The Reno City Clerk’s Office is the place to retrieve unfiltered government information
The primary is past; the Nov. 5 general election is only weeks away. It’s a political truism that most voters don’t pay attention to campaigns until after Labor Day. This is perhaps quantifiable by the numbers who eschewed voting in the primary election. In Washoe County, voters stayed away from the polls in droves, with 74.44 percent not casting a ballot in the primary.
But Labor Day is gone, and voters suddenly want to get informed, but where can they get trustworthy information? Can they turn to the mainstream press, like the Reno Gazette-Journal, expecting unbiased reports? Old television and radio reports may still be bouncing around in the atmosphere, but after the evening news broadcast airs, they’re a little hard to access. Perhaps voters can turn to alternative newspapers, like this one, for objective reports. All of these solutions have their benefits and drawbacks—the daily newspaper (and its Web site) is most comprehensive; TV and radio are most timely; the alternative offers news that may not appear in other media. Some people are satisfied with some or all of these options; others want to find some things out for themselves.
For the Reno city elections, the place to go for unfiltered information is the Reno City Clerk’s Office. And, that’s not just for election records, but also for a wealth of historic and current local government documents.
Lynnette Jones, 40, is acting Reno city clerk. She took over when City Clerk Don Cook retired on July 12. She’s serving on a probationary status until Nov. 15, when the City Council will evaluate her performance. The city clerk’s administration is made up of Jones, who’s been with the office for 17 years; Carmi Gundersen, who has 21 years behind the desk; and the newbie, Trish Curiel, who has been at the office for only 15 years.
From a local-election perspective, the most useful data under Jones’ care comes from the contributions and expenditure reports that have to be filed regularly. The electorate sees a spate of news stories based on these reports, generally for about a week after they are filed. The next filing will be Oct. 29, one week before the general election. The C&Es are usually free for the public, but as a general rule of thumb the first two pages of documents are free and, thereafter, 25 cents a page.
But information the public can mine about incumbents goes deeper. The City Clerk’s Office is in charge of keeping records of all council actions. That means that things such as how a particular councilperson voted on an issue or how often the mayor missed council meetings can be gleaned from the city clerk’s database. Some of this information can be found on the clerk’s Web site, but more can be had from the Clerk’s Index, which can be accessed at the front desk of the Clerk’s Office in Reno City Hall, 490 S. Center St.
The Clerk’s Index includes a searchable database of the minutes of Reno City Council meetings going back to about 1994. This information can also be found on the clerk’s Web site, www.cityofreno.com/city_clerk. Older, cross-referenced City Council data, 1987-94, can also be had at the clerk’s office computer, and for pre-digital-era information, the card catalog goes from about the mid-1940s to 1987. The Clerk’s Office also keeps audio and video records of council meetings (audio tapes are $6; videos are $20).
Reno City Councilwoman Toni Harsh says the city clerk is an invaluable source of information for anyone who wants to research Reno government, including herself.
“I use the City Clerk as a huge resource for anything I need background information on—what were the minutes, what were the motions that we did,” she says. “I also use it to retrieve past actions and motions and direction [to staff]. The Clerk’s Office is often the first connection to our residents; this is where they file various things they need to do. If you are going to file for office, you need to go there. If you have questions about public records, you need to go there. The city clerk is one of our best functioning offices.”
The Clerk’s Office also maintains copies of staff reports, the information that council members have before them when they vote. These staff reports are stored on microfilm, but soon records going back to January 2001 will be converted to computer files. The clerk is also in charge of sending in the quarterly changes to the Reno Municipal Code for codification (to be put into the books). Copies of the Reno Municipal Code are kept at the office or can be accessed through the clerk’s Web site.
The clerk is also in charge of recruitment, submissions of applications to council and the maintenance of the rosters of the city’s behind-the-scenes boards, commissions and committees—volunteer opportunities for some and the first steps for others who eventually want to seek public office.
The Clerk’s Office is also in charge of making copies for all of Reno government, central cashiering, the administration of certain types of appeals and keeping records of conditions for special projects.
Jones was in charge of doing the Reno City Council minutes for 16 years before her provisional move into the top spot. She has actually logged more time at City Council meetings than citizen activist Sam Dehné, who calls himself the encyclopedia of local government. Jones says the key to operating a successful Clerk’s Office is to keep Reno residents happy.
“Customer service above all," she says. "People who come into City Hall and deal with our office know that if they come in here, we’ll do everything we can to get them the right information, the right answer and do it with a smile. We won’t give them the big runaround, ‘Oh, you’ve got to go over here.' That’s one of the things that we’ve always prided ourselves on—the fact that we can get you the right answer. We’ll do the footwork, and we’ll make the phone calls, rather than send people running all over every which direction."