Fire at Will and Whack the Messenger
Expanded from the 11-27-2005 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune
In the bizarro world of Reno politics, there's only one sure way to tell if you're doing a good job: you get fired. Back in the 1980's, two future Tribune columnists learned that the hard way.
Biggest Little City Committee Redux proves that bad ideas never die
With lots of ballyhoo, some chamber-of-commerce-types started The Biggest Little City Committee. Several hundred citizens showed up at the Peppermill convention center for a formative meeting which resulted in task forces charged with addressing local problems. I signed up for both tourism and economic development. The late Orland T. Outland volunteered to look into social services.
The brilliant retired army officer attacked the issues with his trademark diplomatic thoroughness. He produced a report that knocked out the lights of those who read it. Its conclusion was anathema in the house of gambling: the casino industry dwelled like a fungus at the roots of Nevada social problems.
For awhile, it seemed I had chosen happier tasks. I researched the underfunded flip side of economic development, business retention. On the tourism aspect, I developed an innovative cross-promotion that would have served the interests of both tourism and economic diversification.
With high hopes, I scheduled an unveiling. We invited gambling industry representatives, state and local officials. The latter proved a mistake. A bureaucrat from the state office of economic development made common cause with a weasel from the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority: We're already doing everything you propose, they chanted in unison. Our unveiling ended in deflation.
Afterward, I approached the two torpedoes for information about their programs which we would have only duplicated. Turned out they had none. The laudable labors of my hardworking committee fell victim to the jealousy of children in professional suits.
Maj. Outland and I continued into a second year as The Biggest Little City Committee "consolidated" eight or nine task forces into four or five. (Its only lasting achievement was a committee on homelessness, a descendant of which survives to this day.)
At the beginning of year three, we were met with a deafening silence. I called my task force chairman about our next meeting. "We were organized out," he announced.
The same thing happened to Maj. Outland, mustered out without even a letter of honorable discharge.
I should have learned.
Over three years ago, I went before the Reno City Council as an aggrieved customer of Charter Communications. The council responded by forming a citizens committee and appointing me to it. Working with city staff, we formulated a franchise agreement which could have set a national example for communities. City negotiators and the council gutted it.
My three-year appointment, along with that of the chairman, expired earlier this month. Like good soldiers, we applied to re-enlist. On Nov. 16, Councilman Dave Aiazzi killed our applications, opting instead to move for elimination of the citizens committee because it had been "very controversial." (In the unwritten dictionary of Reno City Hall, the definition of "very controversial" includes entries like "train trench" and "Barbano.")
Mayor Bob Cashell agreed with Aiazzi, given that the work on Charter's 15-year franchise was complete and with community relations director Steven Wright taking care of oversight. Alas and alack, Hizzoner proceeded from a paucity of facts.
Last year, not long after the major pro-consumer recommendations of my committee were rejected by the mayor and three councilmembers (Aiazzi, Dwight Dortch and Sharon Zadra), a member of the city's once-powerful finance committee tried to salve my wounds.
"Don't be too upset," he said, "they don't listen to us, either."
As I told the Sparks Citizens Advisory Committee on Nov. 19, the Rail City can save itself lots of time and money if it looks at all the mistakes Reno made in giving away the store for Charter's 30 pieces of silver.
The administration of City Manager Charles McNeely has not been diligent in administering the first year of the Charter franchise. Two of my citizens committee colleagues, Noel Thornsberry and Joe Dowden, spent a lot of time monitoring compliance and found serious deficiencies.
On Oct. 7, the committee unanimously voted to send its findings to the council. City staff responded with a list of demands to Charter. Both documents will be posted with the web edition of this column.
This Thursday, Dec. 1, Mayor Cashell and the Reno council will face an agenda dripping with irony. On the same day they review the committee's findings of Charter non-compliance, they will consider executing the messenger.
Better yet, they will consider their 2007 federal legislative priorities, one of which must be the crusade of Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., to completely deregulate cable and ban the levy of franchise fees, a bullet aimed at the heart of public access stations such as those in Reno, Sparks and Carson City.
One would think the council might value the advice and experience of a citizens committee with extensive background on such issues.
This represents the second time this year the Reno council has considered wiping out its Citizens Cable Compliance Committee. They turned down a similar recommendation from Mr. Wright and his friends in February.
If you're of a mind to, I'd appreciate your contacting Reno City Hall (P.O. Box 1900, Reno NV 89505) with your opinion. Tell your relatives and friends they may call the mayor's office at (775) 334-2001 or fax (775) 334-2097. Councilmember e-mail addresses will be linked with the documentation for this case. Please send copies to both myself at email@example.com and Mr. Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With or without me, I want to see the Reno Citizens Cable Compliance Committee continued. The proof of its necessity stands on the record if the council will but read it. I have shared its research with Sparks and other Nevada municipalities both in person and by building a website for these issues.
I hope the October resignation of founding member Noel Thornsberry will not prove a bad omen for Reno cable ratepayers.
He moved to a little town in Iowa called Waterloo.
Be well. Raise hell.
PLAYING SURVIVOR AT CITY HALL: Reno Cable Committee survives second extermination attempt of the year
Reno Gazette-Journal 12-2-2005
GUEST EDITORIAL: Citizens still need cable TV committee
by Reno committee member Joe Dowden
Reno Gazette-Journal 11-30-2005
OUTRAGE UPDATE: The Reno City Council, for the second time this year, schedules the execution of its Citizens Cable Compliance Committee. Time to raise hell at city hall on Dec. 1.
Sparks citizens committee holds cable franchise hearing
Daily Sparks Tribune 11-22-2005
Cable Consumers Cringe, BARBWIRE 11-13-2005
We're having a hearing, but watch what you say
Granting of Cable Franchise Irks Cox; Las Vegas Sun, 11-12-2005
Henderson cable skirmish delayed; Cox given more time to review proposal; Las Vegas Sun, 11-17-2005
...and more ammo
The history of government access TV in Las Vegas
Former Las Vegas City Councilman Steve Miller
on the Greenspun cable empire
Las Vegas Tribune, March 28, 2000
Be well. Raise hell.
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Copyright © 2005, 2011 Andrew Barbano
Andrew Barbano is a 37-year Nevadan and editor of NevadaLabor.com. He served on SNCAT's founding board. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.
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