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Home > Opinion > Local businesses want leadership in city’s Ward 1 (opinion)

Local businesses want leadership in city’s Ward 1 (opinion)

By ThisIsReno

Submitted by Eric Raydon, Co-Founder Marmot Properties

There are many ways to assess the social and economic well-being of a community. Arguably, one of the most important is the extent to which community members show up for and support one another. And when I say “community members,” that means everyone, including private citizens, business owners, public servants, and elected officials.

Over the years, we’ve seen many positive examples that indicate the social well-being of Reno’s Ward 1 region is generally good. It isn’t uncommon to see people coming together to support any number of causes. After all, it wasn’t all that long ago that a few determined Reno residents and business owners worked together to form the Midtown District board and small business partnership, both of which serve as diligent advocates for the region, and voices speaking up about issues that affect our community each day.

Image: Ty O’Neil

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen community collaboration flourish in many ways. Groups like Wash-oe Hands have developed a robust practice of mutual aid that is open and highly responsive to the needs of the public. Small businesses like local bars and distilleries have shifted their operations to accommodate changing needs with respect to our public health and safety, offering new experiences to their customers that align with Centers for Disease Control recommendations, and even developing products like hand-sanitizer to help keep the community well.

Government officials and financial institutions put their noses to the grindstone to make sure that their constituents are fairly represented and cared for in relation to economic recovery initiatives. Local businesses made a point of ordering take out from neighboring restaurants for their employees and crews, even though their own cash was tight. Commercial and residential landlords proactively worked with their tenants to defer, reduce, and/or zero out rent during the worst of the pandemic, and worked together to expand and enhance outdoor dining, drinking and shopping. Lots of people are doing lots of things to make an extremely challenging situation just a little bit better for all of us who are going through it.

Unfortunately, we’ve also seen examples that indicate that some elements of our well-being aren’t doing so great.

In particular, I want to point to a stunning and persistent lack of leadership on the part of one of Ward 1’s most important representatives: the City Council member who is supposed to represent us.

It’s hard to articulate the sheer devastation that the pandemic has visited upon small businesses. Closures and changes in the economic behaviors of Reno’s citizens have crushed revenues, and while I fully understand that we were all going to feel some pain through this difficult season of our lives, I can’t help but feel that things could have been handled more proactively by Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus. In fact, I know it.

While businesses in our ward were crying out for fair representation and interventions pertaining to their critical needs during the pandemic, it wasn’t Councilwoman Brekhus who was there to answer the call.

Instead, Ward 5 Councilwoman Neoma Jardon and Councilman-at-Large Devon Reese have been here, actively meeting with our community members and taking their concerns back to City Hall to see to it that we have some fighting chance of surviving the storm of COVID-19 and its resultant economic fallout. They’ve worked to help businesses reopen safely and have seen to it (within the scope of their abilities) that restrictions are fairly — not arbitrarily — enforced.

Mayor Hillary Schieve has also fought for us — standing up to arbitrary and draconian mandates from both the state and local governments, and has strived not only to open Reno back up, but to keep it open. Mayor Schieve, Councilwoman Naomi Duerr, and their Working Group went way out on a limb to get the Truckee Meadows COVID Risk Meter built — a tool that we use every day.

The same cannot be said of Councilwoman Brekhus — and, in fact, I’m sorry to say that this isn’t a new phenomenon.  Brekhus has a history of absenteeism where the needs of Ward 1 businesses are concerned.

When the Virginia Street project in Midtown was unfolding, where was our councilwoman to offer her leadership, ideas, and support? What did she contribute when construction was diverting traffic away from our businesses and impacting our revenues? 

Midtown street design. Image: Bob Conrad.
Midtown street design. Image: Bob Conrad.

Other than voting against capital improvements to the Midtown region time after time, Councilwoman Brekhus was essentially hands-off where her constituents who own and operate businesses in our ward were concerned.  Councilwoman Brekhus consistently confuses the word “no” with actual leadership.  Follow the money — Jenny Brekhus only cares what her contributors think.  Small business owners don’t even seem to register.

Imagine my surprise, then, to find that the same council member who wasn’t hearing us out — who was voting against key projects and otherwise out of sight, not so much as meeting with us — ended her truancy to accept praise for the completion of an infrastructure project to which she did not meaningfully contribute. This is naked partisan politics at its worst and is both deeply cynical and deeply dishonest.

Perhaps Ms. Brekhus could have been a more positive and effective force if she wasn’t so focused on a never-ending series of power plays and vendettas in City Hall, against both current and former council members and staff. Councilwoman Brekhus prides herself on her “green” bona fides, but ignores the toxic waste dump work environment that she helped to create at City Hall.

Small businesses, in many ways, are the socio-economic lifeblood of a community. We’re not remote barons of industry looking to extract profit from a region we otherwise don’t care about. We’re mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends with passions that we share with our community. We’re people who turn our dreams into opportunities for ourselves and others. We contribute a lot to the vibrancy of our city, and we are happy to do so.

But in doing that, we need public officials who are willing to be a part of our community and a part of the solution, not just in name, but in deed. Historically, that hasn’t been Jenny Brekhus — and for that reason, I think it’s time for a change in guard.

It is time for Jenny Brekhus to go.

Eric Raydon is a local husband, father, and business founder.  He and his family founded their Reno-based company in 2008, and have worked to improve Reno’s housing stock ever since. NOTE: The views of the author are his own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Marmot Properties and related companies and teammates.

Submitted opinions do not represent the views of This Is Reno. Have something to say? Submit an opinion article here.

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