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Exercise your right to representation (commentary)


The Barber Brief is an independent e-newsletter and blog written by Dr. Alicia Barber on the Substack platform. It is reposted by This Is Reno with her permission.

Public participation in the Ward 5 City Council appointment is essential.

By Alicia Barber

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling ’22 is flying by faster than any year in recent memory. The Brief has been on a little hiatus, but it’s time to jump back in. In fact, it’s time for all of us to jump in—with both feet. Our local government is at a critical juncture, with the appointment of a new Ward 5 City Councilmember on the immediate horizon, and the elections for the Ward 2 and 4 Council seats and the Mayor’s seat coming up in just a few short months.  (The Nevada Independent recently published a preview of those races in which the candidates mention some of their priorities, so be sure to give it a read.)

City Council will select the finalists for the Ward 5 Council vacancy at a Special Meeting on Thursday, August 25 beginning at 12 noon. It’s one step in the special appointment process, which is fully outlined here, and resident participation is absolutely critical—not just for residents of Ward 5 (here’s the ward map if you need a reminder) but for all of us.

The Ward 5 City Council Vacancy

As you likely know, Neoma Jardon recently resigned from her position as the Ward 5 City Council representative to become the Executive Director of the nonprofit Downtown Reno Partnership (DRP), which manages the City’s Business Improvement District (BID). It is a rather curious and certainly unprecedented leap between two deeply intertwined entities. In her role as a City Councilmember, Jardon voted to create the DRP, approved the system by which assessments on downtown properties are levied and directed to it, and became one of its founding board members. She also voted to direct public funding to it as a board member of RTC Washoe.

The search for the inaugural Executive Director of the DRP back in 2018 was national in scope, resulting in the hire of Alex Stettinski, who had previously served as the executive director of the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce and marketing director for business and tourism organizations in Los Angeles and West Hollywood.  On July 11 of this year, the San Jose (California) Downtown Association announced they had hired Stettinski to be their new CEO after a six-month national search. The chair of the Downtown Reno Partnership’s board immediately announced their intent to hire from within the Reno market, and just three weeks later (August 8), announced that they had selected Jardon to be their new Executive Director, saying they had considered candidates from out of town but that she had risen to the top. She resigned from the City effective August 15.

The timing of Jardon’s switcheroo is especially unfortunate in terms of selecting someone to serve the remaining two years of her term. The appointment of her replacement (scheduled for September 7) is coming two months before the general elections that will decide who will serve as the representatives for two other City wards and the Mayor. It might seem natural to just throw this position on that ballot, too, but according to the Washoe County Registrar, that’s not possible, and neither is a special election for this individual seat any earlier than next year.

That last piece of news shocked City Councilmembers, and certainly seems like something to address in the future, since appointments obviously don’t allow a ward’s residents to select their own representative. And given the rapid pace of the process, the public has very little chance to even get to know the candidates vying for the job. For this first round, occurring on August 25, City staff is recommending that the Council select “up to three finalists” from the 36 applicants who just threw their hats into the ring last week.

Ward 5 includes Northwest Reno, including the Old Northwest, UNR, and the Somersett and Verdi Neighborhoods as well as parts of downtown. City of Reno

For candidates, of course, the appointment process is exponentially less arduous than an election. It’s free. It requires no formal campaigning or campaign materials, meaning there’s no need to solicit campaign contributions, which can be a relief. On the downside, campaign contributions can help residents identify which candidates are being supported by various special interests, if any. That’s all a bit tougher to suss out during the rapid appointment process, which provides a natural advantage to candidates who Councilmembers already know (and there is no doubt a flurry of fervent lobbying happening behind the scenes).

So pay attention, everyone. Council will select a handful of finalists in the first round, with meet & greets scheduled for August 30 and 31. If you are a candidate, thank you so much for stepping up! Please make yourself as available as possible to residents in every forum that you can. We want to get to know you and how you perceive this important position. Widespread participation and the sharing of information throughout this process are absolutely critical, particularly if you live in Ward 5, so now’s the time to show up, log on, and tune in. If you prefer not to attend in person, you can register to participate in the August 25 meeting via Zoom here and anyone can view the agenda with all the candidate applications here.

City Council’s Roles in Urban Development

Council representation is of course the pillar of democratic local government, ensuring that our City’s policies reflect what the people want. It’s our Council’s job to formulate those policies, set priorities, and direct City staff to implement them. My focus in the Brief is development, so I just want to remind readers that Reno’s City Council currently wields more control over development than it ever has before.

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