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Sparks City Council Candidates Comment On Police Reform, Growth In Sparks

Exterior of a building. There is a sign on a light pole that says, “City of Sparks “Serving you” from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon-Fri.”
Lucia Starbuck
KUNR Public Radio
Sparks City Hall.

There are two open seats up for grabs on the Sparks City Council. Candidates are addressing several issues including growth and police reform as the Sparks Police Department faces criticism in recent months. KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck sat down with This is Reno publisher Bob Conrad to discuss the races, and what he learned from the candidates at a recent forum he hosted.

Lucia Starbuck: There are four people running for the two open seats for Sparks City Council. Tell me about those races.

Bob Conrad: You have two incumbents facing new challengers in the City of Sparks City Council. The incumbents are Donald Abbott and Paul Anderson. Abbott is being challenged by Wendy Stolyarov and Anderson is being challenged by Quentin Smith.

Starbuck: With one of those races, there was a bit of controversy. Incumbent Anderson recently came under fire after sending a political mailer. It appears that the photo of his opponent, Smith, who is a Black man, was darkened. Can you break down what happened there?

Conrad: I should be clear that most people decried that mailer that was put out by Anderson as being incredibly racist and also inappropriate. He did apologize for it after the fact, fairly quickly. Some people said, well, that's too little too late.

The other thing that was on that flyer was questioning Smith's credibility and his experience, which was basically determined to be pretty inaccurate.

Starbuck: Similar to Reno, one of the big issues impacting Sparks is increasing homelessness. Officials estimated there were 1,000 unsheltered individuals in Washoe County before the pandemic, and that number has grown since March. What have the incumbents done to address homelessness and what do the newcomers want to do?

Conrad: The incumbents, Abbott and Anderson, they both have touted their efforts to address the issue. We do know that there is a clear distinction between Reno and Sparks in how they treat the homeless. You do not find the same kind of encampments in the City of Sparks that you do in the City of Reno. The City of Reno, behind the scenes, people are very unhappy about that because they feel like it’s pushing the unsheltered population out of Sparks and then into Reno. So, the candidates are going to have to ensure there’s an adequate collaboration among all the local jurisdictions.

Starbuck: One issue that’s unique to Sparks is its growth. There are older, established Sparks residents and a younger and more diverse population is moving in. How do the candidates propose catering to the needs of everyone in Sparks?

Conrad: This is actually kind of a cultural rub with this particular race in Sparks. You have Stolyarov who is challenging Abbott, and she is of the sort of emerging demographic in Sparks. She’s progressive. Actually, she was the only candidate in our forum who strongly denounced the words of officer George Forbush, who is a Sparks Police Officer, who basically allegedly on an account in his name, said some really derogatory things about leftists, activists, Black Lives Matter supporters and so on.

Anderson, his approach was that the officer's rights need to be protected and acknowledged. Abbott was a little more lukewarm in that regard, and then Stolyarov just absolutely denounced what that officer was posting.

I think right there is a perfect example of how these incumbents are facing challengers who would like to see perhaps some more progressive policies coming out of the City of Sparks and less of, as we colloquially refer to it, as the ‘good old boys.’

Starbuck: The Sparks Police Department said they’re investigating the allegations into Forbush, but the department hasn’t released the results of that investigation.

The Sparks Police Department has recently come under fire for other incidents as well, especially after the fatal shooting of Miciah Lee, a young Black man in January of this year. His mother had called 9-1-1 because she feared for his safety. She said he was suicidal and armed. Reports indicate he was driving recklessly through Sparks and crashed twice before being fatally shot multiple times. It was later found that the weapon he had was not loaded. Where do the candidates stand on local law enforcement concerns?

Conrad: I think all city council candidates agreed on this point: the acknowledgment that police officers are not suited to do mental health treatment. We are still seeing in this community, both Reno and Sparks, people who are experiencing mental illness, basically being killed by police.

In the case of Miciah Lee, the rationale there was that this person was not only endangering themselves and potentially the public in the way they were driving around, so, therefore, the police were called and they stepped in and ended up killing Lee, tragically. But, is that really the best approach to deal with somebody with that severe of a mental health crisis that they may be experiencing? So, I think there’s going to be a lot of deep questions that need to be looked at from all jurisdictions and hopefully we’ll see some better approaches to get people the help that they need that doesn’t involve killing them.

This Is Reno held a candidate forum for the Sparks City Council candidates, you can watch it here.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

For information on other races, visit our KUNR 2020 Voter Guide.

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Bob Conrad, PhD, APR is a media professional with more than 20 years of experience in journalism, public relations, marketing and publishing. He’s the co-founder of ThisisReno.com, a locally owned and operated online news website.
Lucia Starbuck is an award-winning journalist covering politics, focusing on democracy and solutions for KUNR Public Radio. Her goal is to provide helpful and informative coverage for everyday Nevadans.
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