Give ’em hell, Jenny
Jenny Brekhus is a breath of fresh air on a Reno City Council that is seeing some much needed new blood due to term limits.
Her claim to fame? Asking lots of questions about agenda items, large and small, and questioning time-honored privileges of the good ol’ boys who have run the Council like a fiefdom for many years, and who see any challenge to their positions as an insulting personal attack.
During the Legislative session, the councilwoman was in hot water with the mayor and most members of the Council because she refused to endorse the fight against ward voting, and in fact, was quite open about her reasons for believing council members should be elected by a specific ward, not city-wide. When she and Councilman Delgado were on the losing end of a vote to oppose SB 457, she was told to shut up about her views since the majority opinion was the only one that should be heard by legislators.
I’ve never understood the insistence of local elected bodies to “speak as one voice” and deny those who disagree with a particular vote the opportunity to speak openly about their views. As a constituent of Councilmember Brekhus, I deserve to know not only how she voted on a controversial issue but why she voted the way she did. The Council didn’t elect her; we, the people did.
The latest scrape between the councilwoman and the mayor was over the mayor’s authority to issue proclamations, a privilege he has used at times to advance his own views despite the City Charter’s direction that he is to issue them when there’s an emergency or for ceremonial purposes only.
The Reno Gazette-Journal posted the entire discussion in the Reno Memo blog under the helpful title “The interpersonal state of the Reno City Council in one discussion.” It’s a fascinating and revealing glimpse into the dynamics of our current City Council.
Brekhus states the Council has received a confidential attorney-client memo from the city attorney on the issue, which is not available to the public. She says she’s not allowed to reference the memo’s content, effectively shutting down her ability to have a productive public discussion.
Setting aside the question of what on earth could be so confidential about issuing proclamations that a secret memo from the Council’s attorney would be needed, the discussion quickly detours into a lecture from Councilman Dortch who says, “It’s amazing that this is really this big of a deal … it’s a little ridiculous.” Others chirp in the background, egging on his rude behavior, denigrating Brekhus for even raising the concern.
Even Deputy City Attorney Tracy Chase manages a disdainful tone, as if she’s patiently explaining the family rules to a recalcitrant child for the 10th time.
Brekhus tries valiantly to get her colleagues back on track, repeatedly assuring the mayor her intent is not to challenge any particular proclamation, but rather the mayor’s unwritten authority to unilaterally use them to promote his public policy priorities. She suggests the Council should codify the unwritten practice in its rules or charter to clarify how and why proclamations are issued.
Everyone ignores this suggestion, and the mayor explodes as he insists she is personally attacking him, whining it’s because “You don’t like what I do.”
In a final petulant display of animosity, Councilwoman Zadra who doesn’t engage in the discussion at all, is recognized by the mayor. She tells Brekhus in a disrespectful and snippy tone of voice: “If you have a motion, we’ll see if you have a second.”
Hang in there, Councilwoman Brekhus. There’s another election soon, and Reno voters will have a chance to elect a new mayor and replacements for Dortch and Zadra.
Let’s get some more like Jenny Brekhus.