47.1 F

Asking the right questions to help working families (opinion)


Submitted by Devon Reese, Reno City Councilmember At-Large

Reno City Councilmember Devon Reese.

What does supporting working families mean as we dip our toes in the water of re-opening? I’ll be very upfront with you: I don’t have all the answers. No one does, and anyone who tells you they have all the answers lacks the humility to hold public office.  I think it’s important, though, to let you know the questions I’m asking and what’s at the top of my mind as we try to come up with answers to a once-in-a-lifetime problem.

Let’s start here: my time in office, and campaign platform, are focused on working families and small business owners. Folks like my parents, a janitor and a nurse, who nevertheless were able to afford a home and some comfort for our large family. Housing, public safety, pay and dignity for working men and women, improving our education system — those are the baseline things that I’m about.

How do we make life work again, and work even better for working families? Here are my top thoughts and questions:

How do we help families get back to work and take care of children and education? How can a mom or dad return to their job without stable and nurturing childcare? The City has to find a way to be a part of the solution, everyone does, or there will be no solution. We can’t ask a single parent to return to a job without childcare that is available and affordable. 

We must hope that the virus goes away or a vaccine or cure is found quickly. But we have to prepare a Plan B in case that doesn’t happen. One thing that keeps me up at night is workers in essential roles who are still being paid poverty wages and putting their health and their family’s health at risk. Many companies have stepped up, others have not. I’m interested in exploring the idea of mandatory “state of emergency” hazard-pay requirements for the frontline workers who are making sure we are fed, have medicine, our garbage is collected, and our safety is guarded.

What happens with housing? We must find ways to support housing options and affordability for our citizens. I worry that flight from areas with denser populations will drive our housing market even more out of reach of local workers. We already had a housing shortage and crisis before the pandemic. What we do now will improve or impair our community’s recovery.  We should be bold and try to improve even in crisis.

A park closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. Image: Carla O’Day

Housing density itself is an issue. While great from the perspective of city services and sustainability, more dense housing also has viral implications.

It is much, much easier to Stay Home for Nevada if you have a yard. If you don’t, how are we supporting families with parks and recreation areas close enough and big enough that parents in the denser urban core have a place to burn off all kiddo energy while still practicing safe distancing? Nobody, not the kids nor their parents, not the downstairs neighbors, no one wants children pent up inside. 

Finally, public safety has taken on a new meaning, but funding issues for police, fire, and other critical first-responders has long been an issue. With the economic hit from the pandemic, that funding issue will only become more pronounced. We must find a way to keep public safety funded. 

We also need to understand that governments and businesses are not the same.  Each serves a unique purpose.  Businesses operate on a profit margin, they conduct themselves in private, and they respond to different needs.  Governments are not designed to turn a profit, they are transparent and conduct themselves in public meetings, while they can take pointers from the business world (speed, innovation, frugality) there is no profit in fire and police departments.

I’m proud to be a small business owner and to have represented large and small businesses as their lawyer. They are different entities and we should honor those differences.

How do we do all this? Again it’s important for me to be honest here: I don’t have all the answers. Plans and economic data will all be in flux for a while longer as we grapple to understand where our finances are and where there will be opportunities to get stronger.  My goal, as ever, will be to listen to our community and to chart a path forward with you.  Transparency and accessibility will be critically important for us all.

And these aren’t nearly all of the questions you or I have. They are some of the most important, though, and will be at top of mind for me as we move forward. I hope I can earn your support to keep “supporting working families” top of mind for our City Council for the next four years, no matter what the world throws at us. 

Submitted opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of This Is Reno. Have something to say? Submit an opinion article or letter to the editor here.

This Is Reno is your source for award-winning independent, online Reno news and events since 2009. We are locally owned and operated.