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Schieve and Pezonella clash on firefighting staff levels

Reno mayoral candidates Hillary Schieve and Ray Pezonella agree on many issues...but not on staffing levels for public safety personnel, like firefighters. Reno Public Radio's Michelle Bliss reports that this contention came up at a debate Thursday.

The event, hosted by KNPB and the Reno Gazette-Journal, included discussion on several priorities for the City of Reno, like preparing for Tesla's gigafactory, fostering economic development, especially downtown, and implementing the forthcoming medical marijuana dispensaries with transparency. Both candidates offered similar promises to support these initiatives if elected as mayor next month.

But on the issue of public safety, the two, finally, diverged. After posing several questions to the candidates, the debate hosts actually allowed the candidates to make their own inquiries, starting with Hillary Schieve.

Schieve: "Ray, you recently said that there is no money to hire additional police and fire personnel, and that there wasn't any money in our budget.
So, my question to you is: What would your plan be to keep our city safe?"

Pezonella: "I don't think I really said that there was no money to hire police and fire, but let's talk about that for just a second."

Pezonella went on to explain that there is money to do what's needed to keep the public safe, but with advances in technology he doesn't think more firefighters are needed.

"There's a lot that's been accomplished in the uniform building code, that we all are very well aware of, and what we have are codes that protect buildings," he explains. "I know that if a fire happened in my building, I have sprinklers completely throughout, so the firemen--we don't need as many as we used to have."

Schieve disagreed, saying that the city is not far from reaching staffing levels comparable to 1977.

Earlier this year, the city lost a major federal grant and proposed laying off more than 30 firefighters because of it. That action has been stalled in court due to a lawsuit, but if those cuts were to happen, fire staffing would revert back to what the city had nearly forty years ago.

Schieve says that a lot has changed since then.

"Well, in 1977, you have to remember the calls for service were like 3,200," she says. "Now, there are 37,000, so that's where I would respectfully disagree with you."

Despite such a huge increase in emergency calls, Pezonella is not convinced that the fire department should really be responding to every single issue that comes up. He says he's talked the matter over with the city's fire chief Michael Hernandez:

"I understand from talking to Michael, they want to cut that back. And the reason they want to cut that back is they don't need to go out anymore; the firemen don't need to show up when somebody has a hangnail or has some kind of a little thing that doesn't really matter."

Despite their different approaches to public safety, both candidates, of course, described it as their number one priority. They also stressed the importance of the mayor's role in creating a culture for the city, one of collaboration:

"I think that's part of the problem you see in Washington right now," Schieve explains, " is everyone's fighting and they can't seem to get anything done, and mayors are moving things forward in cities."

"The mayor's position is truly to unify the city council, to unify the staff of the city, and to unify the community, " Pezonella adds. "Bring them all together on the same page so we can get things accomplished."

Ray Pezonella has run a large engineering firm for decades while Hillary Schieve is a small business owner and current member of the city council.


Michelle Billman is a former news director at KUNR Public Radio.
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