Lessons in leadership: lasting legacies & laughable lapses


Expanded from the 4-29-2001 Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

Like some of their constituents, I've beaten up on the Sparks City Council quite a bit over the past couple of years. Now it's time to cut them some slack.

In many respects, Sparks is no different than many other Nevada communities. Nevada's lawmakers have always prided themselves on rising above parochial interests and placing money wherever needed. Las Vegas has generated most of the revenue for the past half-century.

With rare exception, Gomorrah South has not been greedy. All this is now changing. Growth stopped paying for itself about five years ago. The principal engine of that growth, the gambling industry, not only has refused to allow its taxes to be raised, but has increasingly siphoned corporate welfare from public funds.

Fully a third of the taxes the industry pays are returned to it in the form of subsidies such as convention and visitors authorities and downtown redevelopment agencies. Since 1987, organized gambling has facilitated tax and fee increases on everyone else, while holding itself aloof.

Nevada lawmakers are again processing legislation to increase taxes and fees on thee and me while keeping the plantation overlords super-profitable the better to invest in California tribal casinos.

Las Vegas, always stingy with park funds, is seeing a starvation budget diminish. Carson City is seriously considering the sale of beautiful Fuji Park and has even offered the park and adjoining fairgrounds to Wal-Mart or another big box predator. It's caused a furor among the locals, but the growing capital is starved for tax revenue and the legislature offers little hope of help.

Gov. Dudley Do-Right is being forced to break funding promises for a wide range of programs. Like his counterpart in California, Guinn has done no more than hold his corporate patroons harmless and stick the citizens with the tab.

Their solutions to the electricity crisis have been to give utilities a blank check from taxpayers and ratepayers. Now, gasoline prices are going through the roof and despite substantial evidence of price-fixing, nothing's being done. (See the Barbwire Oilogopoly investigative series.)

Guinn never fails to tout himself as a leader when in reality he gets led around by powerful business interests. He told me that he deserves re-election because of all the money he promised in his January state of the state address. Now, those promises are evaporating along with the state budget.

I've had the honor of working with real leaders and the guv has a long, long way to go.

INFORMING UNION MEMBERS - Representatives of Laborers' Union Local 169 pose with informational pickets in front of Baldini's Sports Casino in Sparks. Left to right are Steve Keeble, Pat Sanderson, Richard "Skip" Daly and Dan Rusnak.

RUSNAK RETIRES. It seems like just yesterday that Dan Rusnak was being singled out as the young labor leader of the future. He violated all stereotypes, a low-key intellectual with the demeanor of a college professor. Last Friday night at the Reno Hilton, the longtime Nevada trade unionist was given a rousing retirement sendoff.

He comes from several generations of union members and began his career working with his hands in Sparks-Reno in 1971. Those hands helped build the very hotel hosting his retirement party, proceeds from which will endow college scholarships. His late wife, Ann, once worked here at the Tribune, contributing some of this paper's most memorable political cartoons back when it published weekly.

Both labor and management joined in their praise of a man no one has ever seen raise his voice in anger. John Madole, Executive Director of the Nevada Chapter of the Associated General Contractors, praised Rusnak for his many years of fair and open dealings with management. That's pretty high praise coming from one's professional adversary. In lieu of a going-away present, Madole announced that the AGC would make a donation to the union scholarship funds benefiting from Rusnak's retirement dinner.

Rusnak will continue working, albeit without pay, for his union. He announced that he will bring some ongoing contract negotiations to conclusion for Laborers' Local 169 before riding off into the sunset.

He was an innovator in so many areas. He initiated the road construction zone safety campaign now familiar to television viewers statewide. In addition to a long tenure as vice-president of the Nevada AFL-CIO, he served on boards and commissions for the benefit of workers throughout the nation. Before his election as business manager of Local 169 in 1993, he was executive secretary-treasurer of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Northern Nevada. Rich Houts, Rusnak's successor as head of the Sparks-based body, will replace him as Nevada AFL-CIO vice-president.

MAYOR DALY MOVES UP. Rusnak's successor as head of Laborers' Local 169 is very familiar to Rail City residents -- Richard "Skip" Daly, known as hizzoner the mayor down at the legislature. For the past six years, the outspoken and tenacious Daly has provided an interesting contrast to the low-key Rusnak.

Significantly, Rusnak designated Daly for the assignments which brought the lifelong Sparks resident his high profile in the community. Daly led the charge for local jobs at area standard wages on the downtown Sparks Syufy/Century movie theater. That led to Daly's tenure on the Sparks Citizens Advisory Board. Rusnak also assigned Daly to a wide range of political duties for the union.

These people are all my longtime friends and colleagues and I write about the transition with a twinge of sadness. Rusnak's retirement leaves a void in the labor movement. His even-tempered, peacemaking personality and his professional and community achievements leave us goals to which we should aspire. But the unique matchup of the man with the mission is unlikely to be seen again anytime soon.

Because of Dan Rusnak, the Committee to Aid Abused Women avoided tens of thousands in expenses when its badly eroded parking lot needed repaving. Rusnak put together materials, labor and equipment to get the job done as a union training exercise.

Construction work often means downtime between jobs. As a result, some families are left without health insurance. Dan Rusnak thus became a major supporter of Health Access Washoe County and facilitated the remodeling of the building this vital service now calls home. I hope that when he completes his degree at the Meany Center for Labor Studies, he will be able to spend more time back home in Nevada teaching future generations how to build.

Be well. Raise hell.

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© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 32-year Nevadan, a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 , editor of NevadaLabor.com and JoeNeal. org/ Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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