The unspeakable C-word spawns tar and feathers in Sparks

Expanded from the 1-20-2002 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

In more than three decades of grousing and rousting about these parts, I've learned two things for sure about Sparks: The talk on the street is almost always more reliable than any public opinion poll and you take your life in your hands for uttering the C-word.

If your nasal unit received a faint whiff of tar last week, it did not come from a roofing crew. When you smell feather fricassee in Sparks, you can be damned sure somebody has said (gulp) "consolidation." In the most recent case, certain Reno and Washoe County officials want to merge local governments as some wonderful cure for what ails us.

Sparks leaders offered an almost-respectful "no." Not "hell, no," just negatory. Adding expletives would have been rude, especially since Sparks' largest taxpayer has been advertising his hotel's location as "East Reno" since the era when atomic testing was cool and Last Chance Joe* was considered cute.

How deep does Sparks nationalism run? The hills are littered with the bones (and careers) of C-word speaking politicians.

Some aspects of local government have long been consolidated. Police dispatching and 911 emergency service, for instance. And the hoosegow.

Sparks tore down the most modern jail in the Truckee Meadows to facilitate "B" Street redevelopment. The Rail City slammer consistently enjoyed an occupancy rate grossly exceeding the percentage of major retailers operating on pseudo-Victorian square. At times, the little jailhouse's bookings were competitive with the finest area hotels.

Reno tore down the Mapes, Sparks tore down the jail. Next thing you know, Sparks will want to put an ice rink downtown. Can Tesoro gas stations be far behind?

Consolidation means Sparks shares the Washoe County Jail, which was obsolete the day it opened. Construction bonds were rejected at the polls a couple of times, so local luminaries kept cutting back the bondage balance. In 1982, the voters ended up approving a calaboose the size of which any Nevada cow county would be proud to call adequate. Downtown Sparks ended up with imitation-London streetlights, if not the promised bogus British bobbie-cops bounding between barbecued ribs.

The latest consolidation push is the semi-logical outgrowth of the squirt-gunning between Reno and the county over who's paying for what. But Sparks has long and harsh experience about what it means to occupy hind-teat on the totem pole of power. Remember the Reno-Tahoe Olympic Organizing Committee? Don't forget Reno-Tahoe Airport. The launderers of the local room tax rakeoff named themselves the "Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority," but that doesn't mean Sparks gets any respect, let alone decent marketing exposure for its money.

So it is never surprising when the big C-word is followed by another, like cold -- as in shower. Don't take my word for it. Ask any 10 Sparks residents if they'd like to become East Reno and get governed by the prestidigitous if not prestigious Reno City Council.

So watch your wallet and hit up Col. Sanders for castoff chicken parts. Now those are some C-words Sparks can support.

JAILBAIT, PART DEUX. The chief jailhouse rocker, Washoe County Sheriff Dennis Balaam, will have two and very probably three candidates filing for his job. A lot of outraged citizens do-wopped "balaama-bama-ding-dong" when former Sheriff Dick Kirkland short-circuited an election by resigning a few days beyond the statutory deadline, resulting in Balaam's interim anointment.

COURTLY LOVE. Attorney Michael Langton has been justifiably crowing about a major legal victory against the Airport Authority of Washoe County. You know them better by their stage name, the Reno-(NOT Sparks)-Tahoe airport. On Nov. 12, 1998, this newspaper carried reporter Janine Kearney's front page story and photo of airport police Sgt. Barry Roseman announcing formation of a union. He was fired for his trouble and hired lawyer Langton.

The Nevada Employee-Management Relations Board ruled that Sgts. Roseman and Frank Fowler had been illegally axed for committing the sin of organizing workers. Reno-(NOT Sparks)-Tahoe Airport appealed.

On Jan. 3, Carson District Judge Michael Griffin threw RNST Airport out of court. The most outrageous aspect of the case was the public threat by former airport trustee Geno Menchetti that "there is a price to pay " when employees choose to unionize. (Reno Gazette-Journal, 11-12-98)

Menchetti is a lawyer and should know that the right organize is legally protected. But remember, this is the same guy who said that he prefers "pats on the head" rather than money to handle female employees of his law firm.

When I printed those words on June 30, 1996, Mr. Menchetti sent a letter denying he'd ever made the statement "in any Board meeting." That may well be true. The tape I reviewed was made at a retreat.

COURT POLITICS. Langton recently sent a letter to Washoe District Judge Connie Steinheimer informing her that he plans to run for her post. Such formal courtesy is a rarity, if not unprecedented in politics. The news immediately brought calls from other lawyers advising Langton to run instead against Judge Steve Kosach whom they consider more vulnerable. Hizzoner just ruled in favor of allowing Wal-Mart to build a northwest Reno superstore. Outraged homeowners have asked Sparks for tar and feather recipes.


DECIDING FACTORS premieres this week on the northern Nevada FOX and UPN network affiliates, KRXI TV-11 and KAME TV-21. (Charter Cable Channels 11 and 7, respectively).

We will analyze the impact of international terrorism on the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, due process of law -- and you. My guests will be former Washoe County District Attorney and District Court Judge Mills Lane and Reno-Sparks NAACP President Lonnie Feemster.

Times/dates: KRXI TV-11, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2:30 p.m., repeating Sunday, Jan. 27, 12:30 a.m. KAME TV-21, Sunday, Jan. 27, 12 noon, repeating Monday, Jan. 28, 1:30 a.m.

Please send questions you would like addressed. I also want your ideas for future programming. I will post your letters, suggestions, comments and criticisms at the show's website,

NAACP, Reno-Sparks Branch

In my several decades in the media business, I have learned that the early days following the launch of a new program are usually the most productive. People want to get aboard and enthusiastically share their thoughts. I solicit yours, with a few guidelines.

1. THINK BIG. Suggest new ways to approach big issues which affect a lot of people. I defy anyone to come up with a fresh approach on gun control, abortion or nuclear waste and thus doubt very seriously that I'll ever do a program on those emotional pushbuttons.

2. LOOK UNDER ROCKS. The High Desert Outback of the American Dream is rich in potential stories which the mainstream media ignore until disaster strikes. The recent spate of industrial plant explosions around the state provides a perfect example.

3. BRING THE CHILDREN. As the project progresses, I hope to do a special show produced by young people on issues important to them. So start putting vid kids into contact with me.

This week, we will certainly be talking about airport security and criminal profiling. Perhaps pat-down searches.

Definitely not pats on the head.

Be well. Raise hell. | U-News | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
Guinn Watch | Deciding Factors


© 2002 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 33-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.)Tribune since 1988.

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