Five people are competing for a spot on the general election ballot for Sparks City Council in Ward 3.
Councilman Paul Anderson, who was appointed to the seat in 2018 when former Councilman Ron Smith was elected mayor, is making his first elected bid for office. He faces a woman who was also finalist for the appointment in 2018, Andrea Tavener; a political activist, Elvira Diaz; a UNR recruiter, Quentin Smith.
Dan Ness is also on the ballot but did not respond to requests for an interview from the Reno Gazette Journal.
The top two vote-getters in the June 9 primary election move on to the general election.
Anderson said he’s running because he is adept at making “policy decisions without emotions,” from his time on the Nevada Board of Agriculture. He wants to protect essential services.
“The most important part of government is public health and safety,” he said. “I love parks and my family and I go to them once a week or so, but those are not as vital as making sure we’ve got roadways that are safe to drive and a sewer system that works properly and doesn’t end up in your living room.”
Diaz, who has spent a lifetime as a community organizer and political activist, said she is running because the Sparks City Council lacks diversity. All current members are white.
“The people like who I am are not represented in the city of Sparks,” she said. “I’m a Latino and a woman and a single mom. I’m a renter. The people I represent have not been heard in the decision making.”
Diaz said she was also galvanized to run by Mayor Ron Smith’s opposition to the Drag Queen Story Hour last year.
Quentin Smith, who recruits National Merit finalists to the University of Nevada, Reno, said he hasn’t seen any new ideas from Anderson during his time on the council.
“I’ve never met him. I hear he’s a nice person. But that would be my concern: what’s your new ideas?” Smith said.
Smith said he wants to help draw a higher education institution to Sparks, noting it is one of the only cities of its size in Nevada to not have a community college, state college or other branch of the university system.
Tavener, who works for the library system and was a finalist in the 2018 appointment process for the seat, said she would focus on listening to constituents.
“I think now more than ever with this global pandemic you are going to need a leader who can make tough decisions and who has the residents’ best interest at heart,” she said. “I believe that’s me.”
Tavener said she wants to better manage growth to help Sparks keep its hometown feel.
Here’s a look at four of the five candidates running for the seat.
Name: Paul Anderson
Occupation: Sales for Pilot Thomas logistics
Education: Some college
Experience: Appointed in 2018 to the Sparks City Council; chairman of the Nevada Board of Agriculture; first run for office
Party affiliation: Republican
Money raised: $40,145
Biggest donors: Silverwing Development Co.; Dennis Troesch. Anderson also lent his campaign $10,000; donors
What are you doing personally to stay safe during the pandemic? “Best I can, to do the social distancing. Yesterday was Mother’s Day and we prepared a meal and some flowers and basically dropped it off on her doorstep. We’re not able to engage with constituents on a one-on-one basis typically.”
Do you agree or disagree with Gov. Sisolak’s decision to close non-essential businesses and issue a stay-at-home order amid the pandemic? Why? “The one thing I do believe is you can’t be too hard on any of the elected officials on the decisions they make. This is something we’ve never really experienced before. We’re running down uncharted waters. I believe Sisolak’s been doing a good job on the most part. We should be following his lead. By law he does have the authority to decide what stays open and closed. If we are cautious and wearing face masks and social distancing, I think we can open a little more rapidly.”
How would you deal with the financial fallout from the pandemic on the city budget? What would you cut first? What would you try to preserve? “That’s hard. It’s almost as sad as the businesses permanently closing. We are looking at an estimated $11.5 million budget shortfall. We thought we were done with our budget. We were all excited to be buying a new ladder truck and hiring new police officers. All these wonderful things. Now we have pretty much have to start at ground zero again. We have to make sure of the public health and safety. Those are primary to everything else.”
How would you address the homelessness issue? “One thing that is exciting over the last year here in Sparks we’ve been making changes to improve that situation and likewise help those in the homeless position. We now have more police assistants focused on the riverway. They are down there letting people camped out to know about other resources. We are getting the camps cleaned up so it’s safe for people who want to walk along the river.”
Name: Elvira Diaz
Education: Bachelor’s degree in chemistry
Occupation: Marketing for Farmer’s Insurance
Experience: First run for office; decades of involvement in Democratic campaigns and community organizing.
Party Affiliation: Democrat
Money raised: $386
Biggest donors: Shirley Diaz
What are you doing personally to stay safe during the pandemic? “I try to stay home as much as I can. What I do for others is I go get stuff, food or medicine and deliver to their houses. I wear masks. I’ve been calling people to stay safe. Forty-seven percent are Latino who have tested positive in this area.”
