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RED flags flying low over Sparks
by Andrew Barbano
Jan 09, 2010 | 1732 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Like a long line of Linuses, the town fathers of Sparks have collectively pulled their security blankets over their heads in childish hope that the monsters lurking under the bed will be gone by morning.

Reality is otherwise. City Hall is infected with over-the-hill syndrome and only sunshine can cure it. In the four decades I've lived here, local governments have always been susceptible to guys in expensive suits who fly in from a big city to sing some siren song of success to the country bumpkins. Most of the time, the traveling salesmen make the sale.

"Don't forget 'tis he who'll have the fun and thee, the baby," Cole Porter wrote in "Kiss Me, Kate."

Well, the sale was made, the farmer's daughter violated and the baby looks increasingly ugly with very expensive birth defects.

RED Development sold the city the Legends at Sparks Marina project, promising to generate at least 800,000 new tourists a year in exchange for obscene amounts of taxpayer money. It was all pickle smoke and mirrors.

The RED deal was so bad that the city planning department and the city attorney's office all concluded it should be turned down. According to rumbles from City Hall, one law firm refused to have anything to do with the initial bond offering.

"I don't have enough malpractice insurance," one lawyer reportedly quipped.

The worker bees at City Hall were pressured hard by the entire Washoe County Republican state senate delegation. Sens. Raggio, Townsend and Washington acted as salesmen for the Kansas City slickers, pushing our farm boys hard. Need more pliable bond counsel? Don'tcha worry 'bout a thing.

Former Councilmember Judith Moss was concerned enough that in 2006 she requested a legal opinion from City Attorney Chet Adams who responded in a memo to the council drafted by former deputy David Creekman. The bottom line: If RED defaults on its bond payments, city taxpayers may very well be liable.

Nonetheless, the siren song seduced City Hall. Officials, and the former editor of this newspaper, were flown to Kansas City to behold other wonders achieved by the RED wizards. Who cares about reality once you've followed Dorothy down the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City?

They all forgot that we don't live in Kansas, Toto. The financial viability of the marina project was contingent on construction of a high-rise hotel-casino, which never happened.

Now, reality is setting in. Since last July, 28 liens have been filed against RED for nonpayment of construction costs. Four have been released, meaning the parties settled. The outstanding ones total $1,683,615.08. Who knows how many more are in the pipeline?

This comes hot on the heels of wholesale wage and hour violation complaints filed with the Nevada labor commissioner by my brothers and sisters in local construction unions. The results of Mr. Adams' investigation into the first set are legally due in the labor commissioner's office no later than Jan. 18.

I will post the full list of aggrieved contractors and the amounts due with the Web version of this column at

All the corporate giveaways have put the Rail City in serious financial jeopardy. The 2009 Nevada Legislature failed to tighten up the law that put Sparks in hock. Lawmakers further failed to even review all the corporate welfare tax breaks now allowed by one of the most thinly taxed states in the union. Sparks cannot even afford enough police officers. Reno is closing a fire station. Instead of money going to parks, roads, schools and public safety, huge chunks of the public treasury have been and continue to be donated to profitable developers who don't need it.

If Sparks City Hall doesn't take this RED bull by the horns — and I mean now — nobody is going to be able to clean the carpet soiled by said critter.

Jim the Dim smarts off

Gov. Jim Gibbons created a lot of heat with his recent spate of press releases demanding that lawmakers rip apart the state educational system. His proposal is nonsense, but that's not the point. It's a quick checklist to "fix" the resource-starved system of the stingiest state. Republican primary moonhowlers targeted by Gibbons love bumper sticker solutions to complex problems. If Jim the Dim gets through the primary against former federal judge Brian Sandoval, he will have only weak Democrat Rory Reid standing between himself and a second term. Owoooo!

Dim and Dimmer

Gibbons may well call the Legislature into special session to further debilitate state government and the educational system. On July 15, 2007, then-University Chancellor Jim Rogers published legal research noting that 27 other jurisdictions have been successfully sued for failing in their legal duty to properly fund education. A federal judge ordered the legislature of one southern state to raise taxes. Several large Nevada organizations have that arrow in their quivers.

Dim and Dimmerer

Jim the Dim's "SAGE" Commission, empaneled to review potential savings in state government, published its final report a few days ago. Last Friday, chairman Frank Partlow told KRNV TV-4's Tad Dunbar that public employees are the problem. He noted that worker pay is comparable with the private sector, but when retirement and health care benefits are factored in, it becomes apparent that something must be done.

Gen. Partlow's methodology is comical. We are a very low-wage state, so stating that public employee pay is commensurate with the likes of Wal-Mart tells a helluva story all by itself. (Don't kid yourself — some state workers are on food stamps.)

Partlow's answer is the Wal-Mart solution: Destroy the fully funded and well-managed Nevada Public Employees Retirement System. Which would mean more people on welfare and in the emergency room.

Cabbies alert

Last month, a federal judge in Gomorrah South granted class action status to a lawsuit by limo drivers who shamelessly ask to be paid for all hours worked. It affects a lot of cabbies in these parts. Stay tuned.

Harry and me

Reno News & Review news editor and former Tribunite Dennis Myers called my attention to footnote number two in the Wikipedia bio of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev: this column from August 29, 1999. Footnote number one was written by former Sparks Tribune editor Christopher Smith in the Salt Lake Tribune. Ahh, immortality.

Be well. Raise hell.

Andrew Barbano is a 40-year Nevadan and editor of E-mail Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.
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