly collaborative community in the Basin.

The P2007 Place Based Planning initiative deserves our participation and support.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Column 68 - Media Bias

The debate over media bias probably began the day the first newspaper was published, and has escalated ever since. The modern version of this debate could be said to have begun just after Pearl Harbor when President Roosevelt declared that the press of that day was “200% Republican,” but I think it’s safe to say that the issue is more alive today than ever before. A Google search under “media bias” returned 1.9 million hits today, and I suspect that number will be greater tomorrow.

I think there are a couple of significant problems with the notion of media bias. The first is the idea of “the media,” as if there were some organized, more or less coherent body in the way we can talk about “the government” or “the Catholic Church.” In point of fact, there is no “media” in that sense. In using this term we take all the various forms of public discourse – newspapers, television, radio, movies, the Internet, and more, and lump them together. This forms what Kurt Vonnegut called a granfalloon – a group that is thrown together artificially but has no internal connection or cohesion. To lump together such diverse characters and expressions as The Wall Street Journal, The Village Voice, Fox News, and makes as much sense as it does to talk about “Catholics,” or “Hispanics,” or “Republicans” as if all the members of that group thought alike.

The second problem is with the notion of bias. Bias, like beauty, is always in the view of the beholder. I once met David Duke, then Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and he assured me that he was not prejudiced against anyone – it was only those who misunderstood him who called him biased! In point of fact, each of us comprises intellectually and emotionally a point of view from which we see the world. This point of view is unique and not duplicable, and has us see the world in a certain way that, from another’s view will look biased to the extent that it differs from their view.

Finally, we have the notion that the media should be “objective.” No matter how much we may try to correct it, human communication always takes place in a context, and bias is a word that identifies the collective influences that comprise this context. Modern journalists, to the extent that they subscribe to the ethic of objectivity, attempt to correct for bias by (a) distinguishing facts from opinions and (b) attempting to present all points of view fairly. Journalists who fail to do this can be described as biased, and to the extent that they deny this bias or attempt to pass it off as objective reporting as untruthful. This applies, of course, to news reporting. Columnists, editorialists, and op-ed writers have no such obligation and publish their views as such.

So why the debate? Studies of “the media” have shown that, by and large, bias in news reporting, where it exists, is about equally divided between the left and the right, and that for the most part even the most editorially positional publications such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times are pretty unbiased in their news pages. Yet both the Right and the Left continue to decry media prejudice against their side, and the Right in particular has done a good job of selling the idea that “the media” are controlled by the Left, despite the fact that the vast majority of talk shows, etc. are Rightist in their views.

I think that making an issue of media bias, no matter who is doing it, shows a nasty cynicism about the audience for the accusation. The communication is something like “I’m smart enough to see this bias and you’re not, so I’m going to point it out to you.” It is this disrespect for the voting public that has me not listen to talk shows on either side of the political spectrum. The media will report as they do, and the public is smart enough to sort out the nonsense from the gunsmoke. “Media bias” is a non-issue unless we assume that the voting public is too stupid to be able to tell, and we need the likes of O’Reilly and Franken to enlighten us. Those who decry media bias (conveniently ignoring the fact that they themselves are part of the media) are, in my view, arrogant elitists who deserve to be ignored.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Column 67 - Open Reviews

As Mark Twain famously said, when the Nevada Legislature sits, no one is safe.

In the last session, our legislators passed a new law stating that performance reviews conducted by public bodies must be done in open meetings. Locally this means that when the IVGID Board of Trustees conducts Executive Director Bill Horn’s performance reviews, they must do so in an open meeting before the public. At last week’s IVGID Board meeting they did this for Bill’s half-year interim review, and in June they will do it again for his annual review.

Now I’m all for open meetings, and overall I think the Open Meeting Law serves an important public function. There is some awkwardness to it, like when three or more Trustees happen to be in attendance at a function, they have to avoid talking about District matters, but that’s not too bad and the benefits of the law have, heretofore, outweighed such minor inconveniences.

