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Home > News > Government > Public commenters face mostly empty City Council chambers during meeting

Public commenters face mostly empty City Council chambers during meeting

By Bob Conrad
Published: Last Updated on
Reno City Manager Doug Thornley was the sole person on the dais for the Reno City Council meeting on Sept. 22, 2021 in Reno, Nev.

The City of Reno reopened its council chambers in June, but today public commenters and city staff spoke to a mostly empty room for the city council’s regular Wednesday meeting. 

The only person on the council’s dais was City Manager Doug Thornley. 

Council members Devon Reese, Bonnie Weber and Neoma Jardon attended the meeting online. Mayor Hillary Schieve also attended online but had her camera disabled and only said a few words by audio.

“I know that teachers and students have had to adapt to virtual meetings, and it is commonplace that those facilitating the meeting have their cameras on in respect to the individuals attending the meeting,” said Lily Baran, speaking during public comment.

Governor Steve Sisolak in May of 2020 suspended legal requirements for public meetings. But a subsequent executive order rescinded that suspension in May. A bill passed during the last legislative session, AB 253, allows for government meetings to be held virtually.

Council members Naomi Duerr and Jenny Brekhus did not attend today’s meeting. Member Oscar Delgado appeared on the video sporadically. 

The no-shows caused Thornley to recommend an agenda item be delayed until there was a super majority of the council attending the meeting.

City Attorney Karl Hall also interrupted the meeting to request a vote be revisited after it wasn’t clear how Delgado and Schieve voted for an agenda item.

“It just looked like they were muted, and I just wanted to make sure we had that on the record,” Hall said.

City Clerk Mikki Huntsman asked for a roll-call vote to set the record straight.

Public commenters also criticized the no-shows.

“I’d like to just comment on the dystopian nature of this meeting here and the fact that I’m addressing a virtual council like I’m on the Starship Enterprise when we’re talking about banning whips outside in the streets and we don’t have a place for our most vulnerable people to go,” said Ilya Arbatman during public comment.

Council actions

The council approved the ordinance banning whips in public spaces.

The Lear Theater purchase for $875,000 was unanimously approved. The amount will be paid as $125,000 annually for seven years. It is the amount the city gives to Artown on an annual basis, so the approval today solidifies that commitment for seven years. 

Federal rent assistance funds — $6.1 million — were approved to extend rental assistance through 2025 for people earning 80% or less than the annual median income. 

“Staff proposes to use full allocation of ERA 2 to extend the lifespan of the existing internal rental/deposit assistance program,” a city staff report noted. “These additional funds will allow the program to maintain the same level of assistance until fully expended or the sunset of September 2025.”

Up to 15 months worth of rent and utilities can be used with the funding, city housing manager Monica Cochran said.

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