Friday, December 31, 2010

Bonanza Column 217 - As You Sow, So Shall You Reap - Here Comes Reno

In the November election Washoe County voters approved an advisory question authorizing the County to explore the possibility of consolidating the governments of Reno and the County. Despite Sparks making it clear that they wanted no part of consolidation and widespread opposition among the unincorporated parts of the County, the measure passed and Reno lost no time moving toward consolidation, which is all upside for the city and all downside for the rest of us, particularly the area governed by IVGID.

Jim Clark has done a good job of laying out the case against consolidation in his columns, both before the election and since, and I won't rehash the arguments here – go back and read Jim's columns if you're not familiar with them – I think you'll agree it's a bad idea, but that's not the point of this column.

As I write this, it's the last day of 2010, and traditionally columnists take the opportunity to look back at the past year, or in this case the past decade, but I've been looking forward as best I can, and I'm not happy about what I see. Normally optimism comes with the Progressive package, so I'm not altogether comfortable when I see a gloom and doom scenario, but in this case I can't avoid it.

You see, in my fifteen-plus years in Incline I've been involved, more or less centrally, in a lot of efforts to build a future for the community: Independent Incline, Incline Vision, TRPA's Place-Based Planning, attempts to explore the possibilities of becoming more independent politically from Washoe County. All these seemed to have broad support in the community – often Jim Clark and I partnered to rally support on both sides of the political spectrum, and in every case extensive (and I would say very good) research was done on both the risks and the benefits of every option. Where the risk:benefit relationship was not in our favor, we told the truth about that and, for example, took the option of incorporating as a city off the table. Jim and I along with other long-time residents have been advocates for greater independence, whether as our own county (blocked by the legislature) or as a town (rejected by the voters), and have been met with resistance to all these ideas despite our warnings about Reno's agenda and our being seen as a cash cow by the County.

The fact seems to be that it's very hard to advance any idea here that involves (a) change and/or (b) a municipal government that has a wider scope of accountability than IVGID has now. The problem with this is that history has shown that change will happen with or without the popular will, and the only real choice is between managed change and unmanaged change, and unmanaged change is rarely for the better.

In the musical "Kismet" there is a scene where a beggar implores passersby for alms and promises blessings on them if they give, but no one gives. Then he switches tactics and threatens them with a curse "may your taxes increase" and he's showered with money. There is a small but nasty faction in our community that is uses this tactic to undermining any attempt at determining a direction of change. They act for the most part covertly and prefer their opinion over the facts. In the case of the effort to become a town rather than a GID, the numbers were clear and positive. Nonetheless there was a persistent conversation that amounted to "I don't care what the numbers say, it will raise taxes," and in the end the effort was defeated.

I've often quoted in this column de Tocqueville's maxim that in a democracy, the people get the government they deserve. If Reno is successful in their takeover of Washoe County, this will apply to the know-nothings who will believe what they and their friends think and cannot be persuaded by facts, and it will apply to those too lazy or apathetic to study the facts for themselves, instead allowing those same know-nothings to tell them what to think. Unfortunately, in a democracy, the minority have to suffer under the results of the ignorance and prejudices of those who can panic the crowd like the beggar in "Kismet," and so I'm not optimistic about our ability or our will to fend off Reno at this late date.

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