But this new provision is just foolishness. The purpose of a review is to give candid feedback to an employee about their performance so that areas of strength can be built on and areas of weakness improved. Candor requires privacy so that both the reviewer and reviewee can be fully open and honest – a review is a dialogue, not a broadcast, and dialogue about sensitive matters is difficult if not impossible in front of an audience.

My regard for Bill Horn is well-known, and for the most part I think well of this Board. It was painful to sit in the meeting and watch them go through this process. Even though the review was very positive, it was clearly uncomfortable for both the Board and for Bill. And what if it had been less positive? The Board would have been faced with a choice between giving low scores without feedback or giving feedback that could easily be taken out of context and used by people who for whatever reason wanted to gain public leverage against the Executive Director.

In my work with businesses I design, administer, and debrief feedback systems such as 360 reviews, and I have had occasion to counsel both reviewers and reviewees at high organizational levels, particularly when the reviews were likely to be difficult or ill-received. One of the sacred tenets of good human resource policy is “praise in public, criticize in private” so that people have the room to learn, defensiveness is minimized, and people’s dignity is protected. Our legislators, and as far as I know there is not an HR professional among them, have decided that this long-established and important practice does not apply to public employees. And, by the way, not all public employees, just the top rank – those whose reviews are done by public bodies. You see, everyone else in IVGID gets their reviews from their supervisor or manager. Only the Executive Director is reviewed by the Board in front of the public and the people he manages. Insane.

We ask a lot of those who choose to dedicate their lives to public service. They make far less money than they would in the private sector, their work is by its nature much more in the public eye, and far too many people think the fact that these folks are paid with tax dollars means that anyone in the public is entitled to take a shot at them for any reason. But it is beyond the pale when we also require them to undergo what should be a private and personal dialogue about their performance in public.

Some public bodies in the state have decided to forego doing performance reviews rather than subjecting their key people to this indignity – the IVGID Board of Trustees should consider this as a possible course of action until this ill-advised legislation is reversed.

As a Human Resource professional I take it personally when a group of people who don’t, as far as I can tell, know the first thing about good HR practice decide for reasons at which I can only guess to make rules that insult the dignity and privacy of good people. I will be contacting the Nevada chapter of the Society for HR Management and the legislature to do all I can to get this legislation taken off the books. I invite you to contact our legislators if you feel the same..

Monday, January 09, 2006

Column 66 - Nature 10 Incline 0

Nature 10, Incline 0

The storms, floods, snows, and power outages since New Year’s Eve were a reminder, that for all our big houses, four-wheel drive vehicles, etc., nature still has the upper hand. On New Year’s Eve we drove to Squaw Valley, and driving in total, almost eerie, darkness from Tahoe Vista to Alpine Meadows was a sobering experience. As we passed Gar Woods, Wolfdale’s, and other restaurants that were dark and empty on what would normally be one of their biggest nights of the year I was reminded of an old Jewsh saying, “God laughs when people make plans.”

Later, when I heard that Diamond Peak was shut down it brought home how interdependent we are. Power lines come up the hill from Carson City and over from Truckee, and with many of those inoperative, it quickly became a no-brainer choice between running ski lifts or having lights and heat. I wonder if we’ll remember that choice when, at the end of IVGID’s fiscal year, we see the financial impact of having made it. Nature 10, Incline 0.

Almost no individual in Incline depends on nature for their livelihood – we have no farms, no fishing or hunting, and those who do depend on it – gardeners, snow removal folks, etc., are a minority. Yet as residents (and in a GID that means part-owners) of the Village, we all have an interest in the profitability of the golf courses, the ski areas and the beaches. Mostly we are content to leave this in others’ hands to manage for us, but we shouldn’t forget that the vagaries of nature have a big impact not only on the quality, but also on the economics of our lives.

Related to that, there’s been a surprising amount of controversy about the issue of golf course use during the winter. Again, let’s remember that we, the residents, own the courses and derive considerable benefit from them whether we golf or not. The golf courses are a profitable operation, and those profits go to support other aspects of village life. They also attract considerable tourism (and income) to the village in the summertime. The Trustees we elected, with substantial public support, have over the past years upgraded the golf program both in terms of facilities and service, and this means you and I have a large financial stake in their financial success.

