Follow the hypocrisy

As a self-confessed conservative, there are two things I absolutely despise in this world. The first is certain elected officials who can’t grasp a rather simple concept: They’re supposed to be guardians for the constituency they represent.

The second is bureaucracy—any bureaucracy, whether corporate or government inspired. As a general rule, bureaucracies reward sloth and waste. In the private sector, corporate bureaucracies are occasionally forced by market conditions to cut wasteful spending, become more efficient and cost effective. Not so the government, which is why conservatives continue to rally against expanding government. The one we have barely functions as it is and requires a major overhaul.

So, imagine my surprise when I learned that the Reno City Council had recently approved a 15-year contract with Charter Communications, currently Reno’s only cable service provider. The contract was approved despite a number of objections referencing Charter’s abysmal customer service record.

Prior to the vote, the council spent some $57,000 on a study of Charter’s service record. The study stated that Charter had “failed on every level” to provide adequate customer service. In addition, a citizens’ committee formed by the city to represent cable customers’ interests also recommended against the 15-year term.

Charter’s excuse was that the study was conducted during an “upgrade.” Even if that’s true, Charter failed miserably to plan adequately for its “upgrade” and the resulting impact on subscribers—not exactly a shining example of corporate bureaucracy in action.

Ultimately, however, subscribers shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of Charter’s operational problems, unintentional or otherwise. Charter has had a lock on cable services for the last 15 years. Any company that provides services to the public should be held accountable for its actions by the public’s representatives. That should have been the City Council.

Despite objections of council members who wanted the city’s financial advisory board to review the contract first, Councilman Dwight Dortch wanted the council to vote right away to approve Charter’s contract.

Councilman Dave Aiazzi also voted for the contract because he wanted to support the 300-plus people who work for Charter locally. Aiazzi apparently felt that, because there were no other cable companies seeking to negotiate with Reno, this was the best we could do. I guess it never occurred to anyone to pick up the telephone and inquire of other cable companies if they’d be interested in our fair city. It’s nice to know the venerable councilman is looking out for Charter’s employees at the expense of the rest of his constituency.

Of course, when you realize the contract is reported to be worth millions to Reno in fees and grants from Charter, including 5 percent of Charter’s gross annual revenue, the rationale for the council’s motives becomes clear.

So, in what passes for leadership, the City Council predictably approved the agreement in a 4-2 vote, granting Charter yet another 15-year contract. To their credit, Councilwomen Jessica Sferrazza and Toni Harsh voted against the contract.

Fortunately, the contract with Charter is not exclusive. That means other cable companies can also negotiate with the city to provide services. Although, in light of this type of leadership, I wouldn’t expect we’d do any better.

I’d like to know why the council ignored the citizens’ committee’s recommendations. More important, why did the council waste $57,000 on a study, if it was going to ignore the findings? Most important, which of the four stalwart guardians of the public trust who voted in favor of this contract is going to repay the city the wasted $57,000?