Gas Price Archive
Unemployment debris and J.G. phone home
originally published July 7, 1996
"Clean up that particular human debris"
-- Reno mayoral candidate JEFF GRIFFIN on homeless people, 5-26-95.
Okay, Mr. Mayor. Let's try uncommon courtesy, a little civility in civic affairs. I'll even start with a concession: you deserve a final chance to show you are fit to lead. In publicly trashing three of your Reno City Council colleagues, you have called your own fitness for office into question. So here's your chance, one you will not likely get again.
A drama coach might say you have committed the cardinal sin. You have shown the audience the top of your range, the limits of your capacity. Bad thespianship. As a car salesman might put it, you have wired yourself, committed to a course of conduct, told the customer that you can go no further to make a deal. Bad upmanship.
In some parliamentary systems, you as prime minister would be able to simply dissolve the government and call for new elections. Conversely, your colleagues on the council could hold a vote of no confidence in your government which, if passed, also results in dissolution and new elections.
As I have said so often, CEO-types such as yourself usually make awful public servants. Hotshot executives are used to giving orders and having them obeyed. Democracy does not work that way. You must either adapt in order to perform your job, or do the honorable thing and resign, Mr. Mayor. To paraphrase Lyndon Johnson, you're the only mayor we've got. As I don't think you're going to quit anytime soon, please read the following very carefully.
Sulking and holding venomous press conferences do not help. In the past 10 days, your constituents have been treated to your temper tantrum followed by a comical confrontation at the council table as to whether or not you should be allowed to phone in your votes. Fellow elected officials are not executive secretaries paid to take your dictation.
After your council colleagues and the city attorney made themselves look foolish, they tried to call you at your Oregon vacation spot. You didn't answer the phone. The next time the SNCAT public access television system needs to justify its funding, it should haul out the video of that JG Phone Home council meeting. Who says Reno is not competitive with Las Vegas for world class entertainment?
Mayor Griffin, you demonstrated an "us vs. them" mentality at your press conference on the Truckee Riverwalk. (Did anyone else notice the high irony of the mayor deriding the futility of his short term in office by standing at the city's multi-year, multi-million dollar exercise in futility?)
You even irritated new councilperson Sue Camp by including her as the swing vote giving your camp (pardon the pun) a 4-3 council majority. My tribe vs. your tribe, my company vs. your company, my team against yours, us vs. them, Hatfields vs. McCoys, right?
Government ain't sports. No one is supposed to lose because the losers are your constituents, too, Mr. Mayor.
Running for office, when done right, changes a person for the better. You learn that you must not only tolerate, but represent, people and points of view differing from you and yours. Dealing with that reality makes all politicians equivocate a bit, compromise a lot, look wishy-washy here and there, but occasionally rise to greatness. It's called democracy.
I stood just about alone last year in questioning your fitness for office after you referred to homeless people as "human debris" on a KUNR public radio talk show. When I called in to ask you to evaluate the wisdom of using such a term, you became hyper-defensive, lumping homeless people in with Sparks cop-killer Donald Cameron. I don't know which disappointed me more, your intolerance or your lack of creativity in covering your ass.
I know, I know, CEO's don't like being questioned. Why didn't you just admit that "human debris" was an unfortunate and unstatesmanlike choice of words? You might have said you'd been listening to the Lush Rambo show a little too often. It apparently did not occur to you that even homeless persons would become your constituents should you become mayor of Reno. You did. They are. And we're all stuck living in the same van down by the river for the remaining years of your term.
Since we have to live together, we must look to you for leadership. I suggest going across the street from city hall to the Washoe County Library. The place has lots of books on civics, government, dispute resolution, diplomacy, leadership, even maturity.
While you walk across Center Street, ask yourself one question. Did your tirade against your fellow councilcritters Pearce, Pilzner and Pruett accomplish anything, especially toward working with them? While the blunt Mr. Pilzner is retiring after one term, the others were elected the same time as you. You're stuck with them in the van.
It's up to you. Rise above your own temperament and training to learn the job of public servant. Utilize both your demonstrable executive talents and the library's resources.
Learn and lead, or leave.
BERRY, BITTER FRUITS AND NUTS: The JG Phone Home fiasco becomes a self-satire when juxtaposed to freshman Washoe District Judge Janet Berry's decision that phone calls and faxes don't constitute a meeting subject to Nevada's swiss-cheese open meeting law. If Judge Berry's decision on a controversial case involving the University of Nevada's madcap board of regents holds up on appeal, then how can the Reno City Council continue to allow participation by its members via phone? In the day and age of electronic forums, e-mail and faxes, once the bridge is crossed into cyberspace, there is no going back.
Mayor Griffin participating in a public meeting by phone is no different than Sparks Regent Jim Eardley faxing and phoning his colleagues for a consensus about censuring dissident Las Vegas member Nancy Price. One required public notice, one did not. One was secret, one was painfully and comically public. Both were conducted over phone lines. All of the above constitutes inconsistent but consistently embarrassing bad government.
FOLLOW THE BOUNCING BALL DEPT. The final punchline was delivered by councilman Tom Herndon,
- a JG Phone Home supporter
- who threatened to bring an open meeting law complaint against his fellow councilmembers
- because they voted on whether or not to let Griffin participate
- which was not posted on the council's agenda
- which was thus in violation of the state open meeting law, according to City Attorney Patricia Lynch
- who advised the council not to vote on it
- but they did anyway
- then rescinded it
- because they could be subject to losing their seats if the attorney general busted them on the charges
- which would be a first, because no Nevada official has ever been removed for breaking the open meeting law.
But Reno citizens might just go for it.
