Devon Reese met Valerie Truce and Steve Wolgast for coffee Friday morning. This was partly an opportunity to understand his vote supporting the Daybreak development (after the developer sued the city) and partly an opportunity to get to know him. Since he was appointed rather than elected, he did not introduce himself to the voters.
Council member Reese made the following assertions.
- While the neighbors of Wards 2 & 3 were persuasive, he heard from other people who wanted to have the project move forward. He didn’t tell us who those were who did not express themselves in public. Devon also stated he had many comments on form letters from those who don’t live in Reno. He said it was a “balancing act” to judge all the comments he’d received.
- Reese thinks information isn’t adequately shared on issues before the city council meetings. Since the Open Meeting Law prohibits the council from meeting in private, he feels like information comes out as a surprise at public meetings.
- He encouraged the neighbors’ activism claiming that their advocacy had a significant impact on Daybreak. The number of homes was reduced. There will be more open space. Less building in the most sensitive area for drainage.
- He thinks that Planned Unit Development (PUD) approvals should expire. He does not like to see zombie projects that remain on the books long after their approval.
- Reese expects the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA reviews of Daybreak will force additional changes which will likely improve it.
- Reese has confidence in the engineering reports even though these are paid for by developers and have been frequently called into question. He has faith in human nature that engineers would not produce a misleading report for a client.
- Reese doesn’t think it was an ethical lapse to hire Angela Fuss from a developer to head Reno’s planning department. He is confident she is working in the best interests of the city.
- Reese claims that there are many bad projects that never get to the city council and that the council doesn’t have a record of consistently approving questionable projects.
- He does not think the other city council members are motivated by campaign contributions or other venal motives. He would not be swayed by a developer who contributed $500 to his campaign. He said “Developers are the only ones contributing to local campaigns.”
- He is motivated to serve in public office as a matter of public service. He wants to build bridges and form consensus. He wants to improve the quality of life for area residents.
- He will stand for election in 2020 for this “at large” city council seat. He expects to run an expensive campaign that might cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
- He will continue his legal practice if elected. His practice involved union suits.
Valerie is hopeful:
- Reese stated he values science.
- Reese stated he believes in public service.
- Reese stated, “I build bridges and find common ground.”
- Reese is opposed to renewing the zombie projects indefinitely.
- Citizen activists need to remind Reese of those words. It’s important they align with his actions.
Steve is skeptical.
- Who are all the “people” that contacted him in favor of Daybreak? It is unlikely that they were residents seeking to buy a home in a floodplain. Any calls he got in support of Daybreak were likely from developers, builders, realtors, and others with a financial stake. Steve had a flashback to President Nixon claiming that there was a “silent majority” supporting the Vietnam war.
- As an experienced attorney and a politician (he ran for Nevada Senate in 2016), his faith and confidence in human nature is hardly credible. He was dismissive of specific examples of fraudulent traffic and hydrology reports. He wants the neighbors to prove the fallacy of the engineering reports to him, rather than take a skeptical view himself. His legal skepticism seems directed toward the neighbors.
- He encourages neighbors to continue to advocate through the “public comment” time in meetings and by contacting council members. The implication is that he does not want them to take more direct action to effect change. This works for the status quo which is to say it works for the developers.
- He might not be swayed by a developer who contributed $500 to his campaign. But, he might well be swayed by the developers as a whole denying his campaign tens of thousands in contributions if his decisions aren’t seen as “favorable”.
- The development projects that go to the Neighborhood Advisory Boards and the Citizens Advisory Boards generally go to the Planning Commission. It is implausible that there are many bad projects that are secretly denied.
“There are conditions of blindness so voluntary that they become complicity.” Paul Bourget, 1892
Council member Reese is new to the city council, so there’s little to use as a basis to understand him. He may be a complex person with deeply held views whose actions are hard to interpret. If you assume that he is an ambitious politician who seeks contributions from developers to win an expensive election, then his votes make sense. This also explains his criticism of council members who are skeptical of developer claims.
PS Reese has since joined the new Reno office of the Las Vegas law firm of Hutchison and Steffen practicing primarily in area of civil litigation.