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Councilmember chastised for generating “concerns” among city staff

By Bob Conrad
Reno City Councilmember Jenny Brekhus. Image: Bob Conrad.
Reno City Councilmember Jenny Brekhus. Image: Bob Conrad.

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.

Reno City Manager Sabra Newby. Image: Bob Conrad.
Reno City Manager Sabra Newby. Image: Bob Conrad.

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.



marigael morris November 4, 2019 - 11:51 am

Jenny Brekhus and Oscar Delgado are the only council members who have the educational credentials to be making decisions that best serve the city. From Jenny’s City website, “Jenny holds dual masters’ degrees from the University of New Mexico in public administration and community and regional planning. ” From Oscar’s City website, “Oscar earned dual Masters Degrees in Social Work (MSW) and Urban Planning (MUP)”. Naomi Duerr was the State Water Planner so I’m assuming she has some educational credentials, just don’t know what they are.

Here is the link to all of the City Councilmembers’ bios: https://www.reno.gov/government/city-council

Communication is key here. Locking one out of a briefing is opening the door to a lawsuit as that city council member cannot adequately represent the individuals she has been elected to represent. (Reno are you listening? We really don’t need another lawsuit!)

Jon Carpenter November 3, 2019 - 7:09 am

They’re all bitter because Brekhus is smarter than they are.

Kathryn Savage November 2, 2019 - 7:39 pm

The fact that a Reno City Manager can arbitrarily choose to treat ANY council member differently than any other by limiting access to City Council Agenda Briefings preposterous. It is not correct, professional, or ethical to “ban” a duly elected council member from briefings that are intended to inform all councilmembers before they vote.

How about a professional approach to dealing with conflict management? I expect better than a Reno City Manager locking the door and saying, “We don’t like you asking questions in a “mean” way, so we aren’t giving you information that we give everyone else.” How about following policy and procedure? How about we have a huge lawsuit about City Manager political bias and potential ethics violations?
Good grief. This is a travesty and a sign of bad practice that no City Manager should engage.

Karl Breckenridge October 31, 2019 - 8:21 pm

My few interactions with Brekhus have been productive and positive

Elaine Hoem October 31, 2019 - 3:47 pm

How is it even possible that a city councilwoman can be banished? I do not know first hand how Jenny communicates but from all I read, she raises issues that should be raised. Are we in another situation of trying to silence those who disagree?
What about work with a mediator instead? How about having the council and the mayor sit together with the intention of being able to hear each other better?

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