Getting in the last word

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When I began writing this column three years ago, I called it the “Mesquite Weed.”

Some thought it was reference to something more recreational than medical . “What is this guy smoking?” they would ask when they read the weekly column.

Others presumed the title referred to unwanted, wild plants in a cultivated and civilized garden” something that should be plucked from the ground and tossed on the compost heap.

Both were wrong. And I’ve explained a couple of times the term “weed” resulted from the four years I served in the Army Security Agency, eventually working for two and half years as a Russian Voice Intercept Operator after the extensive training. We were in the Army, but the product we produced went straight to the National Security Agency.

New people on the job were called “weeds.” It didn’t matter how well one had done in language, equipment or security training, you didn’t really contribute to the mission until you had worked on the job for many weeks and gotten to know enough about the Soviet Bloc radio transmissions to tell the difference between valuable intelligence and a Moscow taxi cab network.

I called myself the Mesquite Weed because I knew nothing about the community. And there was plenty here that seemed strange to me. But I was a weed.

Although I’m a California native, I’ve lived in Nevada since 1973 and three of my five grown children are Nevada natives. I lived several years in Las Vegas when only 180,000 people lived in that valley. I spent three years living in Reno until I graduated from UNR with a journalism degree.

I then worked for three years at the Elko Daily Free Press, before accepting the job as editor of the then-Ely Daily Times, a six-page black-and-white publication owned by Donrey Media, which later became Stephens Media LLC, which purchased the Mesquite Local News in 2006 and operated it until today. The Ely Times became a full-color 32-page weekly and I became the general manager before I left after it was sold to Battle Born Media LLC.

Battle Born Media LLC is the new owner here and has some talented people working for it. But this Mesquite Weed column, the last, isn’t about the newspaper or corporation, it’s about Mesquite.

The town has seemed strange to me in many ways, the stark economic division between the almost all-white retirement community and the mainly Mexican population of laborers was paramount to my discomfort.

I immediately found the landscaped medians both beautiful and irritating. I was tempted to say something, but realized I was a weed and wasn’t here for the debate that led to their construction. That fight had been settled years before. So I learned to drive several hundred feet past where I wanted to go and made my u-turns without complaint.

It’s been hard, however, not to speak up about water. I lived in Ely for almost 25 years. Every summer, the city invokes water restrictions. Homes with odd-numbered addresses were allowed to water on odd-numbered days, even-numbered homes on even-numbered dates. Lawns could be watered early in the morning or late at night, but not in the daytime, when evaporation was high.

If water was running down the gutter in front of your house, you could expect a visit by a sheriff’s deputies and a citation.

But here water was treated like it was just water, and not the most valuable substance on the planet. I’d cringe when I’d drive down the street and see gallons of water being wasted. I wondered about the water being used on the medians and asked Ken Rock, general manager of the Virgin Valley Water District, if the water was culinary quality or effluent from the waste-water treatment plant. He said no, it was drinking water in most cases. He wanted to see that changed.

We talked about the water district following the example of the Southern Nevada Water Authority and offering incentives to homeowners who desertscape their yards. Rock also had other ideas about conserving water.

That may have been why he was so unceremoniously dumped from his position, or it might have been nothing more than personality conflicts. I criticized the abruptness of his sacking, but, as a weed, dared not venture into supposed motivations.

Kevin Brown, Rock’s replacement, seems to get along with the board better. And the proposed four-tier step system for water rates, if passed, will discourage people from wasting their dollars by wasting our water.

As for our city government: it’s open and transparent, at least when it wants to be. A year ago I wanted to do a story about the municipal landfill. Everywhere I’ve lived in Nevada, landfills have been a problem. I started by asking the mayor and was referred to the city manager who referred me to staff. I said I wanted to report what problems the city faced with its landfill. But I quickly learned the landfill, located in far off Lincoln County is owned by the city but operated by Mesquite Disposal for a tidy profit. There were no problems. Of course I was asking the wrong questions, and the problems with the old landfill that residents in Highland Hills are experiencing were never brought up, although the city was monitoring methane in the subdivision at the time.

The city council is strangest of all. I like each of the councilmen as individuals, but together they sometimes frustrate me by their inability to get together to get something done.

How long has the city attempted to get a splash pad constructed at Hafen Park? In the process, it lost one of its long-term employees for stepping on toes in his rush to get it built by summer 2013. A year later, the splash pad still is uncertain, although each councilman say they want it built.

But the only way to do it was award a contract to a solo bidder? And its bid is $180,000 above engineering projections. Al Litman produced a litany of splash pad costs from other cities that made that single bid seem obscene. Geno Withelder, who has helped to raise tens of thousands of dollars in Christmas toys and supported youth sports through golf tournaments, has sounded in council meetings like he wants to take away poor kids’ candy money before he’ll let them splash for free on the city’s dime. And Rich Green bared his accountant past in his negative valuation of the proposal. Councilmen Kraig Hafen and George Rapson got to be the liberal wing of the council when they voted yes to award the corpulent contract. But 3-2 was plain. The plan was defeated.

But only for 24 hours. St. George resident Mayor Mark Wier vetoed the council action and City Attorney Cheryl Law supports his right to veto a “no” vote.

The NRS says a mayor can veto any action “passed” by the council. But since the statute does not specifically say a mayor cannot veto an action that never was passed, Law is sticking with that story. She says other cities even have it in their charters.

That helps explain how so many cities are teetering on bankruptcy. The veto is designed for the chief executive officer to block unwise decisions or extravagant spending. We don’t invest the veto power in a mayor so he can push through a project that is $180,000 over budget even before ground is broken and the change orders start flooding in, especially not when that project had only two councilmen supporting it.

But the council and new mayor will work all that out on their own in the weeks to come. It was Wier’s last act, He’s gone and won’t see how it works out.

Then again, this is my last act. I’m gone too.

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