By Nicole Barde
I attended the County Commissioners meeting held on Tuesday July21st. The meeting summary released thru Pat Whitten’s office is below this article. I just have a couple of things to add to that summary.
The first thing is that I asked about the status of the purchase of the Freight Depot. Marshal McBride said that they were still in negotiations. I then asked what the purpose/use of the depot would be and he said that it could have a number of uses such as a convention center, a terminus for the rail line or to be preserved as an historic treasure since the County is in the practice of buying buildings of historical significance to preserve them. Yes, like the bank building deal, but I digress.
This was interesting to me since during Hugh Gallagher’s staff update Hugh mentioned that he and others had met with rail commission members to work out getting an audit done to determine where the money we’ve sent them has gone. It is supposed to go to operations but they have purchased quite a bit of real estate and equipment since the original 1995 agreement and even since the 2011 agreement that falls outside what they said the money was going toward. That’s why we want an audit and have stopped sending them the ¼ cent sales tax revenues. No audit, no money.
Jack McGuffey added that “they’re pretty much broke” and would need help from the county to conduct the audit. They need the money we have been withholding in order to continue operations. We won’t release the money until they abide by the current interlocal and give us an accounting of what they have spent the money on. Jack also said something about getting the Drako property as collateral but it is unclear to me what that ” collateral” would be for. At any rate, it concerns me that it has gotten to the point where the rail line, a true American historic treasure, is so compromised. Storey County has been the main source of funding to the Rail Commission and the commission has run the Line into the ground. Carson City has also contributed to the Line but that’s it.
Apparently the State of Nevada and the Governor doesn’t consider this a problem since I haven’t heard or seen what, if anything, is being done to either replace that Commission, create a new business plan and business model, or to help get the other Nevada counties to contribute to its support. It is on Storey County’s back to do it. I love the rail road and don’t want to see it go bankrupt but do we really want to be in the rail business? Just a question, not a criticism. We’ll have to wait to see what happens here.
The second thing I’d like to comment on is communication. Specifically the county’s attitude about what they feel their job is in communicating to Storey County residents.
As part of Board comments during the Commissioners meeting Lance Gilman said that he was disappointed in the misunderstanding by the Highlands community of what the process has been to get inputs to the County’s Master Plan. He said that at a recent Planning meeting people took things out of context and misconstrued the intent and the Master Plan process. He further stated that the Master Plan discussion item has been on the agenda for months and is posted on the County website. Nothing is being hidden. This is in reference to Highlands residents being upset because the detail of exactly what was going to be discussed at the recent Planning meeting was not spelled out in the agenda and wasn’t spelled out until the day of the meeting.
If the county were a business that would be called blaming the customer for being too stupid to understand how to work the product. The next step is to tell the customer that “it’s all in the owner’s manual so go read it.” The manual of course is incomprehensible or is missing key pieces of information. But hey, the company did its job of providing it for customers to find and use.
A lot of conversation ensued on the Highlands chat board around this lack of timely and detailed information on the content of the agenda item. I wrote about it in my summary of the Planning meeting posted on July 17th. So yes, we know we should read the Master Plan which weighs 12 pounds from end to end…but we’re kind of busy living lives so we pay you and rely on you (County) to tell us when we should pay attention if/when something will affect us. Yes we know that we should all be attending all County meetings to be an informed resident but we’re kind of busy living lives so we pay you and rely on you to give us key points and information about what happened in those meetings and when we should pay attention if/when something will affect us.
Now to be fair, the Planning Commissioners are all volunteers (THANK YOU!) and it’s their job to review, advise and approve the key activities of the Planning Department. Austin Osborn is the head of the Planning Department determines the agenda for the meetings and among other things has the gigantic task of revising the Master Plan based on community input. I believe both parties are doing a good job overall. The issue for me is the overall attitude I’ve heard from the County (paid employees and elected officials) on this particular communication issue. It basically amounts to “let them eat cake”.
During the back and forth on the Highlands message board Bill Sjovangen, former Highlands district commissioner stated ” It is not the responsibility of the County commissioners or any other county employee to spoon feed you information. Master plan workshops are just that, workshops. It even says on the agenda, No Action, discussion only. You indicate that you have better things to do than read official postings. How are people supposed to communicate to you?”
