Go easy, Mayor
Mayor Hillary Schieve seems determined to take a hand in code compliance in the city. She applied for a city job as a code compliance officer so she can deal personally with blight. She appears to have been blocked by law, though she says she’ll try again.
This is an innovative approach, and the mayor deserves praise for thinking outside usual approaches to governing. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the inspector’s job is a good idea.
One person’s blight is another person’s beauty, and we have only the mayor’s word for it that what she has been doing is policing blight. She doesn’t get to decide, all on her own, what is or is not unattractive. Blight is defined, much too vaguely, in both Reno city ordinances and Nevada Revised Statutes, and a city inspector needs to be well versed and trained in those legalities in order to avoid involving the city in litigation.
There are plenty of things in midtown, for instance, that some people would consider blight, but its businesspeople would not.
In addition, the mayor needs to get a better grasp on the nuances of her duties and exercise greater restraint in invoking the city’s authority. She is a business owner and a part-time mayor. Going around pressuring other business owners can easily be seen as harassment and a misuse of the mayoralty. She is fortunate that the news coverage of this dispute so far has been congenial. But imagine if this story had started out with complaints from other businesspeople about her throwing her weight and the city’s power around against them.
She told the Reno Gazette-Journal, “When someone sees the mayor walk into their business, they’re like, Oh my god!”
There’s another issue, too. Schieve—starting early in her public career—developed a reputation for hostility toward homeless people, and when she starts using the term blight, it again raises fears that she may use that term broadly to include human beings. At about the same time her venture into code inspection became public, someone from Occupy Reno (and who knew there's still an Occupy Reno?) posted a report that mentions the mayor and the homeless:
“Today we came at 6:30 a.m. to provide support and protection to our friends without homes underneath the Wells Bridge who had until 7 a.m. to move out of their camp. ’Look,’ [an officer] said, ’We’ve been letting you guys stay here for a month now. And the mayor drove past here and saw it on her way to talk about the affordable housing over there.’ ’Where are we going to go?’ the woman asked. The officer came up with a couple of ideas, like the already full overflow shelter, and temporary housing for her dog. (This service has a max of 5 days which is not enough time for most to get on their feet.) The gesture was nice but not helpful in this instance.”
The report is unsigned, so it’s difficult to give it too much credibility. But it is an indication of the suspicion with which the mayor is regarded on homeless issues. She says she is still determined to get some kind of authority for her freelance inspecting. “There has to be a way,” she said last week. “I will work around the hurdles.”
They may not be hurdles. They may be restraints. And they may serve a purpose.