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Berkbigler: We need experience, not party planners (opinion)


Submitted by Marsha Berkbigler, Washoe County Commissioner District 1

Washoe County Commissioner Marsha Berkbigler.

As a candidate and now a County Commissioner, I normally do not respond to comments or believe in mudslinging. But in this case, I must respond to an opinion piece due to so many blatant inaccuracies.  

In her opinion piece published April 29 in This Is Reno, Alexis Hill conjured a thicket of half-truths, misconceptions, innuendo, distortions and outright ignorance to allege my actions as the Washoe County Commissioner for District 1 show a lack of leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hill is running against me for the seat in the 2020 general election, so I’m taking this opportunity to prune away the false claims she so recklessly makes.

Respecting patient privacy

First, on April 21, I joined with three of the four other Washoe County Commissioners to approve a legal brief supporting a lawsuit challenging restrictions placed by Gov. Steve Sisolak on two drugs that are being studied for their potential to fight the coronavirus. A Nevada physicians group filed the lawsuit.

I thought, and continue to think, treatment and prescribing decisions should remain between doctors and their patients. When these drugs are obtained under a doctor’s supervision, there is less likelihood of hoarding, not more, as Hill asserts.

Hill — in a cheap and obvious move — characterizes my approach as devotion to the “Trump agenda.” Wrong. My stance has nothing to do with the president and everything to do with respecting patient dignity and privacy, a longtime American tradition.

On May 7, after receiving information on a promising new treatment for COVID-19 and concerned about how a physician/patient issue was being politicized, I voted with three out of the four other Commissioners to withdraw support for filing the legal brief.  My decision doesn’t alter my belief that medical decisions should remain between doctors and patients.

Did we, as Commissioners, change our minds? Yes, we did. But rather than play pandemic politics like Ms. Hill, we showed true leadership by having the courage to change our minds once we had new and better information.

From one parent to another

Second, in early March, I confirmed to the Reno Gazette Journal that a Washoe County man who had tested positive for coronavirus had a relative who was a student at Huffaker Elementary School.

Ms. Hill, sowing more mistruth, said my doing so was “directly in opposition to” my FEMA training and put “political outcomes in front of community wellbeing.”

Nope. I’ve never had FEMA training, so she’s clearly never read my bio.

More important, as someone whose children, step-children and grandchildren have attended Washoe County schools, I knew the right of parents to information that could affect their children’s health and safety took precedence over the (often evasive) workings of county bureaucracies. People with children understand.

Fighting for public health; leadership required

Beyond the two main criticisms in her piece, Ms. Hill also says I don’t care about public health. If she had done her homework, she would know that in the 1990s, as the lobbyist for the Nevadan’s For Non-Smokers Rights and at the same time representing the Nevada Medical Association, I helped ensure passage of landmark no-smoking laws in spite of powerful political opposition.

Considering Ms. Hill’s ignorance (or selective amnesia?) about this essential aspect of my biography, it’s fair to ask what else she doesn’t understand, especially in light of her willingness to impugn my character, motives, professional background, and decisions as a County Commissioner.

Ms. Hill currently works as the arts, culture and special events manager for the City of Reno. Before that, she worked in city planning locally and for non-profit arts and children’s groups. All are worthy undertakings, but in turbulent times, Washoe County needs experience and leadership, not party planning.

Has Ms. Hill ever made hard budget decisions about essential services?

Has she ever conducted tough political negotiations? Like it or not, political access and relationships will be more important than ever as the county competes for public health and economic recovery dollars which are in short supply nationwide.

Has Ms. Hill realized that tweets, Instagram and #catchyhashtags don’t substitute for knowledge, judgment or governance?

The answer to all these questions is: No, she hasn’t. Otherwise, she’d be discussing the issues, not slinging mud.

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