It appears that the County feels that its job of “communication” is done when they publish something and we’re supposed to find it and figure out its relevance for us or for our community. Their communications goal is “get it out there”….and so that’s what they do. But it is not EFFECTIVE communication. In order to declare that the communication was effective you need to know that it was received and understood….and they don’t care to do that…too much work for them. WE are the ones working to figure out relevance, impact, implications, value and consequences outside of any context. WE have to work for it.
Until the recent owners took over, the Comstock Chronicle regularly published reports on all of the county’s meetings. People would get a lot of their information from those reports since they were very detailed and took no sides. Just the facts. I say “reports” not “articles” since it was basically a transcription of the meetings and people would take out of it what they needed. Essentially the Chronicle functioned as an effective, reliable and easy means of communication to residents. That no longer happens now so there is a vacuum of easily accessible information. Additionally, Jack McGuffey, County Commissioner, doesn’t feel it is his job to communicate anything to his district, the Highlands. I don’t know if the other commissioners do either but the election is coming up so maybe they will be more visible in their communications.
Now, if the County’s communication goal was “to ensure that residents are informed and UNDERSTAND how County policies and actions will affect them” they might be doing different things. Otherwise it’s like throwing the encyclopedia Britannica in a room of children and saying “here’s your education work for it”. Residents are not children nor stupid we deserve more than being told “go work for it”.
Successful organizations know that the key to financial success is to value the customer and make it easy for the customer to use the product, understand the product and so make it easy for customers to do business and communicate with the company. WE ARE THE CUSTOMER.
I know that the commissioners know how to communicate effectively because this is what they do during their elections. The make absolutely SURE that the residents know who they are and what they will do. They do this thru multiple communication channels……repeatedly. They make it easy for people to contact them. They attend and host endless forums and meetings in order to make absolutely SURE that people understand their key points. If someone is not sure about what the candidate is saying the candidate is right there at your house to carefully explain it to you until you understand.
THAT is effective communication. I know they know how to do it….they just won’t do it after they are elected.
GENERAL COMMISSION MEETING SUMMARY
From Pat Whitten’s office:
An update on flood issues, specifically in the Mark Twain Estates area, was given by the Emergency Management office. There has been damage to landscaping, driveways and drainage, road and infrastructure, along with some structural damage.
Storey County, along with the State and other Counties, will be analyzing losses to determine if these flood events would qualify for FEMA funding. SBA funding for low interest may be available for low-income residents.
There has been an impressive response to the flooding from residents. County staff is focused on what can be done to mitigate damage in the future.
An income survey will begin in the fall for Mark Twain residents. This survey is very important as it will hopefully qualify that area for federal grants and loan programs. Residents are urged to participate.
The Virginia City Highlands Community Awareness Day is Saturday, July 25 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Highlands Fire Station. This is a time for residents to come together and learn about services in their community.
Save the date for the Storey County Health Fair, Saturday, November 7 at Piper’s Opera House. Flu shot clinics will be held at the Virginia City Senior Center October 13, at the Lockwood Community Center October 14, and Mark Twain October 21.
A Town Hall meeting is planned in Mark Twain August 27 at the Mark Twain Community Center.
National Night Out is scheduled for August 4 at Miners Park in Virginia City and Louise Peri Park in Lockwood from 4 to 7 p.m.
The USDA has a program to assist residents with wells. Income guidelines do apply to this program. Information is available from Cherie Nevin in Community Services and Austin Osborne in Planning.
The revision of the Master Plan is continuing. Meetings are being held throughout the County at which time residents can discuss and provide input regarding what they would and would not like to see in the Master Plan. It is important, welcome, and critical for the community to provide comments. This would help alleviate disappointment and misunderstandings in the final Master Plan. The comments become part of the official record as back-up for the Master Plan.
Austin Osborne, Senior Planning Officer, will be in attendance at the Virginia City Highlands Barbeque July 25. Mr. Osborne will be available to answer questions concerning the Master Plan.
The County is pleased to announce the re-opening of Fire Station 75 at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center August 10.
COMMISSIONER VOTING ITEMS
The Commission approved the appointment of Ron Englebrecht as Planning Commissioner for precinct 4 (Mark Twain) to the Storey County Planning Commission.
Approved and accepted a Community Development Block Grant for cab and chassis upgrades to the Storey County Fire Protection District, Lockwood, ambulance.
The District Attorney’s office has committed to begin investigation and follow-up on nuisance properties within the County.
Commissioners approved nine new business licenses: