Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Who I'm Voting For

Early voting begins this week in Clark County.
Since we don't have what seemed like a couple of thousand judgeships up for grabs like we did during the last election, voters will be able to get in and out and still have time for lunch.
I'm nobody special, but I thought a few people might be interested in my take on the upcoming elections.  (Okay, a VERY few.)  But I'm giving them anyway.  Below are my recommendations.
Justice of the Peace
Locally, the biggest race is for Mesquite's Justice of the Peace, a race between Karen Beausoleil and Ryan Toone.  It's likely that this will be a close call.
Beausoleil, a former Ms. Senior Mesquite, has strong support among a lot of the women's groups.  She'll also garner a big boost from the anti-LDS contingent.
Toone is currently the deputy city attorney.
Before I offer my opinion, I just want to say that Mesquite is losing one of the best judges I've ever witnessed.  Judge Ron Dodd is smart, gifted with an enormous pool of common sense, and has a humanity that is usually beaten out of most judges by the time they reach the bench.  He has served for years as both the Justice of the Peace, a county position, and the city's Municipal Judge.
I sincerely believe he has the wisdom of Solomon, and for the same reason: neither Solomon nor Dodd were previously lawyers.
In the upcoming election, only one of the two candidates is actually a practicing attorney.
As much as it pains me to annoint a Brother of the Bar, Toone is truly the best candidate.
All you have to do is listen to Beausoleil's inane babbling about the disadvantages of having one person serve as both JP and Municipal Judge to realize that "reality" wasn't one of the subjects she studied in school.  If she doesn't have enough common sense to figure out the savings to taxpayers derived from letting one person do both jobs, as well as the innate efficiencies, she doesn't have the sense needed to sort out situations involving peoples' lives.  My only regret in voting for Toone is that we're losing the most logical replacement who will be needed once the City Council wakes up and figures out just how bad our current City Attorney is.
Vote Ryan Toone for Justice of the Peace.
Virgin Valley Water District
This is a tough call between incumbent Ted Miller and current Mesquite Public Works Director Bill Tanner. 
Tanner is a soft-spoken can-do kind of guy, a true hero during the last two "hundred year floods" the city experienced over the last five years.  In a city administration filled at the upper level with bad eggs, he is truly one of the good guys. 
If he was no longer with the city and running as a private citizen, he would be a prize on the VVWD board.
Unfortunately, he DOES work for the city, which means he will vote whatever way his higher-ups at City Hall tell him.  Right now, the worst member of the VVWD board happens to be the one appointed by the city, Karl Gustaveson.  To give City hall a second vote, controlling 40% of the VVWD board, would be catastrophic for the rate payers and the valley.
On the other side is Miller, a straight-talking guy who can sometimes rub people the wrong way because he calls 'em like he sees 'em.
He is also the second-longest serving member of what has been a seriously dysfunctional board over the years.
But what most folks don't know is that Miller is a courageous man who has defended the people of this community.  He has been the driving force for change at the Virgin Valley Water District, beginning as a true outsider and refusing to roll over and be quiet in the face of corruption that has seen a General Manager and Staff Hydrologist indicted in the last four years.  He would not be silenced when it came to the VVWD's previous out of control spending, and never lets up when the district seems intent on making bad decisions.  He is hands down the best and most courageous member of the VVWD board.  He doesn't just deserve to be re-elected; the people of this valley NEED him to remain on that board to protect their interests and keep the "good old boys" at bay.
Vote for Ted Miller.
Clark County School District B Trustee
In the last election, I endorsed against Chris Garvey.  Since then, she has shown herself to be an extremely capable board member.  More importantly, I've seen her actually fight for schools in the Virgin Valley during her first term.  She's earned our vote.
Vote for Chris Garvey.
County Commission District B
I've always liked Tom Collins and his country-boy persona.  But after he admitted to being hired by one of the two combatants in last year's public transportation battle between two contractors, he shown he's nothing more than a corrupt big-city politician who knows how to use his elected position to pad his own pocket.  He also managed to offend more than a few people when he banged the Democratic gong during several non-partisan events in Mesquite a couple of years ago.  And then there's his "disturbing the peace" conviction over firing a gun into the air in an alcohol-fueled "celebration" earlier this year.
