A primer for the establishment

RGJ columnist Frank Partlow offers his opinion on area issues

Those who have enjoyed—or detested—Frank Partlow’s bimonthly columns in the Reno Gazette-Journal should check out his first book, Observation Point: An Outsider’s Look Inside Northern Nevada. The 180-page book, a collection of Partlow’s Sunday columns, serves as a primer for those who want to understand the interests that motivate some local government leaders.

“My book’s chapters are organized as a guide through our area’s public policy thickets,” Partlow writes. “My hope is that these reflections from my observation point will help citizens better understand public policy in their local community.”

Observation Point is organized into 10 chapters and addresses issues that confront the Truckee Meadows and the state, including growth, public services, education reform and the key to effective unions between local government and the public sector. He also offers some thoughtful musings on health and family.

Partlow suggests that the tax base be expanded in some areas to address state budget shortfalls, such as broadening the sales tax to include all goods and services. The author partially blames unionized state and local employees for instances when the expenditures of growth exceeded the revenues to pay for them, and he specifically questions the staffing polices of fire departments. He reiterates his disdain for organized labor in the state’s education system; he blames the teachers’ unions, with their tremendous political clout, for halting meaningful reform.

“Nobody cares less [about student achievement] than teachers’ unions, which are focused more on political power and money,” Partlow writes.

On local government, Partlow repeats the mantra that representative democracy should take precedence over popular opinion on issues such as the downtown Reno train trench project.

“Representative democracy requires leaders to know that they can’t arrive at wisdom by polling ignorance,” he writes.

He also writes about bond issues that are perceived to lose public support.

“Any bond issue appearing to primarily benefit certain interests—downtown, judges or ‘fat cats'—will fail, period,” he writes. “Putting such issues before the voters is pointless.”

As for the controversial issue of redevelopment, Partlow regards it as necessary for getting blighted areas back on the tax rolls. He refers to critics of redevelopment with a term coined by former Vice President Spiro Agnew: “nattering nabobs of negativism.”

Other issues he covers include how to make local government meetings run more smoothly and effectively. He criticizes citizen activists who attend local government meetings frequently and berate elected officials.

Partlow’s claim to be an outsider (as the book’s subtitle implies) is deceiving, considering that he is the ultimate insider in local government circles. As executive director of the Northern Nevada Network, he introduces himself as merely “an analyst, consultant, information gatherer and reporter serving my clients.”

However, current and former local elected officials say Partlow is more of a gatekeeper for the clients, their political support and their campaign contributions. These clients have included casinos, the building industry and at one time, former Reno Gazette-Journal publisher Sue Clark-Johnson.

Although Partlow, a retired Army brigadier general, applies his impressive analytical skills in his observations, his relationship with the above-mentioned interests raises questions about the objectivity of his information, since those interests have the most to gain from his ideal form of government.