The secret dossier

It’s difficult to know who came off looking worst among the players in the Case of the Dirty Dancers Dossier.

There was City Attorney Karl Hall, who spent money doing the kind of thing we have the Reno Police Department to do. Using police to spy on strip joints would have meant using agents who must be accountable to the public. Hiring a private detective firm means using agents who must be accountable to whoever pays the bill, like asking a barber for a haircut. Surprise! The private detectives found just what the city attorney wanted them to find. And then, although Hall said the material gathered was for use in a possible lawsuit, what did he do with it? In serial meetings, his office briefed members of the city council who were about to vote on cracking down on the strip clubs, something Hall should never have allowed if he wanted to keep the report under wraps on grounds of attorney-client privilege. He was plainly using the report to influence the vote.

Then there was the Reno City Council, which was upset for the wrong reasons. Some members—and certainly the mayor—persist in believing that the city attorney works for them. There is no excuse for using this dispute to disrupt the proper relationship between counsel and council. The city attorney, as an independent elected official, is free to give the council the advice it needs, not what it wants to hear. The legislature, thank goodness, was prevented by a governor’s veto from making the city attorney positions in Reno and Sparks appointive, and the city council should stop acting like they are.

The council also dropped the ball by seemingly using the information in the report to make their decision when the report’s authors were not subject to questions by both the council and the club representatives in open meetings. This is raw investigative material, the kind of thing that should not have been swallowed whole, particularly given the fact that the contents alleged criminal activity, and the council has no way of determining its credibility.

Finally, it’s appalling that the council spent the time it did on this peewee of a topic—strip clubs—when good people in the city are starting to feel real pain from the out-of-control effects of economic development.

As for the strip clubs themselves, if any of the findings in the undercover report are true, the owners have only themselves to blame for the bad publicity. Strip clubs are always under greater review than most businesses, and they surely knew that in recent months they were under especially vigorous scrutiny because of complaints by elites in town who have the council’s ear. It was surely in their own best interests to keep everything strictly, strictly within the law.

There was one player that came out looking good. The Reno Gazette-Journal filed requests for the secret report and its funding as soon as its existence became known. Our colleagues at the newspaper kept the pressure on until the city spat out the secret report and let the public see it. It’s a reminder of the kind of thing society will lose if our industry fails to survive.