I hate being put in the position of endorsing Ruth Johnson, a former School Board trustee who made lots of broken promises about things like lights at the high school ballfield during her time in office.  However, when left with no real options, I'll take a liar over a crooked convict.
Vote for Ruth Johnson.
State Assembly District 19
Another tough contest.
As a Mesquite voter, you really want to elect someone from Mesquite to represent you in Carson City. 
If only it was someone other than Cresent Hardy.
While he wasn't charged, Hardy's name was prominent in the indictment of former VVWD general manager Mike Winters, who was indicted over a deal involving Hardy's land. 
Also, in his previous turn in the state legislature two years ago, it didn't seem like Hardy lifted a finger to help Mesquite.  Instead, based on his Mesquite Citizen Journal video inteview with Barbara Ellestad, his big soapbox is killing unions and eliminating "prevailing wage" laws in the state that negatively impact Nevada construction companies like the one he owns.
However, his opponent Felipe Rodriguez just doesn't impress.
Hardy is a local native, and his family has deep roots in this community.  Rodriguez was born in Cuba, and has lived in Las Vegas (not Mesquite) for only 14 years.  While he may be an honest man, he works for a time-share developer, an industry about a half-click above used car salesmen in the honesty department.
Rodriguez was also less than impressive in his recent Mesquite Citizen Journal video interview.  He didn't suggest any real concrete plans, and offered only vague political stances in his answers.  He'll be a non-factor in Carson City.
I don't want to endorse a Vegas resident over a local guy, but the people of Mesquite have worked too hard over the last two years trying to run good old boys like Hardy out of the political system.
Vote for Felipe Rodriguez.
U.S. Congress District 4
Danny Tarkanian can't seem to get elected as Hall Monitor.  If he loses this race, about the only political position remaining in his desperate quest to win an election, any election, might be Las Vegas dog catcher.
It would be rather embarrassing for the citizens of Nevada to send a guy to Washington on a "balance the budget" platform when he owes the FDIC $17 million over a failed land deal in California that ended up taking down a bank; someone who will likely declare personal bankruptcy if the court ruling sticks.
His opponent, Steven Horsford, has his own ethical issues after accepting campaign contributions and a free trip to the Bahamas from an internet poker company (he eventually gave back the contribution and trip money), and a campaign letter he sent out a couple of years ago offering private dinners with himself and a collection of other top NV legislators to contributors willing to pony up 25 grand, an obvious pay-for-access scam that you usually see only from scumbags like Newt Gingrich.
So neither guy has a good record on character, which means it comes down to issues.
I don't like Tarkanian's love affair with Paul Ryan's Medicare voucher plan, or his typical "let's help the rich get richer" ideas for fixing the economy.
But I applaud his hard stance on pulling all of our troops out of Afghanistan now, and his insistence on scrapping the current tax system and putting in something that might actually work.
Horsford has some good and specific ideas on getting people back to work, and is actually a lot more pro-business than many of his Democratic counterparts.
Vote for Steven Horsford.
U.S. Senate
The only time I would ever pick either candidate would be out of a police lineup. 
Shelley Berkley is a bit of a nut.  Basically, she's the Democratic version of Sharron Angle, the GOP's looniest tune.
On the other side is the GOP's slickest snake oil salesman, Dean Heller.  He is definitely the rich man's best friend.
I hated the way Heller was hand-picked to fill the Senate post after then-Senator John Ensign got caught with his pants down.
But mostly, I've despised his attack ads.  While Berkley has taken her time in the mud as well, Heller has been more egregious, especially going after Berkley's husband.  Even the mob refrains from going after someone's spouse.
I don't like either candidate, but Berkley seems to be the lesser of two evils.
Vote for Shelley Berkley.
This is the hardest vote of all.
I voted for Barack Obama last time.
I have always loved Mitt Romney, a hero who saved the 2002 Winter Olympics.  He was actually one of the better governors in Massachusetts history, a feat made even more extraordinary when you consider he did it as a Republican in an overwhelmingly Democratic state.
But Mitt is the quintessential rich man, and nearly every one of his economic policies will succeed only in making the wealthy even wealthier while making the middle-class American even more of an endangered species.
