Trench PR plan OK’d

Consultants for the downtown Reno train trench aim to give the community, from members of Rotary Clubs to folks in Senior Bridges, the truth about the project—or at least their version of it, critics say.

The Reno City Council Tuesday approved 5-2, with councilwomen Jessica Sferrazza-Hogan and Toni Harsh opposed, a public relations plan designed to warm up public support for the trench. A recent city-sponsored survey of 387 Reno voters found 58 percent are opposed to the project. Critics cite polls of their own with as many as two-thirds opposed to the project and more than 70 percent favoring a public vote.

Before the vote, the council approved spending another $500,000 in more consulting fees for the project. However, one condition the council placed on the award is that the project’s lead consultant dress more professionally when representing the city on the trench. To date, the city has spent more than $15 million on a project that it says will cost $218 million.

When Sean Mullin, a trench PR consultant, finally brought his presentation before the council, city leaders had been at it for nearly nine hours. Mullin said he admired the council for their patience.

“Time flies when you’re doing God’s work,” Reno Mayor Jeff Griffin responded.

Mullin told the council that a “community outreach plan” will include speaking about the trench project at service clubs, trade groups, business organizations and just about any place else where people will listen.

The plan calls for a campaign beginning in January that will include cable access infomercials, direct mailings, newspaper advertisements and other literature that will saturate the Truckee Meadows. A Las Vegas public relations and lobbying firm, which represents casinos, health providers and developers, is assisting in the outreach efforts. The campaign is covered in the trench budget, city officials say.

“In every large public works’ project, community outreach is important,” Mullin said, citing marketing efforts for Salt Lake City and the Bay Area public rail projects.

Reno businessman Mike Robinson, a trench critic who is considering running for mayor against Griffin next year, disagreed.

"It’s not community outreach. It’s propaganda," he said. "I think [the city] needs to show public support [for the project] in order to get money out of the federal government."