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County commission: Let’s do this again and again (editorial)

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By Kristen Hackbarth and Bob Conrad

If something happens twice it’s too early to say it’s a pattern. When it happens at every meeting, do we just create a new section on the government meeting agenda for reruns?

Washoe’s Board of County Commissioners meetings in 2023 have become a series of repeats with commissioners re-hearing agenda items and re-hashing old grudges – from Cares Campus construction projects, to appeals and illegal election measures. 

Over the course of the first 12 meetings so far this year, commissioners have already revisited a handful of decisions and postponed others because of, as is often cited, a lack of preparation or understanding of the topic at hand.

On more than one occasion Commissioner Jeanne Herman has pondered bringing her illegal and undemocratic “election reform” resolution back to the agenda. Thankfully we’ve all been spared part two of that shitshow – so far.

Public commenters and impacted parties have caught on, showing up one meeting too late to finally plead their case in the hopes commissioners will reconsider.

That happened in January when SOL Cannabis owner Ed Alexander didn’t like the board’s consumption lounges decision, which Commissioner Mike Clark flip-flopped over after the fact, and again in March when Ormat was denied a permit for a project in Gerlach. 

One might suggest there’s greater impact to influence a board decision when you show up on the day of that decision. 

Lower boards and commissions are suffering as well, with commissioners postponing decisions on appointments either because, according to Commissioner Clark, too few people have applied or there is “a rush of people trying to apply for a position after the deadline had passed.”

Is it too many or not enough? Perhaps just not the “right” volunteers?

Such has been the case for the Board of Equalization, the Senior Advisory Board and the Library Board of Trustees. In the case of the Board of Equalization appointments, Commissioner Alexis Hill had to confirm whether the board would still have a quorum to meet should they postpone a selection. 

What hasn’t been noted, however, is that opportunities to volunteer on county boards and commissions have been on the website “for years,” according to the county’s Bethany Drysdale, and many boards accept applications at any time, regardless of vacancies. (Here, Google is your friend.)

This year, largely from Commissioners Herman and Clark, there’s been a drumbeat of “we weren’t told,” and “we didn’t get the information” during meeting discussions, despite agendas and attachments being posted within the usual time frame. 

This past week another excuse, from Clark, emerged in a request to re-hear an item: to paraphrase, “I heard a rumor following the meeting.”

Thus, this week the board will re-hear two more agenda items, both appeals of lower commission decisions, and both already voted on by commissioners: the Praana Transmission Line and an Incline Village short term rental property permit. 

It’s fair to allow and encourage people to gather information and change their minds on an issue, but in the case of the county commissioners, that doesn’t appear to be what’s happening. 

Instead, we’ve seen a series of decisions where some members of the board come unprepared, not understanding the issue — or, likely, not understanding the blowback they’ll receive from their loudest constituents following a decision. 

Rather than putting in the work, asking the right questions and making an informed decision — as newly appointed Commissioner Clara Andriola has exemplified in her very short time on the board — they rely on repeats meeting after meeting. 

No decision is final, apparently, until it’s been heard, appealed, heard again, then perhaps once more for good measure. 

It’s time for community members to demand more from their representatives, and frankly, of themselves. 

Agendas and meeting materials are posted by the Thursday before each Tuesday Board of Commissioners meeting, giving five full days to review it all before the meeting.

Everyone has access to them. Even the elected commissioners.

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