Reno City Council members on Thursday voted to once again appoint a new council member to replace Ward 3 member Oscar Delgado, who resigned last week. Most council members cited concerns over the lengthy time frame for a special election as the reason to move ahead with an appointment.
During the last appointment process in August and September to fill the Ward 5 seat vacated by Neoma Jardon, many community members spoke out about the need for a special election to fill the seat. The timeline, however, was too lengthy. It still is. That’s according to sitting council members, two of whom were originally appointed, who voted to proceed again with an appointment process over an election.
Washoe County Registrar of Voters Jamie Rodriguez told council members that requirements for the November general election don’t allow for her office to begin the process of a special election for the city until late December. Based on statutory election requirements, that means an election winner wouldn’t fill the seat until March at the earliest.
Mayor Hillary Schieve said she’d much rather have the public select a replacement for Delgado, but the lengthy delay in having someone fill the seat – six to eight months – was too long.
“Of course all of us up here believe in elections,” Schieve said. “We are also damned if you do and damned if you don’t because some people will walk away satisfied and others will walk away unhappy.
“The other thing is there is a lot of work to get done and a lot of important issues. We’re making a lot of big decisions…those things need to get done,” she added. “When you don’t have someone sitting here, then you don’t get anything done.”
City Manager Doug Thornley said it would be better to have someone representing Ward 3 sooner rather than later as much of the city’s budget work is conducted at the beginning of the year.
“The timeframe stinks, frankly,” Council member Naomi Duerr said.
City not equipped to run its own election
“Glad to be back here, sort of, but not really.”
The city does not have the infrastructure or personnel to conduct its own election, according to City Clerk Mikki Huntsman.
She said the city hasn’t conducted a special election in over 30 years, so no documentation, records or expertise exists within the city to hold its own election to fill vacancies within the council.
Discussions have taken place behind the scenes to consider preparing the city for future special elections and better understand what’s involved.
Duerr said she has also talked to residents about potentially amending the city charter to allow for a temporary appointment until an election could be held.
William Mantle, who spoke during public comment, advocated for a similar method of filling future vacancies. However city staff alluded that the current vacancy, just a month after the last one was filled, caught them off guard.
“Glad to be back here, sort of, but not really,” Huntsman said as she told council members about their options for filling the Ward 3 seat.
Schieve argued that the need to fill a council vacancy is rare, however this is the third time since 2019 that the council has chosen to appoint someone to fill a vacancy.
Brekhus and Reese butt heads again
“I think it’s really wrong and I think it’s disenfranchising.”
Council member Jenny Brekhus was the only member who voted against the appointment process, citing the same reasons she had for appointing someone for Jardon’s seat. She said the decision should be turned over to voters, which she added is the forward-thinking thing to do.
Brekhus also argued that the process was flawed when three of those involved are also running their own campaigns for reelection.
“We have to fill [a vacant seat] while three members of the body have votes flying for or against them…as they’re also going through kind of a political process of deciding who they’re going to vote for with one person who could make the difference who no one has voted for except for this table,” she argued. “I don’t think it’s good optics at all. I think it’s very poor, and I think we need to make some good decisions about how to lean forward in this electoral process.”
Council member Devon Reese, who was originally appointed to his at-large council seat in 2019, argued that the appointment process is part of the democratic process. He said many officials in the state in traditionally elected positions have been appointed to their roles, including the Lieutenant Governor and several school board members.
“Appointments happen at all levels of government,” he argued. “The idea that somehow it’s less democratic I think is anathema to me. I think it’s one of the processes and policies of democracies to fill vacancies in a certain way.”
He also said that odd year elections traditionally draw very few voters – often 10% or fewer – and that no one is going to be out campaigning in January and February because it’s cold and dark.
“As for the discussion of no one campaigns in January and February – that’s not true,” Brekhus said. “People who want a job do, and it shows the work.
“There’s going to be no perfect time for people who are so dug into appointments to want to vote for elections, and that’s fine, you can still believe in elections, but just not in this instance and want the power of appointment. I think it’s really wrong and I think it’s disenfranchising,” she added.
Before the decision was even made, during the first round of public comment, Ward 3 resident and Family Soup Mutual Aid co-founder Nicole Anagapesis said that appointment – which she assumed would be the selected process – is a failure of democracy.
“It is difficult to dream up a scenario where a mayor and a city council would be so disillusioned they believe the city wants an NFT of a broken glass whale rather than contingency plans for the housing crisis would ever be responsible enough to appoint somebody who can see and appropriately represent our needs,” she said.
The timeline to fill the seat is as follows:
- Ward 3 residents who are interested in filling the council seat can apply to the seat Sept. 30 through Oct. 6 at the City Clerk’s office.
- Applications will be reviewed by council members and presented at the Oct. 12 City Council meeting and narrowed to a number of finalists.
- Finalists will participate in two community meet and greets. Both events will be hybrid (in-person and virtual), and offer bilingual services.
- Oct. 18 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at Northeast Community Center
- Oct. 19 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at Neil Road Recreation Center
- Final interviews, selection and swearing in will be Oct. 26.
Kristen Hackbarth is a freelance editor and communications professional with more than 20 years’ experience working in marketing, public relations and 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. She also serves as director of communications for Nevada Cancer Coalition, a statewide nonprofit. Though she now lives in Atlanta, she is a Nevadan for life and uses her three-hour time advantage to get a jump on the morning’s news.