I don't like a lot of Obama's ideas, but that's okay.  As he showed in his first term, he's not really going to do any of it anyway.  We're still in Afghanistan. Guantanamo Bay is still open for business.  I'm still driving over dilapidated bridges and worn out roads.  Gas prices are nearing $4 a gallon.  Even his health care reform wasn't what he promised after caving on the public option clause, which was the only part that almost made sense.
Worst of all, Obama blocked the Keystone Pipeline over environmental issues.  There is no clearer indication of what's wrong with this president or his party than letting struggling Americans suffer even more under confiscatory fuel prices just because some "sensitive lands" MIGHT be disturbed.  He chose ideology over reality.
On the positive side, at least Romney made a good choice for vice president while sustaining the GOP tradition of nominating lunatics for the second chair.  Paul Ryan isn't much of a human being, and is a terrifying legislator given to some of the most heartless of schemes.  But by making him just another innocuous vice president and getting him out of Congress, he'll be a lot less dangerous to the nation so long as Romney remains healthy (and since Mitt won't be participating in Ryan's Medicare plan or the health care system the rest of us are forced to live with, that's pretty likely).
I'm sure I'll regret it 12 months after making the choice, but neither the Party of the Rich nor the Party of the Poor has left us with any decent option.  What this country really needs is a Party of the Middle Class.  Unfortunately until the Libertarians quit recruiting candidates from the nearest funny farm, that won't happen, so I'm left with a reluctant endorsement.
I voted for Obama in 2008 because I thought we needed a breath of fresh air and a new approach.  What we got was the same old same old. 
We gave him a chance.  He blew it.  Now it's time to give someone else a shot at it.
Vote Mitt Romney for president.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Welcome To The City Of Lies

Every year or two, the City of Mesquite or the Chamber of Commerce kicks around a few ideas for their new city slogan, like "Come for a day, stay for a lifetime" or "Diamond in the desert."
The next time this topic comes up, I've got a few suggestions.
"Mesquite: The city where truth goes to die."
"Virginia is for lovers; Maryland is for crabs; Mesquite is for liars."
"In Mesquite, don't believe it until you see it; then STILL don't believe it."
"You conceive, we'll deceive."
"Land of 10,000 Lakes."
"Land of 10,001 Lies (see above)."
"Virgin Valley: Um, yeah, we've got those."
We can put one of these slogans at the top of the sign on the west end of Mesquite Blvd. near exit 120, right below the boldface lie that currently greets newcomers:
"Welcome to Mesquite -- Population 19,754."
If you believe that number, I've got some oceanfront property in Sunset Greens you can buy.
Our city government has been lying to visitors and potential business investors for years, claiming projections of more than 21,000 people.
Then in 2010, a little federal group called the U.S. Census showed up and pulled open the curtain on the "Great and Powerful Loz."
According to the 2010 census, the official population of Mesquite, Nevada is 15,276.
Even using 2011 estimates, the Census Bureau says our maximum population is 15,423.
But that doesn't stop the city of Mesquite from claiming we have an extra 4,500 people here.
Lying about our city's population has become a nasty habit, like smoking or picking your nose.
And it doesn't look like the city government will be entering a 12-step program or Liars Anonymous anytime soon.
They just got busted on another big lie a few weeks ago.  For more than a year, a couple of the same city staffers who claimed that the Desert Falls fiasco was a sound project insisted that a soccer tent built in a remote part of Mesquite would only cost about $5 million (don't you love it when an entity funded by your tax dollars says things like "only" in conjunction with a figure like "$5 million"?).  It turns out that the real cost will be between $8 million and $10 million. 
Then there was that lie about an expensive sidewalk project on Pioneer Blvd., where a city official claimed the state would never allow it, only to find out later that the state doesn't care either way.
Then you have the normal, run-of-the-mill municipal lies like "Mesquite is business friendly" while business fees remain astronomically high and paperwork requirements continue to escalate; and "we've got to tighten our fiscal belts" claimed just before giving away $50,000 for the construction firms that told us the truth about the soccer tent costs.  (Maybe that was a bigger bargain than most people thought...it might be worth $50,000 to have some truth told for a change.)
Of course, what can you expect from an organization that used to regularly lie about a mythical state law that allegedly prohibited council members from answering questions from the public during city council meetings.
