IF YOU READ THIS REPORT YOU WILL KNOW THE MEANING OF THE TERM “LOOSE SCRUM” AND WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE AT A COUNTY COMMISSION MEETING.
By Nicole Barde.
This was a looong meeting. It had some very, very interesting items. You can find the agenda and the supporting materials HERE. You can find County Manager Pat Whitten’s summary HERE and the audio for this and other meetings are HERE.
It started off normally enough with staff updates. As the recently elected Chair of the Storey County Senior Center I gave a brief update that April Enloe is no longer with the Center and that we are currently advertising for a replacement Executive Director. I announced that Virginia Nevin is currently the interim Executive Director. Virginia is a godsend to the Center. She just recently retired and was loving a relaxed life but stepped forward to help out. She ran the center years ago so she knew what to do from day one. We are so lucky to have her. The Center is also looking for people interested in sitting on the Board of Directors since we have a few vacancies.
Jason Van Havel in the Planning Department said that once the Master Plan is approved that Planning will start to get thru some of the items that need some attention such as design standards, the signage standards for “C” street, and tattoo regulation. I believe there are health code issues to be worked out on this. He also said that several folks from both the Highlands and Mark Twain had volunteered to have their wells monitored and the USGS people are very pleased with the support. There will be a second presentation of the well data by the USGS for those who missed it. Jason mentioned that he is working with Carson City to look at developing a flood plan for the Mark Twain area.
Mike Nevin, Public Works Director, said that the Sewer project has been coordinating its activities with the archaeological group and it’s been determined that there may be up to 6 sensitive sites. One is a fully intact brick cistern that held 5000 gallons of water for the city in about 1870. He also announced that the pool will be closing on Sunday August 21st and Miners Park is still waiting for the new playground equipment. Finally, he announced his retirement at the end of this year after over 30 years of service.
County Manager Pat Whitten complimented the fantastic paint job that was just completed on the outside of Pipers. If you haven’t seen it you need to …very nice. He commented that given the high quality of the work and the great price that it’s time to get the Courthouse repainted back to the colors it was in the 40’s. He said that the annual report to the Legislature on the Tesla agreement is due in September and October. This year it will be on time and be more accurate. He also reported that since the police museum has moved out of the courthouse and generously left all of the display cases that establishing a county museum in that space makes sense. The initial meetings with the artifacts group will soon begin and so he announced the name of the new museum…………”The Courthouse Slammer and County Museum”…TA-DA!
During Board comment Commission Chair Marshall McBride announced that he had received a check for $37K from the Federal Government for lands they have in Storey County. It’s the Payment in Lieu of Taxes or PILT fee.
The next agenda item was the approval authorizing Pat Whitten to submit a Bill Draft Request (BDR) to the Legislature to restructure the V&T Railway Commission (Rail Commission). It would take the current Rail Commission from 9 to 5. It would have an elected official from Storey County and Carson City each, add both tourism directors and maintain the governor appointee. It would have Storey County running the books. This has been talked about in the Storey County commission meeting several times. Prior to that both Pat Whitten and Comptroller Hugh Gallagher have talked about the meetings that they were trying to schedule with the Rail Commission and talked about the meetings that they have HAD with the Rail Commission to discuss the issues as they see them . In 2014 they cut off sending funds to the Rail Commission because there was no response to their requests to get an accounting of where the Storey County portion of the funds are being used. I have attended the Rail Commission meetings for several years and I have brought up the issues and have reported on those meetings in this blog. So seeing this on the agenda and also seeing a couple of the Rail Commission members at the meeting I figured that this was no surprise to anyone since so much talking had been done. Boy was I wrong.
Pat Whitten opened the discussion by going thru some of the history as HE has experienced it, lauding the efforts of the current commission but also saying that there is no ROI for Storey County for the money it has given to the Rail Commission. He cited the numbers (in the agenda packet) that showed that every run loses money. He took great pains to say that the Rail Commission is not a failure it’s just that it’s time to do something different.
What happened after this is what baffled me. The image that popped into my mind halfway thru was of those Rugby guys in the huddle called a “scrum”. Here is the definition of “scrum”:
1. (Rugby) rugby the act or method of restarting play after an infringement when the two opposing packs of forwards group together with heads down and arms interlocked and push to gain ground while the scrum half throws the ball in and the hookers attempt to scoop it out to their own team. A scrum is usually called by the referee (set scrum) but may be formed spontaneously (loose scrum)
2. informal a disorderly struggle
What happened next was the equivalent of a political “loose scrum” or cluster and everyone was a hooker. After Pat Whitten , spoke then Candy Duncan from the Rail Commission stepped up to describe the history as SHE experienced it and she said that the Rail line was there to bring tourism and revenues to Northern Nevada not to make money for the train. Her recollection of history was a bit different than Pat’s. At some point Marshall chimed in with a description of history as HE experienced it in rebuttal to Candy’s version of her history. Among other things he said that Storey County operates like a business and although the train may never make a lot of money that we expect the Rail line to at least get the losses down. We want control of our money and are frustrated with the current Rail Commission.
