Right & Wrong vs. Legal & Illegal
Expanded from the 9-24-2006 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune
Updated 9-28-2006

The law doesn't care what's right or wrong, only what's legal or illegal.

So wrote a cynical screenwriter for The Rockford Files back in the 1970s. Alas and alack, 'twas ever thus, even in this here superannuated high desert railroad yard.

Rail City Roundhouse Rites

Just in case you've missed the Crazy 8 catastrophe and want to catch up on a few laughs,
click thee here

CORY FARLEY: It's refreshing to see the Sparks City Council bringing Rail City residents together

BARBWIRE: Secret nuclear sparks

Of all the people I've talked with about the recent Sparks City Hall burlesque, one comment has sprung forth from just about everyone: This is so uncharacteristic of Sparks. Usually, you never hear anything about that city government.

That's true, and that's bad. Controversy, leaks and infighting mean that some vestige of democracy remains. Peace and quiet means everybody's bought. There are, of course, exceptions. At Reno City Hall, you get both, all the time — the best (and by far most expensive) entertainment downtown.

The last time Sparks sank into quietude came in 1975. A few days after that election, I ran into brothel magnate and political sportsman Joe Conforte.

"Everything I've had on that council the past four years, Ascuaga just got back," he complained. Mr. Conforte was quite an old country Italian. It galled him not to receive a proper return on his investments.

For the next eight years, the Sparks City Council was remarkably quiet and agreeable. Toward the end of that council's tenure, the wheels came off. Turned out that the elected officials had been illegally reaching consensus behind closed doors so that an ongoing rash of public votes were unanimous with little or no debate.

The reform council of 1975 got reformed out by the voters in 1983.

So in addition to the fact that controversy sells newspapers, I really appreciated seeing sparks from Sparks for a change. Why stop now?

My longtime colleague in columny Ira Hansen called for the resignation of Sparks City Atty. Chet Adams a few weeks back, and not without good reason. Even non-lawyers could see the holes in Adams' arguments that the city should roll over and play dead for the Crazy 8 casino.

One of the few things I remember from college business law class is that agreements to agree are not enforceable.

The key provision in the 1994 contract between Sparks and the current holders of the Crazy 8 indenture is an agreement to agree: "The city agrees to enter into supplemental development agreements with the owner on the following matters...Agreement providing for the transfer of unused development approvals regarding the transfer and use of development credits outside the Wingfield Springs (planned community) but within the city."

Another key issue lay in whether or not the language applies to the city limits of that time or as they are liberally construed today.

I asked several prominent attorneys for advice about agreements to agree. All (ahem) agreed, but cautioned that it's a complex issue. All the more reason that the council should have listened, but perhaps another issue was in play. Many of the affected homeowners reside outside the city limits and thus could not exact retribution at the polls.

If the Ascuaga family and the homeowners decide to take Crazy 8 dealers Harvey Whittemore and Steve Mollath to court, I have a hunch that the enforceability of an agreement to agree will be a central issue.

PLUMBING THE DEPTHS OF HISTORY. Sparks-based Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 350 will celebrate the centennial of its founding exactly 100 years to the day this Oct. 13. I'm gathering historical items for a commemorative publication and I need your help. Anything having to do with construction of Sparks and Reno, organized labor in general and plumbing and pipefitting in particular, especially including photos, will be most welcome for consideration. But don't wait. We go to press very soon. Call me.

THE BLUE STONE WALL. Today marks 31 days since August 24, the day the Reno-Sparks NAACP officially requested that City of Sparks staff arrange a meeting with the chief of police. Sparks has stonewalled such requests for many years. No one at the venerable civil rights institution can remember if a meeting has ever been granted. Given all the epithets about not listening to the people which have recently been hurled toward the blue huts on Prater Way, perhaps granting such an audience can represent the first step toward a thaw in relations between city government and its taxpayers.

SENIOR SCAM ALERT. I recently turned in a suspicious mailing to the Nevada attorney general's bureau of consumer protection and the Nevada Alliance for Retired Americans. Purportedly (but not really) from Las Vegas, an outfit called the Senior Focus Group promises income of up to $80,000 for participating in marketing research. That has all the earmarks of one of the oldest tricks in the book. To register, all you need do is fill out a form giving them your health history, permission to use it, and Social Security number. It doesn't take a fiction writer to figure out that they could sell your health history to insurers, then clean out your bank account and disappear into another phony corporation. One sure-fire indication that you're dealing with phony marketing research: They ask you to pay for the stamp to return the data. In this case, that's like the Red Chinese forcing your family to pay for the bullet at your execution. Anyone else who has received one of these mailings, please let me know and spread the warning.

ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL, SORTA….KRNV TV-4's Joe Hart informs me that terminally ill William Albiniano, age 8, has finally gotten some help paying for medicine to ease his pain.

Hart e-mailed that he "got an update from (Assemblymember) Sheila Leslie (D-Reno). Turns out the Albiniano family is going to be admitted into a different program, called the Katie Beckett Program, so they can get the financial help they need. Took a while, but it looks like the situation's finally been resolved."

The family was dropped from the over-rated Nevada Checkup program for children of modest means and was apparently never able to jump through all the hoops required for reinstatement. They almost lost their home in the process of trying to fund medicine and medical care out of their own pockets. I'll keep an eye on this and let you know how it goes, but for now, let's hope the kid benefits from the reduced stress on his family.

Sept. 28 update: Hope extinguished anew. Damn. More Sunday.

Be well. Raise hell.

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Copyright © 2005, 2006 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 37-year Nevadan, editor of and a member of the Reno-Sparks NAACP. As always, his opinions are strictly his own. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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