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Commitment to Service: No appointments necessary on Reno City Council (sponsored)

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A brief civic history of resignations, appointments, and redistricting on Reno City Council

As I knock on doors in Ward 5 and attend events all over Reno, many have asked me about the perplexing game of musical chairs on Reno City Council. You can’t blame Renoites for feeling confused, frustrated, and disempowered by the history of resignations, appointments, and redistricting. Since 2019, three of the seven sitting members of Reno City Council have been appointed rather than elected. The At-Large role is being eliminated and the maps have been redrawn to create a new Ward 6. Members who were initially appointed are now running for different seats, and no one currently on Council has to run against each other. It’s starting to look like the surest path to winning an election to Reno City Council is to get four votes from the Dias. 

I’m offering this brief history as a service to the voters in Wards 1, 3, 5, and 6, who have the opportunity to reshape the future of Reno on Tuesday. My purpose is not to malign the public servants mentioned here, but to provide context as voters make their decisions in the upcoming primaries. As a lifelong educator, I believe knowledge is the foundation of good decision-making.  

So, let’s start with resignations and appointments: In 2019, At-Large Representative David Bobzien resigned from Reno City Council when Governor Sisolak appointed him to direct the Governor’s Office of Energy. At that time, Council unanimously appointed Devon Reese to fill the At-Large seat, citing the cost and time involved in holding a special election. Reese went on to win a 2020 election against Eddie Lorton and has served as At-Large representative since. Due to the elimination of the At-Large seat and the 2023 redistricting, Mr. Reese is now running for the Ward 5 seat. 

Also in 2020, Neoma Jardon (Ward 5) and Oscar Delgado (Ward 3) both won their third and final term-limited elections. In 2022, Ms. Jardon resigned to become the Executive Director of the Downtown Reno Partnership. Again, Council opted for a special appointment process and chose Kathleen Taylor for Ward 5. Less than one month after voting to appoint Ms. Taylor, Mr. Delgado resigned to focus on his role as CEO of Community Health Alliance. Once more, City Council engaged in a special appointment process to place Miguel Martinez in the Ward 3 seat. Due to redistricting, Ms. Taylor is now running to represent Ward 1. Mr. Martinez is now running for his first election to Ward 3.

Full disclosure: as a resident of Ward 5 interested in contributing to the future of my beloved community, I put my name in the process when Neoma Jardon resigned. People who were more tapped into the Reno political scene told me that Reno City Council members had already decided who they would appoint, and the exercise was political theater. Nevertheless, the civic optimist in me determined that it was better to be involved than cynical. I attended the special meeting where three dozen members of the community spoke about their histories in organizing, business, law enforcement, and planning, and outlined their visions for the City. I was moved and impressed by the talent, the dedication, and the community spirit in that room. I was not surprised or bitter when I wasn’t chosen as one of the three finalists, though I was disappointed that the one person who did not speak publicly at that meeting was appointed to represent me and the rest of Ward 5. 

The appointment process undermines public faith in representative democracy. Appointees are not chosen by the people they are meant to represent, but by their future colleagues. The result is a dispiriting public perception that appointees may be more accountable to the four members of Council who voted for them, rather than to the needs and desires of their Ward constituents. 

On Tuesday’s ballot, there are several candidates who are well-suited for public service but running at a disadvantage against appointees. In crowded primaries, other candidates squeeze their campaigns into their off-hours or quit their day jobs. Meanwhile, the salaried appointees build name recognition at every meeting, ribbon cutting, and celebration in front of the BELIEVE sign. News organizations frame the races as “incumbents vs. challengers.” In terms of fundraising, the numbers speak for themselves: in the most recent public contributions and expenses filing, Mr. Reese had more than 12 times as much cash on hand than the second candidate in the primary (myself); Ms. Taylor had more than twice as much as her closest competitor (Frankie Perez); and Mr. Martinez had almost 13 times as much as his nearest challenger (Juergen Hoehne). 

Running for public office implies a commitment to serve. If the citizens of Ward 5 honor me with the opportunity to represent them on Reno City Council, I promise that I will not resign to run for “higher” office, and I will not leave to take or focus on another job. I wonder if the other candidates can make that pledge? If any Council member resigns, I will call for a special election, never another appointment. I suspect that Council members who were appointed themselves might have a hard time making such a commitment. 

Some might claim that special elections are expensive and time-consuming, with low voter turnout. I respond that nothing is more democratic and transparent than an election, and a special election will always yield more than four votes. I hope I can earn your support so that, no matter where you live, I can defend your right to representation on Reno City Council.

Sheila Browning-Peuchaud is a candidate for the open seat representing Ward 5 on Reno City Council.

Paid for by Sheila Forward 5: http://www.sheilaforward5.com

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