It’s no secret that Reno City Councilmember Jenny Brekhus is generally disliked by her colleagues. She asks pointed questions, is a frequently lone nay vote – particularly against development projects – and has strained relations at city hall.
That apparently came to a head early this year when City Manager Sabra Newby announced to city staff that Brekhus was no longer going to be allowed to attend agenda briefings with staff. Newby cited what she called Brekhus’ “combative nature” that could lead to a “hostile work environment claim.”
Brekhus, according to Newby, generated concerns by city employees.
“As City Manager, it is my responsibility to provide a positive work environment for all employees. Many employees had expressed concerns about her treatment of staff,” Newby said through a spokesperson. “Having been in attendance at the agenda briefings referenced, I observed the treatment first-hand. To prevent escalation of the situation, in February I notified Councilmember Brekhus of these concerns hoping the situation would improve. When it did not, I took further action.”
Newby refused to say what those concerns were. She did not respond to requests for an interview. Instead, she issued a statement through the city’s public information officer, who also did not respond to questions about what, exactly, the concerns were.
Brekhus, for her part, said the move by Newby was politics at play.
Brekhus recently announced her re-election campaign. A chief opponent, Britton Griffith, also announced her campaign to challenge Brekhus for her seat.
Griffith quickly received an endorsement by Mayor Hillary Schieve, who has frequent public skirmishes with Brekhus.
“After the city manager let me know that she was limiting my access to staff in advance of the council meetings, I objected to her decision at our next regularly scheduled one on one meeting,” Brekhus explained. “I told her that she made charged allegations and inquired if there was any documentation to her charges because the city has reporting protocols in place for such allegations. She stated that none existed.”
Brekhus called the precedent by Newby suspect.
“I told her that in my view she should consult the city manager code of ethics. I expressed concern that she was not following the code because it requires equal treatment of all members of a governing body as related to sharing of information and access to facts,” Brekhus said. “I also felt that she should review the section that limits political activities because she may well be advancing the political goals of other members of the body.”
Brekhus’ banishment from agenda briefings was first reported on social media by KRNV’s Joe Hart.
Commenters quickly rushed in to support the incumbent councilmember.
One commenter wrote: “Newby was a terrible choice and has exhibited toxic behaviors. Jenny Brekhus asks the right questions, and anyone with eyes and ears who watches Council meetings can see how she has been treated by colleagues. I’m not buying this. Newby should go.”
This article is published in partnership with in the Reno News & Review. It is available in their print edition and online.
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.