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Trustees approve capital projects postponed to special meeting

By Kristen Hackbarth

Trustees for the Washoe County School District on June 21 held a special meeting to review and rule on six agenda items addressing capital projects and construction services. Trustees voted at the previous meeting on June 14 to postpone hearing the agenda items after Trustee Jeff Church raised ethical concerns just hours before the meeting.

The projects reviewed in the agenda items included approving a budget and schedule for construction on the Debbie Smith Career and Technical Academy, speeding up design of a new elementary school, review and possible approval of “E” major projects totalling $47 million, and approval of engineering firms for future projects.

Trustee Church, just hours before the June 14 meeting began, submitted a letter of concern to the board suggesting that all trustees should disclose any campaign contributions received to date that might be considered a conflict of interest or ethical violation as they vote on the items. 

He said he did his own research after receiving “communications from the community” and wasn’t able to submit his concerns sooner because he’d been ill. 

WCSD Trustee Joe Rodriguez during the Jan. 25, 2022 Board of Trustees meeting. Image: Ty O’Neil / This Is Reno

“It’s your job to know what you’re supposed to do and what you’re not supposed to do,” he said, adding that the other trustees should be thanking him. 

Four trustee seats are up for election – and June 14 was the primary election day – and trustees Adam Mayberry, Ellen Minetto, Joe Rodriguez and Beth Smith are all running to retain their seats. Trustee Angela Taylor is running for Assembly Seat 27. 

Trustee Rodriguez expressed frustration at the need to delay the agenda items but made a motion to do so “out of an abundance of caution,” he said. 

“I unfortunately do not carry a list of all my donors with me and I don’t have the means to access them right now,” Trustee Rodriguez said. “I’m not sure if this is something that even needs to happen… I don’t believe I would be voting on anything wrongly.”

Trustees Mayberry and Smith agreed. 

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“I think it’s unfortunate that somebody brought these allegations less than an hour before the meeting. A lot of important business is going to get slowed down,” Mayberry said. 

Smith noted that Church’s document specifically referenced the day being election day and that this was a political effort. 

Each of the trustees running for office had filed their required campaign disclosures – most recently on April 15 as required by the Secretary of State’s office. Church, however, suggested each candidate disclose any donations received since the most recent required disclosure. 

In the special meeting last week to hear the postponed agenda items, trustees disclosed campaign donors from the construction industry. They again expressed frustration at having to do so.

Trustee Smith cited legal advice and Nevada code as she read her disclosures. She repeated that she felt the disclosures were “entirely unnecessary” but would make them regardless. 

“As a trustee I do not participate in who may receive the actual contract to complete this project, and thus there can be no quid pro quo, nor is there quid pro quo,” Smith said. She added that she would vote on all items. 

Trustees Rodriguez, Mayberry and Taylor also made disclosures with nearly identical language. 

Agenda items reviewed

Trustees heard from the district’s Adam Searcy and Tammy Zimmerman who shared updates on construction and planning for renovations of the old Hug High School to create the Debbie Smith Career and Technical Academy. 

Zimmerman said inflation and contractor schedules led to the estimated cost of the renovations and construction coming in more than 30% over the $112 million budget approved for the project. 

The pair presented several options to trustees that had been reviewed by the Capital Funding Protection Committee. Options included moving ahead with the more expensive bid – considered impossible based on funding available – phasing the project and rebidding the work or pausing the project indefinitely. 

The superintendent’s recommendation was to move forward with a phased approach to the project. After lengthy discussion, the board voted 6-1 to approve a phased approach to renovating the campus. 

Church voted no. 

Trustees approved an update to the capital improvement plan to move up design of a potential new elementary school in the Spanish Springs area and to include four new positions already approved by the board within the capital improvement budget. 

Trustees approved the updates unanimously. 

The board also unanimously approved the “E” major projects program, a pool of engineering firms for future projects and a district-wide consulting agreement for mechanical, electrical and plumbing assessments. 

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