Back to brass tacks

Members of the public are rarely treated to the kind of in-your-face, government-for-the-wealthy scenario that was laid bare for all to see in the Lazy 8 bullshit that went down in Sparks in the last two weeks.

Here’s a quick synopsis (feel free to skip past the italics if you know all this):
On Aug. 24, the Sparks City Council voted against a casino development to go on Pyramid Highway out in Spanish Springs. There was a great deal of grassroots activity against it (some funded by Ascuaga’s Nugget). Super-lobbyist Harvey Whittemore and the Peppermill filed a $100 million lawsuit against the city, claiming that the decision violated a 1994 agreement. Ultra-adjudicatorman, Sparks City Attorney Chet Adams, then sprang into action, asking each Councilmember, individually and in private, whether they would give him carte blanche to negotiate an out-of-court settlement. According to Adams, they abdicated their responsibility to him. The out-of-court settlement turned out to be that he simply overturned the City Council’s vote. Nevada Attorney General George Chanos then jumped up, said, “You guys can’t privately abdicate; you have to do it in a public meeting.” Now, the Sparks City Council is set to vote publicly at 3 p.m. Sept. 20 on whether to allow Adams to negotiate the out-of-court settlement without requiring its own final approval of whatever scheme he comes up with.

The only way this scenario could be more screwed up is if we were making it up. What has been totally ignored in the most recent parts of this debate is the question of whether the casino will negatively impact traffic, schools, quality of life and the environment for Sparks citizens.

Call it a gloriously ironic aside: Chet Adams—forgetting the Sparks residents who are really his clients—secretly polls the councilmembers and then claims attorney-client privilege. But if the councilmembers were to poll each other to find out if Adams is telling the truth about what he says each of them said, it’s a violation of Nevada’s Open Meeting laws.

OK, here are some bullet points to keep us moving right along:

• Private polling of councilmembers does not constitute a public vote.

• If it were a vote, then, by virtue of its illegality, its results should be null.

• Even if a member of the Sparks City Council wanted to abdicate his or her role as representative of the citizens of Sparks rather than publicly stick a thumb up a lobbyist’s patootie, members could not pick and choose. Most reasonably, they’d resign. When other city councilmembers are too cowardly to stand up and be counted, they just don’t show up to meetings. Sparks councilmembers swore an oath to do their job, and this ain’t that. This is dereliction of duty.

• It’s legally questionable whether the Council can abdicate its authority to approve settlements with misunderstood barons of industry. Chet Adams can negotiate, but the Council is required to OK the agreement.

None of this gets at the real issues—the impact of a neighborhood casino on schools, traffic, and other indices of quality of life. Those, not the legal dispute, should be the first concern on the council when it meets on Sept. 20. It should return to the original issues of zoning and planning: Is the planned casino development on Pyramid Way good for the community—meaning the people who live in Sparks—or is it only good for the lawyers? Because the lawyers are going to win either way.