Keeping up with the council
It’s been a year since Mayor Bob Cashell and two new City Council members were sworn into office. City leaders and observers are giving the new council high marks for getting stuff done. Indeed, despite a few setbacks—such as a lawsuit filed by Billy 3, developers who felt jilted out of a deal to put restaurants and a pool hall on the property across from the Century Riverside Theater—the council seems to be making progress.
“[The City Council] is functioning far better than it has in the recent past,” says Eric Herzik, UNR political science interim dean. “A lot of credit goes to Mayor Cashell. Even when [council members] disagree, it doesn’t have that bitter personal overtone that it had at the end of [former Mayor Jeff] Griffin’s term.”
Herzik points to the council’s recent decision to choose developers for two sore spots downtown—the contentious property across from the theater and the dirt lot formerly known as the historic Mapes Hotel.
“[Councilwoman] Toni Harsh, the Mapes plan wasn’t her No. 1 choice, but she didn’t go to the wall in a bitter attack on her fellow council members,” Herzik says. “She said, ‘I can live with this; let’s make it work.’ ”
For the most part, council members seem committed to their jobs, Herzik says. A recent look by the RN&R into council members’ attendance records showed that, for the most part, members aren’t missing many meetings.
The winner of the perfect attendance award is Dwight Dortch, the only council member who hasn’t missed a regular meeting. The Ward Four representative hasn’t even been late to a meeting since he was sworn in last November.
For the first few meetings after Dortch was sworn in, along with Mayor Bob Cashell and Ward Two’s Sharon Zadra, attendance for the entire council was perfect.
Council members Jessica Sferrazza-Hogan of Ward Three, Toni Harsh of Ward One and David Aiazzi of Ward Five and Mayor Cashell were all late once through Jan. 7, but the council meetings were at full attendance and got off to a solid start. The next meeting, on Jan. 14, At-Large Councilman Pierre Hascheff, Harsh and Sferrazza-Hogan were all absent.
During the first 21 regular meetings, there were a total of 13 absences, 10 by the four veteran members. Sferrazza-Hogan missed two meetings, one of which she was present for via telephone for 10 minutes. Hascheff missed two, Harsh four, and Aiazzi was absent twice. There were also a few late arrivals.
In his first 10 months, Mayor Cashell was five minutes late to one regular council meeting. He was absent from two meetings but partially participated in one of those via telephone. Zadra was not late to a single meeting but was absent once, participating via telephone as well.
“As council members, we are also on numerous subcommittees,” Sferrazza-Hogan said. Sferrazza has nine other appointed positions, including Reno Housing Authority member, Criminal Justice Advisory Committee member and Youth City Council liaison.
“Sometimes it can be a juggling contest trying to attend every meeting,” Sferrazza said. “According to new legislation, in order for anything to pass, we have to have four votes for the affirmative. When people are absent or have to abstain because of conflicts of interest, it can be frustrating.”
Although Harsh is the council member with the most absences from regular council meetings in the past year, it’s safe to say she keeps busy at her job, holding 12 other appointed local-government positions, including Regional Planning Governing Board member, Citizens Traffic Advisory Committee liaison and Senior Citizens Advisory Board alternate liaison.
Aiazzi holds the most appointments, with 18 positions. He’s the Regional Planning Governing Board chairman, the Regional Transportation Commission vice chairman and the Truckee Meadows Water Authority vice chairman, to name a few.
Four council seats will be up for grabs in 2004: Wards One, Three and Five and the at-large seat. The incumbents of these offices are Harsh, Sferrazza-Hogan, Aiazzi and Hascheff, respectively. All were elected in 2000.
As part-time political officers, many council members have regular jobs as well as other committee positions and may experience scheduling conflicts. When one council member misses a total of four meetings over the course of a year, it’s “certainly not excessive,” he says.Herzik points to past councils that have had serious attendance problems.
When a council member misses, say, one-third to half of the meetings, that person is missing key votes.
“They’re not participating when they’re there,” Herzik says. “They don’t even know what’s on the agenda. …
“If the issue is that your ‘real’ job is getting in the way, that excuse doesn’t play well. You have to make a choice—is it your business or the public’s business that comes first? This is probably the hardest part of being an elected politician in a so-called part-time position.”
Mayor Cashell said he could not remember a time that attendance was a problem.
“As long as we all do our homework, there is no problem,” he said.
News Editor Deidre Pike contributed to this story.