Freedom of what speech?

Say what you will about Reno watchdog Sam Dehné, who plagues officials with complaints and nit-picky questions. The fact that he cares enough to spend so many hours breathing down the necks of public officials gives me hope.

The fact that he exists—and that he’s allowed to have his say at the many public meetings he attends—allows me to maintain the fragile belief that this really is a free country.

He counts his presence as a deterrent against funky shenanigans by the elected ones: “There’s no one else overseeing all the governments. When I think about what could be going on …”

Like the time the Reno City Council almost voted, without discussion, to approve doubling parking meter fees. Dehné caught the unidentified item on an agenda, looked the issue up and used his public comment time to urge the council to hold off the vote. They did. In the interim, Dehné organized a citizen’s initiative against the fee hike. The council voted the whole thing down.

One fanatic can make a difference.

Critics like Dehné confound public officials, who say they are merely trying to accomplish what they believe is best for us. But I say local government needs more Sams. That’s why it’s important that a U.S. Magistrate recommended last week that two existing Nevada statutes—which discourage free speech by imposing possible fines or criminal prosecution on complaining citizens—be ruled unconstitutional, using a standard set by a landmark 1964 U.S. Supreme Court case, New York Times v. Sullivan.

“The Sullivan ruling protected not only inquisitive journalists, but also gadflies such as Mr. Dehné, citizens who are suspicious of the activities of government officials and who make nuisances of themselves if necessary to arrive at the truth,” a Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial said.

It’s hard enough to get people to care about politics—witness voter turnout at local elections. Now we’re going to fine them (see News story at right) for caring enough to ask questions, when it looks like an elected official is making decisions based on what might, say, profit that official’s personal enterprise?


Public involvement needs to be encouraged. Anyone can make a public comment during a Reno City Council meeting. You just fill out a form and hand it to the city clerk (sitting up in front by the council). When it’s time, you can digress an agenda item or the topic of your choice for three minutes.

“We have had people talk about just about every conceivable subject … from lighting on their street, compliments to city employees and discussion of traffic safety to international trade policy and alien invasion,” says city spokesman Chris Good. “The City Council Chamber belongs to the public, and everyone has the opportunity to use that podium to express themselves to their elected representatives.”

The community would be well-served if more individuals took advantage of this chance to be heard. It’s a free country. Speak accordingly.