Brekhus's questions serve the public

Reno City Councilmember Jenny Brekhus is asking the hard questions.

Brekhus wants to know why new regulations allow ugly billboards with dangerous bright lights that residents have clearly stated they don’t want. She wonders why sewer fee increases can’t be spread out over several years to help people adjust to the higher expense. Now she’s asking the council to have a serious discussion to weigh priorities before dumping another million dollars into a mini ski resort, Sky Tavern, while other recreational needs go unfunded.

She’s doing her job as the council member from Ward 1, performing due diligence by studying issues carefully, questioning city staff reports, and resisting the urge to “go along” with her colleagues when she thinks they’re wrong. She’s willing to take the heat from business people who are used to getting whatever they want. She’s absorbing testy complaints from Renoites with a romanticized memory of learning to ski at Sky Tavern without becoming defensive because she wants to make rational decisions based on data instead of emotions.

As a Ward I resident, I’m very happy with my councilmember and the way she votes. I don’t have time to look into the pros and cons of every city issue and listen to long hours of testimony and public comment. But I know Brekhus does her homework, and I trust her judgment.

Brekhus is the council’s liaison to the city Parks and Recreation Commission where she must balance competing demands for city facilities, including pool and field allocations, a job others shy away from because there are no easy answers. Someone is always going to be upset when their favored recreational desire is denied funding.

The controversy over Sky Tavern illustrates why we need thoughtful elected officials with the ability to rationally discuss difficult and emotional policy issues. There’s not a replenishing money tree in front of City Hall. Reno has many unmet needs, and many debts, thanks to the give-aways approved by prior councils for their corporate buddies.

But there are people in our city who wish Brekhus would stop asking her questions. Consider the series of very negative comments posted on Brekhus’ Facebook page by Abbi Whitaker, a local public relations professional, basically egging people on in a very public “Let’s save our ski resort from the evil council member” campaign.

Brekhus calmly responded in her no-nonsense, methodical style.

She gave details about subsidies the city has provided over the past 10 years to keep Sky Tavern operational, about $133,000 a year. She pointed out the capital budget commitment this year is $620,000, with more to come in the future. She then compared those figures to the overall parks budget which is $9.3 million this year, compared to the $19.3 million budgeted for parks in 2008.

In her post, Brekhus reiterated her call to fully understand the city’s long-term support of Sky Tavern and how its financial concerns mesh with other recreational demands for pools, tennis courts and soccer fields. She also noted competing community priorities such as restoring police and fire staffing levels and building new stations.

Brekhus concluded by welcoming the engagement of all the people who care about Sky Tavern into the multi-year master planning process to help the council be “strategic in the post-recession era.”

Instead of criticizing Brekhus for raising difficult issues about spending priorities, we should be thanking her for doing her job so well. She’s a rare leader with the courage to dig into thorny problems and find the best solutions.

Instead of using childhood memories of skiing at Sky Tavern to intensify a whisper campaign against Brekhus on social media, Whitaker should be praising her vision and commitment to a well-managed city, wisely considering the recreational needs of everyone.