Misused forum

Something new happened this week. The “state of the city” speech was not given by the mayor of Reno.

Candidly, we think these “state of” occasions have grown far beyond their worth. We now have “state of the state,” “state of the city,” “state of the judiciary,” “state of the university” speeches. Only one of them is called for by law. They are mostly media events—occasions staged to generate publicity.

That’s all well and good. They happen only once a year and are almost always forgettable, so they’re reasonably painless.

But if we are going to have them, they should be given by a policymaker. City Manager Andrew Clinger is not an adequate substitute.

No one elected Clinger to anything. The public doesn’t know him—it knows Mayor Cashell. He has no authority except as an extension of the Reno City Council and mayor. He is accountable only to them, not to the public. They are the ventriloquists. So why send him out front?

Clinger used to be the state budget director. Imagine his giving the “state of the state” speech to the Legislature, and it becomes apparent how inappropriate this is.

Mayor Cashell faces the voters. He’s the one who is accountable to them. Insulating him from informing the public from such a forum on such an occasion makes no sense, as became apparent when—after the speech—reporters turned to Cashell, who then defended the sunny, optimistic tone of the speech.

That’s another thing. If the Council and mayor are unwilling to give the public bad news, raising questions of credibility in these difficult times, they could at least do it themselves.

We’re not knocking Clinger. He served the state well when Gov. Jim Gibbons was barely involved in running state government, and he bore burdens that should have been carried by the governor. He then took on a city government with problems just as difficult—if not more so—than the state’s, and has handled them well.

But the public bestows these forums on policymakers. They should not be transferable.

According to the city’s charter, the mayor “must be recognized as the head of the city government for all ceremonial purposes,” and as such, Reno’s mayor serves as a spokesperson not just for the city but often for the Council. That has been particularly true of Cashell, who when first elected faced a Council that could not agree on naptime. He then devoted considerable missionary work to welding them into a team that, if not always in agreement, at least works together.

The public statements of appointees of public officials have import and authority only so far as they represent the views of the officials who made the appointment. In the future, it would be better if the city removed the middleperson and had this annual message delivered by the mayor or a councilmember. Why send a photocopy when the original is available—and is accountable to the public for the message delivered?