KUNR 2020 Voter Guide: Reno City Council At Large

Oct 16, 2020

The race for Reno’s At-large City Council seat pits an incumbent city councilman looking for his first full-term in office against a perennial candidate who has twice run for mayor unsuccessfully. Devon Reese, a lawyer, was appointed to the position in early 2019 after former Councilman David Bobzien accepted a position in Governor Steve Sisolak’s administration. Since then, he’s worked to become a mediating voice on the council. He currently serves as vice mayor. Eddie Lorton is a local businessman and vocal critic of both the city council and Mayor Hillary Schieve.

Reno’s At-large City Council seat encompasses the entire city of Reno. As a note, this will be the last time all voters in Reno will select an “At-large” representative. After the 2020 census, the city will add a new, sixth ward during redistricting. Municipal races in Nevada are non-partisan.

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

As a note: All responses in KUNR's 2020 Voter Guide have been submitted by the candidates. KUNR has not changed the answers other than to provide fact-checking as needed, indicated in the text with italics and parentheses.

Credit KUNR

Credit Courtesy of Eddie Lorton

Name: George “Eddie” Lorton
Occupation: Business Owner

Why are you running for office?

I am running for Reno City Council-at-Large because I care about our community and the direction we are moving in. I want to represent our citizens and local businesses instead of special interest groups.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing the city of Reno?

The biggest challenges are affordable housing, homelessness, green growth, Covid-19 mitigation, and fiscal responsibility with transparency at the city level.

How would you rate the city’s response to the pandemic thus far?

Thankfully, our regional community has really bonded together to mitigate our response to this pandemic.  Regionally, our numbers for hospitalizations are going down and so are the number of people on ventilators.  This is what you expect when a community bands together regardless of political affiliations or geographic boundries. I believe our city response is best measured by our community's response, which has been supportive, proactive and fundamental to our local success.  

As a City Councilmember, what would be your top three priorities?

My top three priorities for the city of Reno are to find solutions to our affordable housing crisis, address the needs of our homeless community, and getting our economy safely back on track while using fiscally responsible government policies.

It’s no secret Reno has issues with housing insecurity. What steps should the city take to address homelessness?

We need to work regionally to ensure every person touched by our outreach receives the care and attention they need the most.  This means ensuring each homeless scenario is identified individually based on actual facts of the person or persons involved.  This is where real case by case evaluations are needed.  Those who are down on their luck just need a hand up so they can get back to work and standing on their own two feet.  Others may need more help in ways where substance abuse counseling or psychological counseling may benefit them.  All need safe and secure places of shelter.  Places where they can get out of the weather, away from danger, and have access to better hygiene opportunities are in short supply and high demand.  The City of Reno needs to work with our regional partners in order to ensure all our efforts help us achieve the greatest positive impact.

In that same vein, housing costs in Northern Nevada continue to climb — pricing many families out of the area. What should the city council do to increase the supply of affordable housing in Reno?

The City of Reno owns multiple properties that could be discounted to developers who will agree to build affordable housing with a deed restriction in place ensuring affordable housing happens.  Many of these properties are in our local inner city and will have immediate access to public transportation and services needed to assist income challenged individuals and families.  I believe in responsible controlled growth and not in flood plain expansions or urban sprawl developments.  These developers will see profits due to tax credits instead of selling our community to out of state developers while our citizens foot the bill.

Like nearly every municipality, Reno’s financial situation amid the pandemic is precarious, at best. Where would you look to balance the city’s budget if cuts are needed in the future?

Our city budget was $1.1 million upside down before the pandemic because of Council misspending.  Recently, the City Council approved the same budget they had last year.  Sadly, this includes subsidizing the owner of the Aces ballpark $1 million dollars per year, which is most of the pre-pandemic shortfall. (Fact check: The City of Reno was not running a deficit prior to the pandemic. Like all governments in Nevada, it is required to operate on a balanced budget. Also, the city council did not reapprove the FY2020 budget in FY 2021. While they voted to keep most funding priorities level year-over-year, there were minor increases for contractual obligations.)  I will vote to ensure we fund the necessities first by prioritizing the budget to focus on what we are required to support which are police, fire and public works.  After that, priorities will based on actual community needs, while wants are put on hold until the budget can once again support them.  I believe it is essential for elected officials to set the example.  This means waiving their automatic 3% pay increase each year and looking at reducing their salary.  I will also be returning 100% of my first year salary to go towards reducing the City's debt, and I will be willing to review this on an annual basis as the budget and needs of the city are reviewed.

Since the killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes, activists around the country have demanded police reform. That includes some calls to dramatically shift money away from police departments toward social services. Do you support such reforms?

