In an effort for voters to make informed decisions in the upcoming election about Sparks’ future leaders, 39 North, Sparks Tribune and Nugget Casino Resort hosted a Candidate Night last Tuesday. For two hours, candidates for Sparks Justice of the Peace- Department 3; Sparks City Council Wards 1, 3, 5; State Senate District 13; and State Assembly District 31 spoke about where they stand on issues important to Sparks. Here are some highlights from the debates:
Sparks City Council Ward 5 with Ron Smith and John Rhoads:
Serving on the City Council for 10 years, Ron Smith has been a member of several boards, has done quite a bit with the Regional Transportation Commission and acts as mayor pro tempore in the absence of Geno Martini.
John Rhoads is a local business owner who manages over 5,000 clients with Lifeline Estate Services whose offices are in Reno and Phoenix, Arizona. Serving seniors, families, and businesses for 25 years, Lifeline Estate Services “takes attorneys out of the picture” in estate planning. Rhoads said that after reading the minutes from a 2007 City Council meeting and seeing that Sparks was short 84 police officers, he would donate some of his earnings back to improving the safety of community if elected.
Rhoads said that during the recession, city staff was required to take a 10 percent pay cut while city council members didn’t adjust their own salaries. Smith responded by saying that he took a 7 percent pay cut for three years in a row.
When asked what the most important job of a city council member is, Rhoads quickly said safety. Smith responded by saying that safety is no doubt important, but it’s not the only thing. “The most important job of a city council member is making decisions with honor,” Smith said.
Regarding their economic development plans, Smith said that if elected he would help the council do everything he could to take care of the influx of oncoming growth. Rhoads responded by saying that the city can’t have growth without safety. He then went off about how Smith took over $10k in donations from the construction industry to fund his campaign whereas he raised all of his money himself. “All of my money came from my kids’ college fund; from my family,” he said. Smith didn’t argue that he has received monetary donations to help fund his campaign.
Smith said that in talking to voters, one of the main concerns is transportation and the increased traffic. Rhoads said that voters are concerned that Sparks will grow too fast and Smith voted down increased safety services to support that. Smith reminded the audience that every issue goes to a full City Council vote and that officials heavily rely on what the people want. “John’s facts just don’t add up. We’ve made it easy for people to live here,” says Smith.
Rhoads continued to interrupt Smith by stating, “I’m paying for this campaign out of my own pocket; Ron is a nice guy but he hasn’t done anything for the city”.
Rhoads feels that Sparks is a beautiful city but it is currently not competitive in infrastructure and safety like areas such as Reno. “We’re not going to do it using reclaimed water for our golf courses, just visit my website Save D’Andrea,” he says. (Rhoads was most likely referring to http://dandrea2013.com.)
Again, Smith said that Rhoads’ remarks against him were not true and that their debate two weeks ago almost came to a fist fight. Rhoads walked off the stage.
Sparks City Council Ward 3 with Kristopher Dahir:
After the heated debate between Rhoads and Smith, Kristopher Dahir took the stage alone as a breath of fresh air. His opponent John Walter did not join him. Originally from Nebraska but residing in Sparks for the last nine years, Dahir runs the Excel Christian School, serves on the Sparks Citizens Advisory Board, Western Nevada Development Board, and acts as a local pastor.
When asked what he would do to help seniors, Dahir says that he likes hanging out with people who are wiser than him and would inquire as to what their needs are. Regarding his familiarity of the crime rate in Ward 5, Dahir says he knows a little bit about it because his house has been tagged and broken into.
“We have to see more cops and make sure places are well lit,” he says.
Dahir added that the oncoming growth presents a challenge for Sparks and the city needs to make sure it remains balanced as well as looking at property taxes and how it resets after real estate is sold. He believes that the most important role of a council member is communication.
“The City Council has done a fine job, but in times of hardship we need to make sure the city is together and well connected,” says Dahir. He shared an idea of a transportation system that could take visitors to the best areas of Sparks, calling it the “Sparks Experience”.
