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City manager gets high praise in annual review, Jacobs project passes

By Bob Conrad
Published: Last Updated on

Reno City Manager Doug Thornley received today overwhelmingly positive feedback from the Reno City Council for his first year review. Thornley passed on the praise to his staff, many of whom sat behind him in support as he outlined his progress in the past year.

“This team has moved mountains,” he said. “They reinvented the method by which we deliver services to this community in a week. I’m extremely proud of our COVID response.”

Reno City Manager Doug Thornley
Doug Thornley

Thornley commented on his high staff turnover. Most of his key positions have been replaced and he created a new position to hire the former city clerk. 

“We are absolutely going to nail the basics,” Thornley said. “Turnover is not necessarily particularly high in government agencies.”

He then said new people will be taking on bigger projects.

Mayor Hillary Schieve and council members overwhelmingly praised Thornley.

“Your communication is amazing,” Council member Oscar Delgado said. 

Jardon agreed.

“You make anybody available to us that we need to have the information for our decision-making,” Jardon said. “You have turned this organization around.”

Council member Jenny Brekhus assigned Thornely a “D grade.” She criticized his hiring people in the community without going through an open hiring process.

Thornley created a new position “without a job description. Everyone should have an opportunity to join this great team,” Brekhus said.

She was also critical of the budget augmentation, approved today, that included a number of items — such as “skatepark elements” proposed for City Plaza and the purchase of the Space Whale — which have not had public hearings.

Thornley’s contract is proposed to be increased from $350,000 to $365,000 from its current $246,000. The council voted to approve the final amount at its next meeting.

Council member Devon Reese proposed an increase to $360,000. That will make Thornley the highest paid manager among most similar-sized jurisdictions in the state — above RSVCA’s CEO, who makes $356,000 a year.

Jacobs Entertainment development agreement approved

The development agreement for the west of Fourth Street “Neon Line District” was approved by the council. The Jacobs Entertainment project to rebrand west downtown has been controversial. It was initially approved Oct. 14. 

Council members said the project’s critics have been spreading misinformation, and, according to Schieve, “fake news.” 

Reese and Duerr suggested Jacobs hold more public meetings to communicate about the project in order to correct misinformation.

According to city staff, the 20-year agreement does not authorize specific developments, but “generally contemplates that any development occurring within the District on property owned by the Developer or transferred to other developers shall be in accordance with applicable zoning and municipal code requirements at the time of permit application.” 

Jacobs Entertainment will get millions in financial incentives. According to city staff, incentives include:

  • Pedestrian amenity credits not to not exceed $4,658,516. 
  • Sewer connection fee credit extensions not to exceed $1,568,261.
  • Building permit and sewer connection fee deferrals: 5-year payment schedule.
  • Residential Construction Tax: collected funds to be spent within the District during the first 5 years of the Agreement.

Most of the more than 100 people who submitted public comments to the council before the meeting opposed the project. Many cited lack of details about the development.

Other council updates

Courtesy of the City of Reno.

Purchase of fire apparatus 

Council authorized staff to purchase five fire apparatus and associated outfitting from various vendors using the Houston-Galveston Area Council Buy (HGACBuy) Cooperative Purchasing Program (Contract FS 12-17), pursuant to NRS 332.195 (1) (Joinder) and/or the City’s Purchasing Policy in an amount not to exceed $3,657,151 and authorize the City Manager or designee to sign the purchase order(s). The Reno Fire Department’s (RFD) fleet is rapidly aging and much of the frontline apparatus has exceeded its useful life. Keeping our vehicles in service, operating properly and safely is crucial to the operation and serving the Reno community. This purchase will help bring the RFD fleet into alignment with best practices for the Department and the community. 

Budget augmentation

Council adopted a Resolution approving budget augmentations. The annual budget is the overall plan for City services for the fiscal year. As we proceed through the fiscal year, the plan changes and evolves requiring resources to be reallocated or added through budget augmentations. Budget augmentations must be adopted by resolution, and information forwarded to the Nevada Department of Taxation for approval.

Included in the augmentation under the Contingency Funds are custom skateboarding terrain features at Reno’s City Plaza. The new amenity will feature four skateboarding elements using recycled steel, supporting the City’s sustainability initiative. Skateboarding is an accessible sport to many community members of all ages as it requires minimal equipment and there is no cost to participate. The skateboarding terrain at City Plaza will give community members an opportunity to get active and enjoy a popular sport.    

Possession of catalytic converters 

Council directed staff to move forward with the creation of a new ordinance to the Reno Municipal Code for Title 8, Chapter 8.10 Offenses Against Property, regulating the possession of catalytic converters to address the City’s growing problem of thefts in the region. Next, the ordinance will be brought before Council for introduction. 

Background: Catalytic converter thefts have recently increased in the City of Reno due to the rising value of rare earth metals found inside. Reno Police Department officers have encountered thieves in possession of catalytic converters, however, they lack a proper state or local law to enforce, unless they catch the thieves in the act. The crime of sawing out a catalytic converter from a vehicle is one of opportunity and speed which makes it nearly impossible for RPD to catch them in the act and leaves the victim with expenses in the thousands to repair. Staff will move forward with a new ordinance that will require a person, who is not a properly licensed scrap metal dealer, to provide proper documentation to be in possession of a catalytic converter.

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