Where were you in '52?
Expanded from the 6-25-2006 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

Last week, the irresistible force hit the immovable object. Because said object was Reno City Hall, you can guess who won.

Monday's summit between the local civil rights apparatus and the city's PR machine stood a small chance of moving matters forward with respect to longstanding charges of ethnic and racial profiling by Reno police.

Unlike Las Vegas, which has for years had a functioning citizen police review board (with subpoena power, no less), this region is still stuck somewhere in 1952. Most of the time, the closest that Sparks PD comes to employing brown people is when the honkies on the force work up a good tan patrolling the marina in summertime.

Studies have piled up showing that the Biggest Little City has a bit of a problem. Reno's new police chief wanted to spend another year doing another study to categorize the obvious. City manager Charles McNeely was surprisingly forthcoming, overruling the chief and telling civil rights leaders he wanted to move forward to address citizen concerns.

Then came last Monday.

Déjà vu all over again

    On June 18, 1971, the Reno Police Department announced plans for a program to reduce racial tensions between the department and the community reflected by numerous complaints of police harassment of African Americans.

— From longtime Nevada reporter Dennis Myers' Poor Denny's Almanac, appearing daily at the Bull'board


ACLU, NAACP and Latino leaders were well advised in advance to avoid a confrontational approach. A couple of guys blew it, making it easy for McNeely to pull a Pontius Pilate.

It's perfectly understandable how longstanding frustrations could easily boil over. Last Sunday's Barbwire item in advance of the meeting came 35 years to the day after "the Reno Police Department announced plans for a program to reduce racial tensions between the department and the community reflected by numerous complaints of police harassment of African Americans." (Courtesy of longtime Nevada journalist Dennis Myers' daily almanac, available at Breaking News & Bulletins elsewhere on this website.)

One old timer who attended Monday's bungle in the Black Tower has served on such study committees in bygone years.

"We have meetings and meetings and meetings and nothing ever happens. Pretty soon, nobody shows up anymore."

Sometime during or after Monday's coffee clatch, McNeely's nice guy attitude disappeared. He quickly issued a public denial of the existence of any racial profiling problem at all. Which calls into question whether Mr. McNeely bothered to read the study stating otherwise and why the city paid $42,000 for it.

He was playing percentages. The 42 grand is peanuts compared to the city's ever-expanding creampuffery program. Master administrator that he is, Mr. McNeely simply acted to protect the city's investment of about a million a year on apple-polishing PR. He wasn't about to write off all that money just because some uppity untouchables are pissed off.

McNeely nonetheless quickly demonstrated his legendary acrobatic athleticism, straddling the fence while still keeping an ear to the ground: "I thought it went extremely well," McNeely told the Reno paper, apparently referring to a different meeting than that attended by the civil rights leaders.

The acrimonious non-conclusion not only signaled a new dip into the deep freeze for Reno's race relations, but also brought an early indication that Mr. McNeely will be retiring soon. Insiders know he has been taking lessons in Portuguese for a long-planned retirement to Brazil, a country where dark skin is not nearly the impediment to full citizenship as it is here in the land of the red, white and screwed.

In bygone times, McNeely has looked to the local African-American community for political cover when his job performance has come under fire. His actions of last week sent a gut-punching message to local civil rights leaders that he doesn't need them any longer now that the beach of Ipanema beckons.

While McNeely practices the bossa nova, the boss who succeeds him will be left to muddle through like he was never here, which will be McNeely's evaporatingly ephemeral legacy.

Let's hope that the new boss isn't like the old boss.

EARLY VOTING BEGAN LAST WEEK. For 2008. I cast my ballot by purchasing the Dixie Chicks' new album and I was not alone. I got the last copy of Taking the Long Way. The pretty ladies have not only given Dubya the finger, the Dixie Chicks have also moved into the musical mainstream and away from retreaded 1963 rock 'n' roll – better known today as country music. Which is still more modern than the foxtrotting McNeely administration.

OVERPOWERING POWER BILLS. This just in from Redeye Killerwatt, my utility spy, regarding a recently announced settlement between the Public Utilities Commission and Sierra Pacific's southern Nevada subsidiary, Nevada Power: "Ever notice how these settlements are billed as saving ratepayers from an even higher rate increase? There was a settlement because the PUC chairman is shaking in his boots that (State Sen.) Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas), is going to make the cozy relationship between the utilities and the PUC a campaign issue in the governor's race. It should be! The PUC has given them more than they deserved for a few years running – as if to apologize for the PUC doing its job" when there was less of a lapdog commission.

Redeye also doesn't think much of the new consumer advocate. "Poor Eric (Witkoski) is so used to playing in a rigged game that he actually thinks he's getting something for ratepayers."

As I noted a couple of weeks ago, this manifest weakness in utility administration is to be expected from Gov. Dudley Do-Right, a former Southwest Gas CEO. Kenny Guinn has made a career of perverting state agencies charged with protecting average citizens. His two labor commissioners have turned state law on its head and transformed that office into one better entitled as big business commissioner.

So, who advocates for workers? As with utility ratepayers, apparently none of the above.

Be well. Raise hell.


Smoking Guns

Reno police profiling study results released
Reno Gazette-Journal 11-11-2005

    Reno City Manager in Denial
Reno Gazette-Journal 6-20-2006

BARBWIRE: Red, White and Screwed, Part I
Sparks Tribune 6-4-2006

BARBWIRE: Red, White and Screwed, Part Deux
Sparks Tribune 6-11-2006

BARBWIRE: Intolerance, self-taught
Sparks Tribune 6-18-2006

Sparks Tribune 6-4-2006

APOLOGETICS: "Red, White and Screwed" is the title of a new HBO comedy special starring the irascible Daily Show commentator Lewis Black, whom Mr. Barbano hopes won't be too angry at this additional expropriation of his very appropriate title for life in the USA today.

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Copyright © 1982, 1984, 1996, 2004, 2005, 2006 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 37-year Nevadan, editor of and He is a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and the Reno-Sparks NAACP. His comments are strictly his own, as always. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.


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