Our only saving grace is "The Mythbusters" -- our new mayor and city council.  This group of smart and honorable men has managed to poke holes in most of the malarky. 
Eventually, they'll get around to fixing the "Welcome To Lie Land" sign at Exit 120.
Until then...if you've ever thought about owning your own bridge, the city has this nice structure spanning the interstate in the middle of town that I'm sure they'd be willing to sell you.  Oh, and I'm sure they'll throw in the mountain-munching PacMan for free.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Our Brave Council Should Never 'Retreat'

The new Mesquite City Manager has proposed a "retreat" for the council in the near future, led by our Carson City lobbyist Randy Robison.
Retreats are popular in corporate settings because they get managers away from the distractions and commonality of the workplace and put them in a fresh environment to brainstorm and plan.  It's a tool to foster thinking "outside the box," and is extraordinarily effective.
The problem is that this is another private sector concept that just doesn't translate well into the public sector.  The first problem is that those hawking the "retreat" idea completely forget who is "the boss" in the public sector.  It's not a CEO or board chairman: it's you and me, the average citizen.
While there are genuine benefits to a retreat, the downsides are far too steep to legitimately entertain for any government agency.
For those "retreats" that feature travel to another city, the opportunity for graft and ripping off the taxpayers with expensive stays at pricey resorts is often too tempting to resist.  Then you have the additional unnecessary gas and mileage expenses.  Factor that across the inclusion of numerous staff members who all have to trundle to the retreat site, and it's easy to see how a good idea can become a boondoggle involving thousands and thousands of taxpayer dollars.
At a time when a city government is looking to tighten belts even further, including layoffs, this is an insulting option.
Then you have "local retreats," where the officials wander off to another site within the same city.  For the last few years, the City of Mesquite has held these gatherings at the new fire station on the other side of the city, near the Do It Best distribution center.  It's cost effective, considering the property is owned by the city. 
Unfortunately, this highlights the even bigger drawback to government retreats.  Believe it or not, there are some things that are even more important than squandering public funds, and this is probably the biggest:
Technically, the events are open to the public.
However, I can attest after attending several of these over the years that the only "public" that shows up are people with vested interests like developers, consultants, and others who have a financial stake in what gets discussed at these meetings.
It's not just that the gatherings are conducted in a part of town that most people have never traveled, or that the meetings are held during the middle of the day.
Holding these meetings "off-site" also means "off-camera."  Unlike the City Council meetings and other important sessions held in the City Hall Council Chambers, these "retreats" are not televised.
The question you need to ask is: Why?
Certainly there are technical issues involving cameras and communications with the local cable stations.  But those are surmountable.
Also, cameras themselves don't impact or impede the actual proceedings, aside from the grandstanding that such exposure can elicit.
The truth is that such "retreats" offer a little bit of shade from the Sunshine laws.
We should oppose and protest ANY significant sessions that are not held with the video cameras rolling.  To do otherwise is to invite more secrecy, more opportunities for the public to be excluded from the fact-finding and decision-making process. 
It has long been an irony of our times that governments have repeatedly authorized laws that allow video cameras to film people in stores and businesses, and even authorize the use of government-owned video cameras to record private citizens walking on public sidewalks and driving on public streets, but run away from the idea of videotaping the actions of public servants.
Also, there is the issue of perception.  If it looks like our electeds are doing things in private, it gives credence to cries of "back-room good-ole-boy politics."
We are currently blessed with one of the best councils we've had in years.  One of their first acts was to start opening their "technical sessions" to the public, after being held in secret by the previous regime.  They have also been extraordinarily transparent in their actions and decision-making, despite the best efforts of a city attorney who thrives on secretive "attorney-client sessions" behind closed doors (like the one she called right in the middle of last week's council meeting).  This has led to a lot of public discourse, and it appears as if this council is actually listening to all of the people, not just their hand-picked henchmen. 
It would be a travesty for this collection of well-liked elected officials to opt for off-site sessions where the public would be effectively excluded.  They should decline the City Manager's suggestion to hold such a meeting anywhere other than City Hall, unless it's a site where the meetings could be broadcast on cable TV.