Sparks City Council Ward 1 with Denise Lopez and Donald Abbott:
This is one of the more popular matchups because this will be the first time that a millennial will get a Sparks City Council seat. In her opening statement, Denise Lopez said that in talking to voters she sees the biggest priorities being to improve road conditions, safety, and speeding/traffic. “I love the small community feel and I want to ensure that people have a good quality life here and that millennials can grow,” she says.
Born and raised in Sparks, 26-year-old Donald Abbott works as an estimator for Desert Air Heating and Air Conditioning and is an avid photographer who donates all of his photos to 39 North.
“I’ll never leave Sparks, I’m perfectly fine being stuck here. We have a hometown feel that everyone can relate to,” he says.
When asked about their leadership skills, Abbott says that he serves on the board of the Sparks Museum and Cultural Center and demonstrates his skills in his day-to-day job as an estimator. Lopez has taken on leadership roles with the many nonprofits that she works with, performs business outreach, and advocates for children, families, and survivors of domestic violence/sexual assault.
Lopez believes that public safety is the number one issue regarding budget and time restrictions whereas Abbott thinks it’s the impending growth. “We have to have the infrastructure to support it, be responsible and ready for it,” he says.
One of the questions presented to the candidates was the issue of jaywalking pedestrians. Abbott chuckled and said he would put in a crosswalk between the Post Office and City Hall because that’s a high traffic area where he always sees people jaywalking. Lopez said that she would work with the police to see how it’s currently being enforced.
For the overall vision of Sparks, Lopez says that we need make sure we’re doing what we can to improve. Abbott responded by saying, “I’m not trying to rebuild the city; we need to just keep doing what we’re doing. I’m here as a voice for the millennials.”
Lopez said, “I’ve been knocking on a lot of doors and I know I say that a lot but we need to elevate that voice. I come from a working class family and no one ever came to use or asked our opinion.”
State Assembly District 31 with Skip Daly:
Taking the stage solo, Daly is another candidate who was born and raised in Sparks. This is his fourth time running for the Assembly (he previously served in 2011 and 2013). His opponent Jill Dickman was not present.
Daly feels that the primary concerns of voters are jobs, the economy, and education is number one due to the overcrowded schools. “To pass a measure, you need to get consensus from everyone involved,” he says about dealing with Congress.
Regarding his philosophy of voting across party lines, Daly (a Democrat) said that 85 percent of the issues get a 100 percent vote. “When 10 percent are locked in, you have to line them up and count the votes and eventually come to a compromise,” he says.
State Senate District 13 with Julia Ratti:
Actively involved in the community for the majority of her life as well as serving on the Sparks City Council for eight years, Julia Ratti is running against Republican Kent Bailey and Libertarian Brandon Jacobs in the general election. However, Ratti was the only one who showed up to Candidate Night.
When asked why voters don’t have faith in government (as shown in recent polls), Ratti thinks that it’s because there are active organizations out there who want voters to distrust the government. Although she’s seen antagonism between local and state governments, Ratti feels that she can bridge that gap.
Regarding the property tax shift, Ratti says that currently the property taxes go down with depreciation, when in fact the house value fluctuates based on the market. So a lot of people are paying half the taxes that should be owed and a reset would be able to help fund public services.
When questioned about her ability to work across party lines, Ratti laughs and says that being the only Democrat on the Sparks City Council, she has always come to a consensus with her colleagues across party lines. “Party is a starting place but at the end of the day I’m a pragmatist and we need to get things done.”
On a local level, Ratti sees that main concerns from voters are about weeds, speeding, and motorcycle noise, but “when it comes to the state, it’s definitely education,” she says.
Ratti resigned from her Sparks City Council seat effective Oct. 9 to take an appointed position as a state senator by the Washoe County Board of Commissioners. Ratti was chosen along with two other people to fill three vacant state legislature seats for a special session called by the governor.