Part of this upgrade was to hire people with very impressive professional credentials to manage on our behalf. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that there is an awful lot about managing golf courses that I don’t know, and just as in the businesses I’ve owned and managed I’ve hired people to cover those areas such as finance and IT where I an not an expert, and I’ve relied on their judgment. In the golf case, we have professionals who say that, in their best judgment, some wintertime uses of the courses will be, in the long term, damaging and will cost us enough that these uses would be a losing investment. People who, as far as I know, don’t know as much as these professionals seem to think the pros are wrong. I don’t’ understand that. You don’t have to like their decisions, but those hard choices are what we pay them for.

Just one other thing. One article in this paper , rather fatuously I think, made much of the idea that there was no “scientific evidence” behind these decisions. Right. That’s where we rely on professional judgment – where science doesn’t give us clear-cut answers. Nature does what it does, and in the end we make judgment calls like closing the ski area based on what is likely to produce the greatest good for the greatest number. The golf course decisions fall into that category. Get over it and drive ten minutes to the meadows, the snow is great there.

Column 65 - The Case for Optimism

The Case for Optimism

New Years is supposed to be a time of optimism – we look back over the past year’s successes and failures, and look forward to a better year to come based on what we learned from the year just ended. Some years optimism is more of a challenge than others, but we do our best.

One thing we can learn from 05, I think, is to appreciate the individuals who step up to make the community a better place. In 2005 we lost Jack Cooke and Harold Tiller, to name two without whom Incline would have been infinitely poorer. Hopefully 2006 will see others step up to the plate of the level of selfless community service that these two embodied, and our town will be the richer for it.

In 2005 we saw what I like to think was the end of the myth of apathy in Incline. At the Incline Vision Town Meeting in November 300 people from all sectors of the community turned out on a holiday weekend to create the future of Incline Village/Crystal Bay, and then followed through on that by participating in task forces to make that vision a reality. In 2006 we can look forward to that work moving forward and to all of us having the opportunity to shape the future of our community.

2005 saw what I think is a real turnaround in how TRPA relates to its constituents around the lake. The agency still has its problems and its glitches, but Executive Director John Singlaub has made an outstanding start toward changing the culture of TRPA – culture change is gradual and takes time, but as one who held no brief for TRPA over the years I am optimistic that we will see major fruits of John’s efforts in 2006, so I’m optimistic.

This past year saw the IVGID Board and staff take on some tough issues including bringing the golf course professional staff up to the level of our new golf course, dealing with use of the courses during the off-season, taking steps to create a new cross-country ski area, and an awful lot more that the community barely notices, but without which we would not have the smooth-running infrastructure that makes living here much so great. IVGID Board Chair Gene Brockman and Executive Director Bill Horn have shown that they are more committed to learning and progressing than they are to being right about their positions, a marked contrast to some of the Board Chairs and ED’s I’ve seen since I moved here, and that makes me more than optimistic about 2006.

I had the pleasure during 2005 of interacting with the We the People program at Incline High School and seeing first hand what Milt Hyams and his team have been doing that has had them in national competition year after year, and it gave me great hope and pride in our Incline schools. As long as we have teachers like Milt and programs like We the People, I’m optimistic about 2006 and beyond.

Also this year, though it’s not something I care to do a lot of, I got to experience at close range the services of our local hospital and its nurses and doctors, another cause to be optimistic about 2006.

Our local safety services – the Washoe County Sheriff’s substation and the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District were tested in 2005 as they are every year, and the NLTFPD came under yet another siege by those who can’t see beyond the dollar signs, but we would be a much poorer community without the work of Greg Lubbe, Jim Linardos and their teams. With safety and protection like this, how could we not be optimistic about 2006?

And finally, since I write these columns as a volunteer, I’m free to give Mary Jurkonis, Erin Roth, and the Bonanza a pat on the back for being one of the outstanding community newspapers. Mary won a Jefferson Award in 2005, and it was well-deserved. Adlai Stevenson said “The free press is the mother of all our liberties and of our progress under liberty,” and with a paper like the Bonanza, we have reason to be both proud and optimistic.