Social Services are important, however, many people who have worked in the social services field are grateful to have police back-up when needed.  Not every police department is having the same issues as Minneapolis.  I believe it is important to base each of these issues on individual community happenings.  Most communities are blessed to have good officers on their police roll calls, and those communities who don't really need to look at why.  If their hiring practices are subpar, absolutely their budgets should be controlled more strictly.  However, in communities where we are blessed with a predominately positive police presence we will need to review each case by its actual facts to determine if more community involvement and funding restrictions are necessary.  My opponent has said he has been an attorney for the police unions for over 20 years.  Since being appointed to the city council seat, he was hired by the Hutchinson law firm to enrich the firm and made a partner.  In the past 2.5 months, the Hutchinson law firm has been hired by the Reno police union (RPPA) to represent them, as well the union representing the Washoe County Sheriff's department.  This means that while being a seated city councilman, he is voting on the pay and benefit package of the Reno Police Department, and it appears he is playing both sides of the fence by receiving a City of Reno salary and a salary from the law firm representing the local law enforcement unions.  This is a huge conflict of interest and does not benefit the Reno community (KUNR has found no evidence to substantiate Lorton's claim).  Do we want a representative who will likely defend a bad officer if our community is unlucky enough to have a George Floyd Case?  Or do we need and want a representative who will represent the citizens, actively question the facts as they are presented, and not represent any special interest groups?  After all, no one hates a bad cop more than a good cop.

Learn more about Eddie Lorton at eddielorton.com.

Credit KUNR

Credit Courtesy of Devon Reese

Name: Devon Reese
Occupation: Attorney

Why are you running for office?

I grew up here in Reno, one of 8 children, the son of a nurse and a janitor. I saw how my family struggled to achieve the “American Dream” of home ownership, and now that dream of stability is even more out of reach for working families. I am running to continue to serve the people of Reno and this community, through initiatives for affordable housing, jobs, and schools. It’s been an honor to be a leader during this COVID-19 pandemic, helping inform the public and doing direct aid. I hope to continue to do this work as we recover and grow.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges facing the city of Reno?

Housing is the number one challenge. With the amount of growth we’ve seen in the last few years, supply has not kept up with demand. Along with that growth comes the challenge of updating our infrastructure to serve the population, from water use to public transportation to having top of the line schools.

How would you rate the city’s response to the pandemic thus far?

I think we’ve done the best we could under the circumstances, given that most of the mandates come from the state level. Since the COVID pandemic hit, I have re-focused almost entirely on helping my community through this crisis.  I have also spent countless hours doing direct aid, like delivering groceries and PPE. I put a lot of effort into reaching people on social media by sharing useful information, and responding to questions and concerns. I’ve reached out directly to immigrant communities in Spanish to provide resources. I’ve tried to be creative in helping as many people as possible -- for instance, designing and purchasing a bilingual banner for an Art Car to drive around to share the 311 telephone info line in neighborhoods with less internet connectivity and/or more non-native English speakers.  I have made myself available for constituents to reach out to for assistance, and directed campaign staff to organize volunteers to help them. I have fought for small businesses to remain open and to receive loans and grants. I know that this crisis will have long-term effects on our community, and I am committed to prioritizing health care, shelter, and aid, as well as economic recovery through the creation of new jobs and helping our local businesses stay afloat, or re-open.

As a City Councilmember, what would be your top three priorities?

Affordable housing, upgrading our schools, and services for those most in need.

It’s no secret Reno has issues with housing insecurity. What steps should the city take to address homelessness?

Aside from making sure that we have more affordable housing, we can and should create more beds in more shelters. We recently implemented a mobile shower unit to serve those without houses, and more public bathroom facilities. We should be supporting mental health care and substance use treatment, which so often creates and exacerbates these situations. 

In that same vein, housing costs in Northern Nevada continue to climb — pricing many families out of the area. What should the city council do to increase the supply of affordable housing in Reno?

We can make sure to incentivize developers to build more urban-center apartments, condos, and small houses. We can make sure that the permitting process is streamlined. 

Like nearly every municipality, Reno’s financial situation amid the pandemic is precarious, at best. Where would you look to balance the city’s budget if cuts are needed in the future?

We should focus on (1) cost savings and (2) reducing wasteful spending.  We can also make certain that our County partner and the City of Sparks are making contributions to shared services.  Also we are prioritizing funding of key services.

Since the killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes, activists around the country have demanded police reform. That includes some calls to dramatically shift money away from police departments toward social services. Do you support such reforms?

Too often have our law enforcement agencies been tasked with providing care they are not trained or equipped to provide, often leading to increased violence and use of force. I have already been working to increase funding for programs like violence prevention and looking into alternative forms of community “policing.” 

Learn more about Devon Reese at votereese.com.

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