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City paid for employees to attend an event featuring U.S. Senate candidate

By Bob Conrad

City of Reno officials today pushed back on what they said were “hot takes and snap judgments” about a city “employee training” event held yesterday downtown.

The event featured U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D), who is up for reelection, having a discussion with UNR President Brian Sandoval, former Nevada Governor (R) about diversity and inclusion.

“This was not a political event or rally, and attendance at the event was not mandatory,” said city spokesperson Cassie Harris. “Off-duty employees who chose to participate were compensated per their respective bargaining agreements.”

Harris did not respond to follow-up questions.

People online accused the city of using taxpayer funds to play politics. An email by City Manager Doug Thornley was also circulated online. That email showed Thornley telling city employees to go to the event and that they would be paid for their time to attend.

“For staff working regular hours during this event, we look forward to seeing you at the Reno Ballrooms,” he wrote. “For staff who do not work on Thursdays or are off work by 3:00 p.m., we would like to see you there as well. Your time at this event will be compensated such that if you are eligible for overtime, you will receive overtime pay or compensatory time as outlined in your collective bargaining agreement.”

That message was echoed by Assistant Public Works Director Bryan Heller to his staff. He told employees “the city management team emphasized the importance of having our staff attend this event, and asked that all employees attend…”

Thornley, reached by phone today, said the event was not mandatory and regretted it was interpreted as such. He said, after the above email was sent, he emphasized with his team the event was not mandatory.

He said the city has been holding speaker events to encourage employees to better work with diverse populations. 

Yesterday’s talk was the eighth event. One held last year discussed how Latinos are misrepresented in the news media. It had people attending virtually and in person and was organized by a city staff member.  

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