This group has worked too hard, and been far too courageous, to succumb to a "retreat" now.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fighting Back Against OPD

Last week, the Overton Power District showed their complete contempt for the people they are supposed to serve by unanimously approving a 4.5 percent rate increase, despite very vocal protests by Mesquite rate payers.  The increase comes on the heels of another $5 increase imposed last year. 
It's one of the downsides to allowing any monopoly to exist, even when it's supposedly a quasi-governmental agency.  In a lot of states, the monopoly is supposedly held in check by some form of Public Utility Commission, a state agency which has veto authority over rate increases.
Oddly enough, the Public Utility Commission of Nevada does not regulate OPD or the Virgin Valley Water District.  In fact, according to the PUCN website, the only entity regulated by this taxpayer-funded agency is Nevada Energy, a privately-owned power company.  It's typical government stupidity -- the bureaucrats telling private companies what they can and can't do, but allowing other government agencies like OPD to do whatever they like.
So OPD has given us the finger and told all of its ratepayers in Mesquite to go pound sand.  They did it with a tremendous amount of confidence, since they believe they're untouchable.  That arrogance is well-proved, as Mesquite has frequently been a do-nothing community that tends to quietly accept whatever screwing is doled out at any particular time.
But that was the old Mesquite.
As is to be expected from a collection of good old boys that is so far removed from the reality of the people they serve, they don't realize that this community has grown up and begun demanding better from their public servants, as exemplified by the much-improved VVWD and the highly responsive new Mesquite City Council.
Now OPD has made their decision.  The question remains: what are we going to do about it?
The answer: it's already started.
Thanks to the vigilance and determination of the Mesquite Citizen Journal, a pair of OPD's "good old boys" may be facing removal from the club.  Two of the members who pretended to represent Mesquite while quietly being repeatedly re-elected term after term have allegedly violated the state's term-limit law which says they can only serve 12 years.  According to a recent opinion by the state's lackluster Attorney General, one of the laziest and most unresponsive entities in Carson City (another housecleaning that's long overdue), the two board members appear to be in violation of the law and won't be eligible to continue after the first of the year.  OPD tried to play some games with the state law, and has been getting away with it because nobody was looking.  Now, they've got our attention.
Unfortunately, this won't even slow down the current administration, because the law says OPD's board gets to pick the two replacements for the departing yes-men.  Don't expect anything to change with those appointments, and be prepared to live with more of the same for the next two years.
But we don't have to wait.  Here are some things we can actually do to make OPD's life miserable.
Start Obtaining Electricity From Elsewhere - One of the funny things about OPD's defense of their rates is that they included a list of rates from other power companies.  Fortunately, one of the lowest rates on that list belongs to our next door neighbors, St. George's Dixie Escalante Power.  The company already serves Beaver Dam, Littlefield, and Scenic.  Just eight more miles of cable, and they could easily serve Mesquite.  It will require a political fight to make this happen, but it would absolutely be worth the ensuing blood on the floor.  This fight has to start with the Mesquite City Council making inquiries into how to make this happen.  There is where we need to focus our immediate attention.
Start Our Own Power Company - This isn't as far-fetched as it seems.  Caliente, a tiny little town of barely 1,000 people in Lincoln County, has their own electric company.  It would probably require an authorizing act from the Nevada State Legislature (which happens to meet again in just four months), and a lot of work by the citizens of Mesquite, but it is a long term solution that would put us squarely in the driver's seat of our own destiny.  It would also be a death blow to OPD, which would have to pay its bonds with money earned solely from the much-smaller and less affluent Moapa Valley.  Their bonds would crater, and you could probably see the smoke from their humiliating bankruptcy all the way in Mesquite.  Don't let the naysayers tell you this can't be done.  It can.
De-fang The Rate Increase By Conserving Electricity - This is hard for an avowed anti-environmentalist to write, but we can actually serve up a great big helping of "kiss my butt" by getting together as a community and collectively reducing power consumption in our valley.  By doing simple things like replacing incandescent bulbs with CFL bulbs, turning off lights and electric devices when not in use, and being more conscientious about our use of electricity, we could easily reduce our power consumption by 5% without feeling it.  This would offset the 4.5% increase.  If we really wanted to make a statement, we would hold a weekly protest called "No Power Hour."  During that designated hour, citizens would agree to turn off all their electric devices for one hour each week.  In addition to taking money out of the OPD coffers, it might also be fun to pretend we are like the pioneers who founded this community: devoid of any electricity.  We could have "No-Power Parties" by candlelight, with food cooked on a grill. 