At this point the Carson City Tourism Director spoke and basically said that he supported the BDR, especially adding the two tourism directors. Deny Dotson, VCTC Executive Director, followed and agreed that the train is there for tourism and tourism is an investment.
Side note: Yes, the Rail Commission advertising budget will be yet another source of revenue for his business RAD strategies to get paid from in addition to getting money from the VCTC which he runs as well. But I digress…………..
I got up and asked why the only person in the room, and probably in the region, who knows how to run a successful railroad, Tom Gray, isn’t on the reconstituted Rail Commission. Essentially Pat Whitten said, after praising Tom, that he would continue to be on the operations committee to give his input. Everyone praised Tom after that, but no one elected him to the new Rail Commission. After me, Carson City resident Bruce Kittress got up to also praise Tom and said that the Rail Commission should have, but didn’t listen, to Tom and threw him out.
Side note: There seems to be consensus that Tom knows how to run a rail line and more so I don’t understand why he is not a voting member and relegated to just an advisory role.
Then Dwight Millard got up. Dwight has been the Chair of the Rail Commission and the governor’s appointee. Here’s where it got weird for me. Dwight said that he was not opposed to having 5 members on the Rail Commission but that there was “lots of misinformation going on today. “ He described how successful the Commission had been in running the line and in spending advertising dollars. He asked “What’s broken?” then stated “YOU are the problem” to the Storey County Commissioners for their lack of “entity” involvement.
From this point forward there was back and forth between Dwight, Marshall, Pat Whitten and even DA Anne Langer disputing points of fact around the 2010 Interlocal agreement, Storey County’s request for audited financials from the Rail Commission, the stopping of funding by Storey County, and other things which eventually decayed to an adult version of “DID TOO!….DID NOT!…..DID TOO!….DID NOT! Only without the shouting.
And so here is where the image of the scrum popped into my mind. According to Dwight no one ever called him to say there was a problem and said that he “wished someone would have sat down and talked to me. “ This stunned me since I was in meetings where he talked about “talking to Storey County about the monies”. Situational amnesia I guess.
What played out for a good long time was a public conversation that one would assume had already happened before getting to this point. The public really didn’t need to see the sausage being made. I know I didn’t. In the end the BDR got approved but I was saddened to see all this play out the way it did.
The next item was the approval of the revised Master Plan. Austin Osborn and staff have been working on this for the better part of 7 years. It is detailed, it is laborious, it is technical it is more than most people would ever have the patience or skill to do. It is a magnum opus that should help preserve and protect our way of life as well as direct the actions of future commissions. Austin got the deserved recognition for the effort along with the Planning Commission and the staff. The Master Plan was approved.
I had to leave at this point but I viewed the video for the rest of this report.
Next up was the approval for the purchase of the Bucket of Blood properties adjacent to the Courthouse. The County has been leasing these properties for many years and the need for more parking is still critical in the eyes of the Commission. In order to improve the properties for appropriate parking, the county has to own it and so this is for the approval to buy it. Because Marshall is on the Commission, the DA’s office consulted with the ethics commission on how to do this and they responded that if the transaction is in the public interest then the property needs to be appraised before the purchase. This was done and the appraisal is in the packet. Escrow has been opened and the county will deposit the $200k purchase funds into it until July 2017 when the lease runs out. Meanwhile, since the county will have the money in escrow and have equitable ownership it allows them to start to get bids and begin the work prior to close of escrow in 2017.
Side note: They only just approved the lease a few meetings ago…….knowing that they were going to buy it, knowing since last year what approximately it would appraise for…why did they sign the lease all the way thru to 2017?
Bum Hess, Storey County School District lobbyist and former Commissioner, got up to say that the county has been after purchasing these properties for 40 years but that we didn’t have the money. That now we do have the money and he is thankful that the McBrides have finally decided to sell it to them.
Next was yet another work card appeal by a brothel worker. In a nutshell she did disclose her conviction of a violent crime in 2011. It was for assault with a deadly weapon. It was pleaded down to a misdemeanor. But …our ordinance does not allow the granting of a work card to anyone arrested/convicted of violence in any capacity. Meaning misdemeanor, felony with or without a gun.
She pleaded her case quite nicely saying that she has gotten out of that life, gone to rehab, is clean and sober, has another job knows that she won’t make that same mistake again and just wants to be a good mother and work. But…….our ordinance says NO to any violence regardless of how far back it is.
The other elements of the ordinance (drugs, embezzlement etc) have time limits on them such as “within the last 3 years” but the one on violence does not. Pat Whitten said that the brothel ordinance has been revised many times before and will likely be again. HUMMMMMM.
They denied the appeal on the basis that it would violate the ordinance.
There was an item 19 regarding correspondence on the denial of an agenda item. The agenda item request was for a business license for a medical marijuana dispensary on “C” street. The reason for the denial was because there was no commissioner who would sponsor its being added. You can read the correspondence in the agenda packet. I seem to recall some discussion a while ago about not wanting to have dispensaries in the county but I don’t think there is an actual ordinance yet.