Friday, July 23, 2010

Bonanza Column 195 – Consolidation - the Wolf Behind the Door

Last week was pretty interesting politically – for me at least. I had the opportunity to meet with County Commissioner John Breternitz to discuss the advisory ballot question on consolidation of Washoe County and Reno. Then later in the week I was able to sit down for a private half-hour interview with Gubernatorial Candidate Rory Reid. Both very interesting conversations.

I've been a supporter of Commissioner Breternitz since he ran for the office two years ago. He has an impressive background as a business executive (in the construction industry) and is my kind of public servant – he's retired, does not plan to make a career of elective office, and is genuinely interested in representing the people in his district, including the 25% or so of the district who live up here at the lake.

As Jim Clark mentioned in his column last week, Commissioner Breternitz was a "champion" for the advisory ballot measure. It's not that he's in favor of consolidation, but this question keeps coming up and he and other Commissioners want to get the sense of their constituents' view on it so that they can either drop it once and for all or move toward spending money to investigate the pros and cons. After talking with John at length, I'm convinced he's sincere in this – he just wants to know what people want.

All in all, it's hard to fault information-gathering – there will be pro and con statements on the ballot, and with any luck they will be well-written and clear so that people can make an informed vote. I'm concerned about it, though, because it's rare in my experience that these well-intended attempts by elected officials to sound out their constituents' views come through as they were conceived.

First of all, there are vested interests on one side of the issue. As Clark points out in his article, the appropriate way to do this would be for Reno to declare bankruptcy so as not to saddle the County with its debt. Anybody want to call the early line on Bob Cashell and the Reno City Council saying "we have failed completely in the fiscal management of the City and now, as our last official act, we're declaring bankruptcy?" Then, the rest of the County minus the City of Sparks – that is all the unincorporated parts of the County will be inundated by Reno's side (after all, it's all upside for Reno) and who will speak for the other side? Sparks is the only organized local government in the County other than Reno – the rest is communities, GID's, and scattered homes and farms. Who will speak for the con side? Who will speak to the effect of a pro vote on those areas?

Jim Clark and I rarely agree on political matters on the State and National level. More often than not, though, the more local the effect, the more likely we are to agree, and here we are on exactly the same page. For the past 20 years Jim and I and other concerned residents have tried to get across to the community the need for some form of independence for IV/CB – ideally as a county, then last year we tried as a town, which would have afforded us a local government not restricted by NRS 318 as a GID is. These efforts have failed – at the state level because of pressures from outside the area, and at the local level for reasons that continue to boggle my mind. All the facts argued that the town proposal had no downside, and it failed. Go figure.

To quote Elmer Fudd, we need to be vewwwy vewwwy careful. We need to do more than watch developments – we need to be active in communicating the facts of the impact this would have and, if it's as bad as I think it will be, in defeating the advisory question and leaving Reno to sort out its own mess.

Next week I'll report on my sit-down with Rory Reid. Between now and then, start to educate yourself about this consolidation issue. Former Commissioner Jim Galloway, as Jim reported, thinks this will make the issues of the Tax Revolt look like small change.

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