Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve testified Monday to remove the ward six council position in favor of keeping the city’s at-large council member seat. She said maintaining the at-large seat, occupied by Council member Devon Reese, was necessary because the city council is enduring political strife.
Schieve, who is close allies with Reese, said the Reno council is “incredibly divisive.”
“Let’s make no mistake, eliminating the large seat is not about better access for residents. It’s actually about cheaper and easier races,” she added.
Sen. Skip Daly (D-Washoe County), who sits on the legislature’s Senate Committee on Government Affairs where the bill was discussed, disagreed.
“[The change to the sixth ward] was really more about individual representation,” he said. “And I, you know, don’t want to argue with the honorable mayor of Reno, but I haven’t seen some of those arguments… A lot of people want to have their individual representative, and we fought long and hard to get ward-only voting.”
Most commenters testified against the measure.
Reno citizen Bill Schrimpf said the public did not get to adequately weigh in on the change now being advanced by the city
“This topic received two minutes and 15 seconds of air-time at the city council level. I thank this group in advance for the indulgence of a more nuanced and thorough discussion,” he said. “The motives that drove this change through the Reno charter committee were not as transparent as they should have been. It is possible the public may have been misled.
“Also, there is good reason to be concerned the at-large position has turned into a de facto co-mayor role on the city council and certainly waters down constituent-level representation on a stacked council.”
Representatives of Battle Born Progress, Nevada Counts Coalition and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada also testified against the part of the bill to alter the council seats.
“The at-large seat is more likely to be beholden to their donors than the interests of their community,” said PLAN’s Christine Saunders. “We urge you to maintain the implementation of the six ward and increase representative democracy.”
The city’s lobbyist, Nic Ciccone, said: “If we were to get rid of the at large position, we would create that sixth ward. Now, depending on what this body does, it could ultimately eliminate the sixth position. I’m not sure what that looks like.”
The legislature passed a bill during the 2017 legislative session to move Reno to ward-only voting, gaining the sixth council seat and eliminating the at-large seat.
That’s what the public has been expecting to occur, said attorney Margo Piscevich.
“The residents of Reno had no reason to expect that the city might consider changing the plan in less than one year,” she said. “I am shocked that our elected representatives or their appointees make these decisions without consulting with the public.”
Former Reno Council member Toni Harsh also testified against the change. Former legislature and Clark County Commissioner Chris Guinchigliani said the at-large seats were more inequitable than a ward seat.
“I’m sorry, but it is not compelling to me as an argument that because someone doesn’t show up for a ribbon cutting is justification to violate what the 2017 legislature put in play and impact negatively the individuals that should have a representative have their own ward seat,” Guinchigliani said.
Lobbyist Andrew Diss, also former chair of the city’s charter committee, testified as neutral to the bill but said the public has long anticipated the addition of a sixth ward.
“There was always an understanding that there would be another redistricting when we eliminated the at-large [seat],” he said. “That was always well communicated to the public, and I feel like the Reno public had an understanding that [when] at-large seat was going to go away, we were going to have a sixth ward.”
A casino manager and friend of Schieve’s testified in support of keeping the at-large council seat.
“I believe in preserving the at-large member spot is good,” Ryan Sheltra said. “We have to have more than one person that represents us. “When we disagree with a ward representative, we still have the at-large individual council member to go to, and our mayor, which personally I’ve done on on multiple occasions and not necessarily because I disagree with my council member, but it’s nice having a second point of contact, which throughout the years I’ve used many occasions, through many representatives.”