Knock off the PR

Nevada has an excess of two commodities: (1) residents who want to be told what they want to hear, and (2) leaders who are willing to accommodate them—and chastise those who are not.

Here’s an example. On April 19, 2012, marketing strategic planner Lorna Shepard told the Commission on Economic Development that Nevada schools have a poor reputation. “There’s a belief there’s not a great education system,” she said. Gov. Brian Sandoval flared up, telling her, “I could point to anyone in the room, and they’d say that Nevada is not inferior to anywhere else.”

Of course, Shepard was absolutely correct, as Sandoval knew perfectly well—and the problem has gotten only worse since then. Perhaps if the governor had been less focused on whitewash and had listened to what he was being told, the state might not have lost the next three years and Sandoval would not now be scrambling at the Nevada Legislature to gain lost ground in its schools.

It is not the job of community leaders, least of all governors, to pander to local pride. It is their job to tell the public what it needs to hear.

Last month, Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve publicly expressed her unhappiness with the Reno Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority. “What they’ve been doing hasn’t been working, period,” she said at an RSCVA meeting. “The board absolutely is too large. A lot of the members are not engaged.”

At a more recent RSCVA meeting, member Cindy Carano was critical of Schieve for daring to criticize the authority. “I take offense,” she said, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal. “I think we all work very well together.”

Well, first of all, working well together is part of the problem. There is far too much coziness among the members, with the result that matters are not thoroughly debated and critically examined. Drift at the agency has become a topic both in the community and on the board. But the board has not rigorously and frankly debated the lack of direction and strategic planning so the public would have a sense of the problem. Less camaraderie and more discourse is needed.

But more to the point, Schieve, like Shepard, was saying what a lot of people have been saying—and the public needed to hear it.

Carano is a casino executive. Of course she wants positive public relations everywhere for business reasons. But on the board, she is a government official, and public relations defeats the purpose of governing as a route to good public policies.

It would be better if the RSCVA board were made up entirely of public officials from the three local governments who would be both more accountable to the public and would be able to clash and engage in explicit language and candor. Contention is healthy in governance.

Schieve said publicly what community leaders had been saying privately, as even some RSCVA board members acknowledge. Local leaders should have been following her example all along so the public would have been better informed. Nevada needs more rigorous debate and less “working together.”