Public commenters, some with protest signs and almost none with masks, filled the auditorium Tuesday for the Washoe County Board of County Commissioners meeting and set off more than four hours of public comment.
Some were not even residents of the county.
A handful of commenters came armed with articles, petitions and other documents and railed against what they called voter corruption, election corruption and crooked election workers.
Many of their claims were false, misleading or unsubstantiated.
The meeting was recessed shortly after it began when the first commenter, Nicholas St. John, who was wearing a Washoe Patriots ball cap and what appeared to be a homemade badge, refused to yield the microphone at the end of his three minutes.
He claimed to not be subject to any of the commission’s rules or regulations and threatened to file claims against the commissioners because of what he said was a violation of his rights.
Security had to escort St. Jon from the microphone. He left the meeting voluntarily, according to county staff.
Robert Beadles, the election integrity chair for Washoe County GOP’s Central Committee, was second on the list of dozens of commenters and said commissioners could be heroes or villains based on whether they complied with his requests.
He said elections in the county are “a third-world joke” and demanded commissioners sign a resolution he’d drafted to reform elections.
Beadles parroted talking points and phrases of many far-right “election integrity” advocates who continue to allege, without evidence, that illegal voting is an issue in Nevada. Nevada’s Secretary of State said in April 2021 that there was little to no evidence to support allegations of fraud.
Washoe County Assessor Mike Clark, who has a protection order against him from Washoe County, was one of the many who said he agreed with Beadles.
Clark said he was concerned about “mischief” in the 2022 election, in part because he planned to run for office again.
Commission Chair Vaughn Hartung said he respected their comments and “disagreed with many of the things that we are bound to follow.” He pledged to study how state laws have changed county voting and what elements of the process fall within the county’s purview.
He asked County Manager Eric Brown to gather information on elections, voter registration, ballots and other election-related matters for commissioner review prior to the Feb. 22 meeting, the first opportunity new items such as Beadles’ resolution could be added to an agenda.
Commissioner Jeanne Herman, who did not vote in favor of certifying the canvass of the vote in 2020, said she agreed with some of the points commenters made and also had concerns about election integrity.
Kitty Jung, in a speech that was teary at times, said she was hurt and saddened that the anger and divisiveness in public comment had led to a lack of empathy and to community members insulting and name calling commissioners.
“What I want to say to you, and to my peers up here, which by the way, I love these people. No matter where you’re at with your life with them and how you feel about them, when you attack anybody up here and our staff it hurts me deeply because I hurt for them,” Jung said. “It breaks my heart that the perception is that you don’t believe nor trust in the validity of elections. That’s the beginning of the end of civilization as far as I know it.”
Commissioner Bob Lucey said the divisiveness reflected through much of the comment lost sight of the many issues that the county faces, from parks and roads to foster and senior services and courts.
“Not saying that this issue isn’t an important one. They all are,” Lucey said. “This entire board does not play a partisan role. We never have. We work together to find the best solutions out there with the information provided to us how to move forward.
“Things don’t change overnight,” he added. “This board is and has always been dedicated to the betterment of this community.”
Other commission business
By the time commissioners returned the meeting to session after lunch many of the commenters had left the chambers. The following is provided by Washoe County staff and edited by This Is Reno.
County redistricting maps receive second approval
Commissioners adopted the recommended district maps drawn to reflect population changes from the 2020 Census. Washoe County grew by 65,000 residents from 2010 to 2020. This was the second reading of the ordinance.
Incline Village Constable’s Office to close
A second reading of the ordinance to abolish the Incline Village Constable passed in a 3-2 vote. Much of the work that would be conducted by the office is done by the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, making the office obsolete. Other constables’ offices in the county were eliminated in 1998. The Incline Village Constable’s Office will close Jan, 2, 2023 when the current constable’s term expires.
Battle Axe and Tracks festival approved
Commissioners approved an agreement for $16,000 for use of Rancho San Rafael Regional Park for the two-day Battle Axe and Tracks music festival. The event includes music, axe throwing, food and other activities. It’s scheduled for Oct. 1-2.
Peer-to-peer car sharing tax
The first reading of an ordinance to impose a 2% tax on peer-to-peer car sharing was heard. Commissioners Jung and Hartung expressed concerns that the tax would be imposed on locals, who aren’t currently charged the rental car tax. County government affairs staffer Jamie Rodriguez said the issue with locals being charged the car rental tax lies with the state’s taxation department and would be investigated before the second reading of the ordinance.
Correction: This story was updated to reflect that Commissioner Hartung did not disagree with commenters, but disagreed with some of the state laws regarding voting.
Kristen Hackbarth is a freelance editor and communications professional with 20 years’ experience working in communications in northern Nevada. Kristen graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in photography and minor in journalism and has a Master of Science in Management and Leadership. In her free time, she is a volunteer backpacking guide along the Tahoe Rim Trail, an avid home cook and baker, cyclist, wife and stepmom.