Vote ’em in, vote ’em out

When Irene Faulstich signed the petition to recall City of Sparks Attorney Chet Adams Saturday, she wasn’t taking a stand against the building of the controversial Lazy 8 Ranch, a proposed 315,000-square-foot hotel-casino on the Pyramid Highway.

“I think it would give work to people,” Faulstich said. “And that’s what we need is jobs so people can buy food for their little ones.”

Faulstich hadn’t planned on signing any petitions when she walked from her home to the Sparks Library for early voting.

As Faulstich, a senior citizen who gave her age as “over 21,” approached the library, I was sitting at a table outside interviewing retired Sparks homeowner/political activist Shirley Bertschinger. She was dressed in a quilted jacket with a heater at her feet. On her table were petitions and signs: “Recall City Attorney Chester Adams for Gross Dereliction of Duties, Can’t or Won’t Represent City or Us, the Taxpayers.”

Faulstich, sample ballot tucked under her arm, steered clear. But the sidewalk was narrow.

“Here’s somebody who’s going to sign my petition!” Bertschinger sang out brightly.

“No, I’m not,” Faulstich said firmly. “And I didn’t think you could be so close.”

She was referring to rules that prohibit electioneering outside a polling place. Bertschinger explained that no campaigning could be done within 110 feet of voting booths. “And they’re all the way in back of the library,” she said. Faulstich was assuaged.

“I don’t understand why they want to recall him,” Faulstich said.

A nibble of interest. Bertschinger set the hook.

“He held closed-door meetings, which is against the law,” Bertschinger said, describing the Council’s decision to give Adams the authority to settle a $100 million lawsuit with Lazy 8 Ranch developers.

“And he’s arrogant,” Bertschinger said. “He refuses to allow the city to seek outside counsel. We feel something needs to be done so we want to hold a recall.”

“Well, that’s very true,” Faulstich said.

Bertschinger told Faulstich that 7,726 signatures were needed by Jan. 4. “That’s not much time,” Faulstich replied. “Maybe I’ll sign.”

While Faulstich signed, Bertschinger made note of her solicitation techniques. “You’ll notice I didn’t twist her arm,” Bertschinger said. “I just told her the facts.”

Bertschinger, a Northern Nevadan since 1965, lives 2.5 miles from the proposed project site. A casino had been approved for nearby Wingfield Springs in 1994. When the developers Red Hawk Land Co. (represented by Harvey Whittemore) wanted to move the project a mile west to the Pyramid Highway, the Sparks City Council voted no—against City Attorney Adams’ advice. Developers had a binding contract, Adams had told Council members.

A $100 million lawsuit ensued. Adams, who ran unopposed for city attorney in 2004, advised settling before taxpayers were stuck with the bill. He polled Council members first in a private meeting then in a public forum. Did they want him to settle the lawsuit? A majority did.

“He refused to represent the city in this lawsuit,” Bertschinger said. “He coerced Council members into changing votes. I feel this is wrong.”

One of the best-funded opponents of Lazy 8 Ranch has been John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks. Bertschinger said it’s a misconception that the casino is funding the recall campaign.

“I paid for these signs out of my own pocket,” she said. “The Nugget didn’t pay my way.”

Bertschinger wouldn’t say how many signatures have been collected.

“We don’t want to tip our hand,” she said.

Spending Saturday in front of the library, though brisk, proved expedient given the steady stream of early voters. Bertschinger tried to talk to everyone carrying a sample ballot.

“Very few have refused to sign,” she said. “But there are those who are apathetic. That’s the trouble with our country today.”