Bill Thomas, Reno assistant city manager, was tapped Thursday as the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County’s executive director.
He was one of five finalists vying for the spot who were interviewed during the public meeting.
The vacancy came open when RTC executive director Lee Gibson retired in December after a decade on the job. Amy Cummings, RTC deputy executive director, had been filling the role in the interim.
Other candidates were Cummings; John Flansberg, city of Reno public works director; Abul Hassan, RTC general manager; and Carl Hasty, district manager for the Tahoe Transportation District.
Thomas has been Reno’s assistant city manager since 2012; and prior to that, worked one year as the city’s director of community development. He currently oversees the city’s Public Works Department, which does roadway planning, construction maintenance, design, traffic management, traffic engineering and planning functions. Thomas also heads up the city’s Neighborhood Services and Information Technology departments.
Prior to joining the city, he worked in the private sector. He’s lived in the area more than 30 years and holds a Bachelor of Science in urban and regional planning from Penn State University.
“I think this is one of the most important leadership positions in developing our community and I feel that everything I’ve experienced to this point puts me in a unique spot to be able to help this organization succeed,” Thomas told the RTC board.
Reno Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus, who isn’t on the RTC board, raised concerns about Thomas, noting an appearance of a conflict of interest because of Thomas’ role in the Evans Ranch project. She recommended an advisory opinion be obtained from the state Ethics Commission as a condition of employment.
Brekhus sent a letter on Wednesday to Angela Reich, RTC administrative services director, regarding Thomas. She also provided an electronic copy of Thomas’ 2020 Nevada Financial Disclosure Statement that says he has an ownership interest in the Evans Ranch development and asked Reich share it with the board and enter it into the meeting record.
Located between Cold Springs and Lemmon Valley, the Evans Ranch project is expected to contain approximately 5,600 homes on 2,200 acres.
“Evans Ranch has not yet begun development and much infrastructure, including some potentially to be provided or facilitated by RTC, is necessary to bring the project to fruition,” Brekhus wrote. “Should the Board hire Mr. Thomas, it may be challenging for RTC staff to work with the Evans Ranch development team with knowledge that their boss is an interested party.”
The first question asked of Thomas during his interview centered around this issue.
Thomas told the RTC board that he worked to develop part of Evans Ranch between 2007 and 2011, prior to his employment with the city, and was offered an opportunity for a percentage of the profits if it was ever developed.
“I was never given any ownership and I was never given any right to the property and you’ll never find my name on the title, but I had an opportunity to benefit if it ever got developed,” Thomas said.
Prior to being hired by the city, Thomas said he spoke with the city manager and city attorney about his interest as a managing partner in Evans Ranch and was told there wasn’t a conflict. Thomas said he went as far to get something in writing on the matter from the city attorney. He’s also continued to excuse himself on conversations related to Evans Ranch and said he’s never kept his role a secret.
“I have, for over eight years now, disclosed publicly the fact that I had the relationship on this property,” said Thomas, who added that he’d meet with the RTC attorney on the issue if the board requested it.
RTC board member Neoma Jardon, a Reno councilwoman, didn’t mention Brekhus by name but said it was sad that Thomas’ record “was attacked in the way it was.”
“I know that you gave that clarification years ago, you disclose it annually, it’s nothing you’ve hidden, you’ve put it on your resume, you have been very forthright,” Jardon told Thomas.
Thomas’ salary and contract terms hadn’t been determined, although it’s scheduled to be voted on during the March meeting. His salary was approximately $171,000 in 2018 during his role as Reno’s assistant city manager, according to Transparent Nevada. Gibson was making about $258,000 annually.
Carla has an undergraduate degree in journalism and more than 10 years experience as a daily newspaper reporter. She grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., moved to the Reno area in 2002 and wrote for the Reno Gazette-Journal for 8 years, covering a variety of topics. Prior to that, she covered local government in Fort Pierce, Fla.