Do you agree or disagree with Gov. Sisolak’s decision to close non-essential businesses and issue a stay-at-home order amid the pandemic? Why? “Of course, I agree. The city of Sparks did nothing. The Reno mayor said close and the city of Sparks did nothing. Finally, the governor said we need to close and I give thanks for him. I think it’s a little too early to reopen. We need to understand the value of life. I understand making money is important but being alive is most important.”
How would you deal with the financial fallout from the pandemic on the city budget? What would you cut first? What would you try to preserve? “I’m willing to cut my salary. I will review the budget. Some things that can wait, they can wait. Like if we need to put grass in a park. If we have old equipment, we can use that and not buy new equipment. We need to think about affordable housing for people. We need to emphasize what people need for health and to keep safe. We maybe need to invest more in food banks.”
How would you address the homelessness issue? “We need to take care of the homeless. We need to create affordable housing. (In Reno) they are making tiny houses. In Sparks, we have space for that. We need to eradicate homelessness in Sparks. We need to create a way for people to have access to jobs so they can get out of homelessness.”
Name: Quentin Smith
Education: Master’s degree
Occupation: Faculty member at UNR recruiting National Merit finalists.
Experience: First time running for office. Served on diversity outreach committee for the Washoe County School District.
Party affiliation: Democrat
Money raised: $0
Biggest donors: Smith has lent his campaign $2,015
What are you doing personally to stay safe during the pandemic? “I’m following the guidelines of the governor and state epidemiologist. I’m a facts person. I need to hear what’s the facts and what’s truth and not from a talking-head or politician. I want to know what the experts in the field are saying. I wear masks when I go out.”
Do you agree or disagree with Gov. Sisolak’s decision to close non-essential businesses and issue a stay-at-home order amid the pandemic? Why? “I agree with it. If you look at the way the state is structured, could you imagine if he wouldn’t have shut down businesses? Where you have tourists coming from all over. Las Vegas and Reno could have been hotbeds for the cases. I think he kept us safe. I do hope the state and federal government, if they have any rainy day fund, that we can help get those funds out to small businesses or people affected by it.”
How would you deal with the financial fallout from the pandemic on the city budget? What would you cut first? What would you try to preserve? “I would preserve as much as I could. No one would get cut, no employees from the city. I would negotiate debt that we have. I would look at deferred maintenance. I would encourage early retirements. I would definitely take a pay cut. I would look at the highest paid folks and suggest a 5 percent (salary) cut.” Smith also would like to create a small premium fee on home sales to help with the budget and to provide grants for first-time homebuyers.
How would you address the homelessness issue? “First, I would work with the experts. I’d like to hear what the police department is doing and local clergy. The river cleanup should not be pushing them to Storey County or Lyon County. I don’t think that’s the way to do it. I would have a task force go check up on them to see if this is a housing issue or a mental health issue. Then I would try to get them resources.”
Name: Andrea Tavener
Education: Some college
Occupation: Development officer for the Washoe County Library System.
Experience: First run for office. Serves on the Sparks Parks and Recreation Commission.
Party affiliation: Republican
Money raised: $850
Biggest donors: Teresa Twitchell
What are you doing personally to stay safe during the pandemic? “I am not leaving my home unless I do have to. I am adhering to the governor’s request to shelter in place. I do have to care for my mom, so I’ve signed up for every kind of home delivery service I can to help small businesses stay afloat. I’m washing my hands and wearing face masks. We have to do this all together or it doesn’t do any good.”
Do you agree or disagree with Gov. Sisolak’s decision to close non-essential businesses and issue a stay-at-home order amid the pandemic? Why? “I think he’s faced with some incredibly hard decisions and at a leadership level, I believe that he has done what he thought was best even though it is having an unbelievable effect on the business community and residents. I am glad they are doing the (reopening) at the pace they are. I would hate to think we just reopen everything and then have another surge. Then this would have been all for naught.”
How would you deal with the financial fallout from the pandemic on the city budget? What would you cut first? What would you try to preserve? “I don’t think we have even hit the tip of the iceberg I’m afraid. The long-term effects from this are going to be devastating. Residents say public safety is No. 1 and I agree with that. I don’t want anybody to lose their job, but ultimately that might not be possible. I personally would be happy to take a pay cut if it saved somebody else’s job.”
How would you address the homelessness issue? “You know it’s tough. I interviewed people for public assistance for 12 years and a lot of the population I interviewed were people who struggled with homelessness. It can’t be tackled by one entity, that I do know. It doesn’t do any good for city of Reno to get rid of a camp if they are moving to Sparks. It needs to be everybody coming together to come up with a plan and looking at best practices. I love that Reno did those tiny homes. My dad was in the military so I’m a huge supporter of veterans’ resources. It has to be a regional approach.”
Anjeanette Damon is the government watchdog reporter for the RGJ. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @AnjeanetteDamon. If you care about shining a bright light on decisions made by your elected officials, please consider subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal.
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