In addition to salving our wounded wallets, this would also create a severe problem for OPD.  With reduced revenue, they would be back to being unable to meet their debt obligations, which would cause them problems with their bondholders. 
The reduced income might force OPD to implement another round of increases, which would actually force more people to reduce their power use.  Which would force more rate increases.  Which would force more electric use cutbacks.  See where this is going?  OPD cannot win in this scenario, because their revenue will continue to go down, leading to defaults on the offending bonds which, according to the liars at OPD, caused this problem in the first place. 
This isn't just speculation.  A similar scenario has caused water utility defaults in other parts of the country.  Meanwhile, if we implement one of the other two suggestions of starting our own power company or joining Dixie Escalante, by the time OPD augers in, it will no longer be our problem.
Power Bill Boycott - A more militant option would be for citizens to decide as a group to stop paying their electric bills.  You want to hurt ANY group, even a quasi-public entity?  Cut off their cash flow.  Of course, they hold the upper hand because they could turn off the electricity of every protester.  There are legal ways to delay those actions, but they would only be putting off the inevitable.  However, if the community will was strong enough, this is certainly a courageous option that would make our Boston Tea Party forefathers proud.

These are just a few of the options available to us as citizens and rate payers.  Some would require sacrifice and hard work on the part of the people.  The real question comes down to this:
The Overton Power District board has abused their authority, botched their mandate, and are flipping the bird at all of us.
So what are we going to do about it?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Proud Of My Town After Popeye's Spinach

I am so proud of my town right now I could just bust.
There was a time when I felt the complete opposite.
I used to joke that the official bird of Mesquite was the ostrich, because so many of its citizens insisted in hiding their head in the sand, pretending everything was not only quite hunky but extremely dory.
Then in 2007, a large contingent of locals made a stand and joined together to protest the treatment of the Boy Scouts and their door-to-door canned food drive, which the city government at that time had banned with one of their idiotic new anti-business rules.
When the people showed up at the city council meeting with bags of canned goods in a "silent protest," they were stripped of their protest food at the door, muzzled by the mayor, and humiliated by the council for daring to speak out.
It was a long time before the people of Mesquite joined together again to take on the "powers that be." 
But with incredible courage, they did exactly that.
It started in 2010, when the corrupt and broken Virgin Valley Water District leadership was dismantled and replaced.
The people of this city came together again in 2011 and spoke in a united voice that rumbled with thunder and authority.  Not only did they throw out the offensive mayor, they served back a little of the 2007 humiliation when she received only 19 percent of the vote and was bounced from office during the city primaries.
Since then, it's as if the people of this community have reawakened, ripped open a can of Popeye's mythical spinach, and become energized by their own collective strength.
During the last two weeks, that vigor has been electric.
It begins with the outrage over the Overton Power District's proposed four percent rate increase.  Instead of just rolling over and accepting this most recent gouge, which has been the modus operandi of this community with every rate hike and new fee imposed by the city, the water district, and the power district over the last 10 years, the people have erupted in anger and protest.
A couple of weeks ago, people were lining up at a city council meeting to denounce the increase and demand that the Overton Power District hold a public hearing where people could speak their mind about this rail job.
A few days after that emotionally charged outpouring, the autonomous OPD board finally capitulated and agreed to hold that hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 12 at 6 p.m. in the Mesquite Council Chamber.  It's the first time in years the OPD has agreed to hold a meeting in Mesquite, instead habitually opting for the quieter and safely remote confines of their offices in Overton.
No matter how the issue turns out, it is a proud day for this community, because the people spoke up and insisted on being heard.
It's an even prouder day because the Mesquite City Council listened, and has taken the lead in doing the people's will and pushing back against OPD's move.
Then in the same week, news broke about the proposed plan by Mesa View Regional Hospital to close their labor and delivery department.  It would mean that mothers would no longer be able to have their babies delivered locally, and would have to brave a trip through The Gorge while in the throes of labor to have their children in St. George.  It is a slap in the face to the people of Mesquite who begged for and have supported this for-high-profit medical facility.  It's also a dastardly attempt to engender class warfare by pretending that the hospital needs to close the labor and delivery department used by young families in order to pursue an oncology department for the town's senior population.  The truth is that it doesn't have to be an "either/or" proposition.