UNINTENTIONAL IRONY DEPT. The following is an honest-to-goodness lead line from a front-page story in the Reno Kazoo-Journal: "If you're an inmate in Washoe County Jail, Sheriff Dick Kirkland has a message for you: This isn't the Hilton." Well, er...yeah. Obviously. The jail hasn't reported more than 300 guests made sick from some still undetermined air, water or foodborn plague. The jail hasn't broken the law trying to keep its workers from organizing unions. The jail hasn't lost federal court cases for race and sex discrimination. Maybe all my past criticism of the sheriff has been off the mark. He's just in the wrong job. He should be managing major hotel-casinos. Since he's a pioneer in using slave labor, he'll fit right in.
WAGE SLAVE DIVISION: Unemployment has plummeted with more than 250,000 new jobs created. Bill says that's good, Bob says that's bad. Average earnings are up nine cents to $11.82 per hour. Bill says good, Bob says that must be bad. Wall Street echoes Bad News Bob and goes into the dumper at the specter of people who don't work on Wall Street actually getting a raise for the first time in 20 years or so. Ivory tower economists call for Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve Board to raise interest rates to hold job creation down to fight the dreaded imaginary monster of inflation. Which is not only dead, but has some 5,000,000 still-unemployed men driving a stake through its heart. (See the Wall Street Journal, June 12, 1996.) The corporate brutes just don't compute.
FROM LABOR PAINS TO GAS PAINS: My worst fears have come true. With perhaps one exception, now retired, industry sources inform me that this column represents the only exposure of the true underlying causes of this summer's profit gouging at the gas pumps. For the past several months, I have produced a series of reports detailing how Big Oil has run independent retailers out of business, or forced them to become "branded" outlets, financially tanning their collective hides. I have reported the statements of such retailers who say they were forced to sell below cost as part of corporate strategies to run little guys out of business.
I have shown that even though we are only one of five jurisdictions which at least partially prevent oil refiners from controlling retail outlets, ARCO has managed to become the dominant force in Nevada. ARCO's cut- throat pricing is quietly accepted by its major brand competitors as a way of killing off independents or forcing them into the oligopoly pricing cartel.
Last week, I printed an item alleging that the major oil companies secretly bought foreign-produced gas at west coast seaport terminals. This further undercuts the corporate propaganda proclaiming a west coast supply shortage. Here, despite getting well over 90% of our refinery crude from domestic (California and Alaska) sources, our gas prices have been highest in the nation. Blame a 15 year-old strategy of unstated price controls and destruction of small independents. Detailed only here, my personal nominee as the most censored story of 1996.
The material printed here in the Tribune last week was also submitted to the Los Angeles Times, which has apparently decided to shut up and sit shiva.
SLOW BURN DEPT. Once again, Mother Jones magazine leads the way in providing proper perspective on follytix and foolishness. MoJo's 40-page May/June special edition entitled "Bob Dole, Marlboro's Man" is well on its way to becoming the standard factual reference for the cancer industry's 1996 attempt to take over the presidency. The latest edition (July/August) of MoJo even gives the minimum ante for buying a tobacco congresscritter.
University of Memphis researchers determined that crossing a "trigger point" contribution threshold of $3,430 was sufficient to sway most congressmen against the only anti-tobacco measure introduced in the past year, a proposed $23 million cut in federal tobacco farm subsidies. Once donations exceeded $14,000, a congressman's "no" vote was 90% sure. The subsidy cut failed. Natcherly, Bubba.
Your tax dollars and mine are still paying to promote cancer to our children, and millions of others worldwide. Talk more about the big tobacco fandango of '96 on MoJo's website at www.motherjones.com. Tell them you heard it from Barbano on the Barbwire.
RAWHIDE REALITIES REVIEW: Don't forget Travus T. Hipp, the greatest talk show host in the world, on KPIG 107.5 in the Monterey/Salinas area, 7-9:00 a.m. PDT Sunday mornings. You can pick up Nevada's finest expatriate commentator live online during his show on the Worldwide Web at www.kpig.com, if you have the right software. His daily newscasts and commentaries are also available at the station's website, where he gets e-mail from listeners around the globe. Tell him the Barbwire pricked your fancy.
READ MORE ABOUT IT, DAMMIT: You can still get the May/June issue of Mother Jones with Bob Dole in his Marlboro's Man cowboy hat on the cover. Sierra News on Greg Street in Sparks may have some (they were closed when I called). Try them Monday through Friday at (702) 356-6397. Mary Harris "Mother" Jones herself will also be happy to sell you one. Chat her up at (415) 665-6637. Tell her Barbano sent you from scenic, robust, soon-to-be-movie-theatre-saturated-but-still-beautiful downtown Sparks.
You can still get copies of the Washoe County Grand Jury Report on the billion-dollar giveaway of our county hospital. Rather than 'fessing up $44 at the courthouse, you can pay just $2.21 plus sales tax at Office Depot's business services department, on Plumb Lane next to Price/Costco in Reno. Ask for the Barbano makeready file.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST: Former Sparks councilperson and current county commission candidate Ernest Walker went down and bought one. He called me to raise an interesting idea. With Washoe Medical Center now making so obscenely much money (you could make lots of money, too, if somebody gave you title to a profitable hospital for 13 pieces of silver), perhaps we should look into eliminating the indigent care tax on property owners which totaled $5.5 million last year. The grand jury report documents past Washoe Med deficiencies in meeting its legal obligations to care for the indigent. Just maybe Libertarian Ernest has found himself a fresh white horse to ride.
Zounds. Libertarians and liberals in agreement on something? Somebody call the newspaper.
Be well. Raise hell.
© Andrew Barbano
Andrew Barbano is a 32-year Nevadan, a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of U-News. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Sparks Tribune since 1988.
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