I am optimistic about Reno’s future. Our economy and region are growing and this brings opportunities. It also poses challenges. While most of the focus on growth is related to building and land development, we must also consider our governance structure to ensure that we can achieve the success broadly desired for our maturing city.
With an assist from its citizen Charter Committee (the Charter is analogous to the U.S. Constitution for the federal government), the Reno City Council is poised to move forward. The Council will soon be considering ethics reform based on best practices at the local government level. The Council is poised to adopt a lobbyist registration program so that the public can know whose interests are being advocated for and to whom. The registration program will allow the public to know if someone is being paid to speak to either a city council member or staff person on behalf of someone who is, for example, looking for a development approval or a contract to do business with the city.
The Reno City Council conducts business year round. For this reason, the Charter Committee accepted my suggestion and recommended to the Council a more robust campaign reporting system than the one geared toward the Nevada Legislature that meets every other year for 120 days. This system would allow the public to know who is making campaign contributions to sitting Council members on a timely basis to better understand if these contributions are tied to business before the Council. If adopted, Reno will be a leader among Nevada governments in heightened transparency.
Once these reforms are in place it will be time to examine roles and responsibilities at city hall. Both the 2014 Nevada Supreme Court decision describing the Mayor as “first among equals” of City Council members and hiring of a new city manager bring into question if we have the ideal governance structure. Is it desirable to have an unelected executive with broad administrative authority leading the city? Should the Mayor’s authority be expanded or differentiated from that of a councilmember? There are many examples of cities functioning well with both a city manager and strong mayor forms of government. This topic should be up for discussion when the Charter Committee reconvenes in 2018.
Reno is at a crossroads. One direction leads to a more vibrant and resilient metropolitan future. The other, sends us along a muddling path of unplanned growth and outcomes. Improving how business is done at city hall is necessary if we are going to address the challenges we face while capitalizing on the opportunities of growth.