Instead of just "taking it," which is the way it used to be done in Mesquite, a large contingent of angry citizens are standing up and shouting "no!" 
Best of all, this vocal and angry group is being led by local mothers, usually the quietest and least political segment of any population.
Within days of the announcement, a new Facebook group of protesters has swelled to more than 600 members.  And they aren't just complaining online.  The group has mobilized, printed T-shirts, distributed thousands of flyers, and has made solid plans to make a limited but visible appearance at tonight's city council meeting, and promises to make a much bigger showing in a few weeks when the council tackles the issue of signing off on the hospital's plan.
The message is clear, and I couldn't be prouder of my community:
Mesquite has found its voice, and its citizens will no longer sit idly by while corrupt elected officials and soulless, distant corporations make their nefarious plans to abuse and run roughshod over the people of this community.
We are no longer ostriches.  We are no longer sheep.
We are the people of Mesquite.  And we will not go quietly into that good night.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Mesa View Considering Anti-Family Move

Word has hit the street that Mesa View Regional Hospital is planning to close their labor and delivery department. 
While the move won't be as visible to visitors as an abandoned casino or a shuttered business on Mesquite Blvd., its effect will be far more devastating.
The old business catchphrase is "if you're not growing, you're dying."  If Mesquite is no longer offering a way to care for newborns, eliminating a means by which to grow our town, what are we doing?
That's right.  Dying.
Sadly, we once again have no one to blame but ourselves, going back to the last decade when our town was so desperately trying to woo a hospital here.
Over the last century, a lot of community hospitals were started by exactly that -- the community.  Not-for-profit hospitals have often been created to serve a town's needs.  Founded and guided by board members made up of local residents and funded by local citizens, the hospitals were answerable to the people in that town.
Unfortunately, we took a shortcut back in 2002.  We chose to get on our hands and knees and beg a for-profit organization to build here.  And we've been at their mercy ever since.
For starters, an enormous number of retirees in Mesquite have a Medicare HMO called "Senior Dimensions."  However, the "powers that be" who control Mesa View have chosen to ignore the community's need and refuse to accept that insurance.
Now Community Health Systems, the company out of Franklin, Tenn. which bought the hospital from Triad a few years ago, is poised to tell hundreds of families in Mesquite to go to Utah to birth their babies.
If this was a not-for-profit hospital owned and controlled by the community, it's an unlikely stance.
But woulda-coulda-shoulda.  It is what it is. 
And what it is, is shameful.
Get used to it, because this is medical care in the 21st century.  It's not about what's best for a struggling town or its inhabitants; it's not about providing the best care possible; it's not about healing the sick and treating the injured; it's not about protecting life.
It's about money.  Nothing else.  You don't like that?  Tough!
That isn't the position of those guardian angels in white who punch a clock every day -- the nurses and front line staff who actually provide service to the patients.  Those people care deeply, and provide the service that wins awards every year.  But to the actual owners of the hospital, those awards are nothing but cheap helium to inflate their marketing balloons and stamp across their advertisements.
Ironically, the ongoing bad decisions made by the hospital's owners are what have run off patients and forced potential customers who have the luxury of choice to go to St. George or Las Vegas for their care.  Mesquite's hospital has become notorious for their bad decisions, including a reputation for outrageous prices; the replacement of an extremely popular Senior Circle administrator with an extraordinarily unpopular former mayor; their refusal to accept the retired sector's most popular insurance; and the wrong-headed moves that have resulted in the loss of truly caring doctors like ear, nose, and throat specialist Dr. Alan Jones, family practitioner Dr. Paul Havens, urologist Dr. Orrenzo Snyder, and perhaps one of the most beloved of all, OB/GYN specialist Dr. Edward Ofori.  The out-of-state management is "managing" to alienate the very community it is supposed to be serving.
Even in the cold-blooded world of uncaring insurance companies and autonomous healthcare corporations, it's still a bad idea to go out of your way to offend your customers.  Instead of cutting an extremely valuable service like labor and delivery because (they claim) it isn't making money, maybe they should look at everything else they've done to leave such a bad taste in everyone's mouth in their short time in the Virgin Valley, a declining reputation that will continue to cost them money.
This time, they may have gone too far.
In the "old Mesquite," people wouldn't have raised a peep.
But in the last two years, the citizens of this community have found their voice, and learned how to use it.
The people have said "enough is enough" and cleaned house at the Virgin Valley Water District, then went on a voting rampage and cleared the decks at City Hall, running off the kind of people who used to tell us that their actions were "for our own good," and that we better like it or else.
Today we have a city council that is far more attuned to the public sentiment, and has proven to be responsive to the will of the people.  And the people are speaking out about this.
A very vocal group of local citizens has taken to the internet to scream in outrage at this travesty, threatening letter-writing campaigns, relentless petitioning of their elected officials, and even pickets.
Who are these politically rabid left-wing and right-wing extremists and rabble rousers?
This valiant collection of women who have been quietly raising their children are noisily coming together on Facebook and on the newspaper comment boards to express their anger over the potential elimination of this critical service, and the cavalier treatment of a heroic doctor who has saved the lives of numerous newborns over the years.
And that is the stomach-turning difference between doctors and soulless medical corporations: Physicians take an oath to heal the sick, even the sick who are poor and on Medicaid.  Healthcare companies only promise to generate dividends for their stockholders.
If Community Health Systems wants to show that they're different; to repair the rift with a community that once loved and embraced this hospital; and to prove that for-profit hospitals can be about more than money; this is their chance.
Otherwise they can live with a new award and title: Nevada's Anti-Family Hospital.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Ironies Of Labor Day

Labor Day is one of the great American ironies.
It is a day to celebrate and honor hard-working Americans, particularly union workers, and has been since 1894.
And we celebrate all that hard work…by not working.
Most Americans have the day off.
But before you fire up that grill and barbeque some brats, burgers, and dogs, take a moment to consider what the day means.
The holiday was started in 1882 as “a day off for the working citizens” by the Central Labor Union of New York City.
The CLU later broke up into individual unions, then came together again as what we today know as the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization, or more simply the AFL-CIO.
Labor Day back then began with street parades and festivals filled with pro-union messages and speeches.
Congress adopted it as an official federal holiday in 1894.
Today, it’s basically just a day off work.
Of course there are some businesses that will be open.
It’s actually another of the ironies.
In those companies where front-line employees (even union employees) have to show up and open the doors on this day, you’ll often find the non-union bosses, managers, and owners taking the day off.
In some parts of the country, it’s the last chance to travel with the family before the start of school.
And while meteorologists, calendar makers, and Mother Earth herself all disagree, most acknowledge it as the end of summer.
Another irony of the day is the fact that unions, which were created to help people join together in a show of unity and strength, have become something of a political divider.
There are a number of people in the U.S. who fervently oppose unions as a concept.
It’s ironic that those who are anti-union won’t let their philosophical stance stop them from taking the day off for a holiday that was founded to celebrate unions.
It’s also a sort of irony that most people in the United States of America do not belong to a labor union, but the word “union” is a derivative of the word “united”.
In fact, the U.S. Constitution begins with the line “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…”
In Nevada, unions aren’t as strong as in other states, mostly because it is a “right to work” state.
In “right to work” states, you cannot force someone to join a union in order to get a particular job.
In other states, in order to get hired for certain jobs with certain companies, you must be a member of the union.
There aren’t a lot of unions in Mesquite.
While unions have become common in the gaming and hospitality industries in Las Vegas, Mesquite’s casino employees are not part of any union.
Most City employees are also union members, as are most teachers.
The best known local “union” is probably the Mesquite Police Officers Association.
It’s just one more irony that many members of Mesquite’s most visible union will not have Labor Day off, as police officers continue to patrol and protect the city while the rest of us relax.
So enjoy your day off.
In between flipping burgers, be sure to give a thought to the hard working Americans who helped make this country great.
Especially union workers.
After all, without unions, most of us would probably be reading this article today on our computers at work.
Have a safe and enjoyable holiday.

(This article was originally published in the Mesquite Local News on Sept. 1, 2008.)