Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mesquite Witch Trials For Smokers

The City of Mesquite continues to wander unguided around the apocalyptic economic plain, desperately but aimlessly in search of an idea or identity to help resurrect its former greatness and recapture its glory as a growing, vibrant tourist destination and retirement Mecca.  Those in and out of power continue seeking the mythical Holy Grail that will magically bring the throngs back to the city.
"We don't have a lot of kids or young people here, but let's build a youth sports complex, because young people LOVE flocking to places where old people live."  "We don't have any transmission lines, facilities, or a technically enhanced labor pool, but let's become a player in the alternative energy game."  "We don't have a majority of soccer players or fans here, and we don't have any money, but let's use $5 million worth of taxpayer money to buy a used, plastic soccer tent so thousands of those wealthy, cash-heavy, money-spending pre-teens will race to our otherwise empty sports complex."
Since we're continuing to entertain folly, here are a few more ideas for Mesquite to try:
The amphitheater in front of City Hall is rarely used other than for the annual Christmas, er, Holiday Tree lighting ceremony.  In its place, let's erect some stocks.  You know, those wooden contraptions from the days of the Pilgrims, where citizens' heads and hands are publicly imprisoned and subjected to target practice with rotten vegetables.
Or, still at City Hall, we can deepen the small fountain that rarely gets used anymore because of worries about the political incorrectness of an open spigot in the middle of a desert.  Once we finish that municipal project, we can start selling tickets to rigged trials and public drownings.  It was a successful means of ensuring the tiny town of Salem, Massachusetts remains forever in the history books, and is still a major tourism draw to this day.
And a collection of local zealots have already designated the perfect iteration of 21st century witches:
Cigarette smokers.
There is a new campaign going around town insisting that the answer to all our tourism troubles is to make Mesquite "smoke-free." 
That's right, in a remarkably insightful reversal, they claim that the way to get people to come to our town is by telling a large segment of tobacco-using residents and visitors that they're not welcome here.
Apparently, according to these folks (some of whom are good friends of mine), the problem with Mesquite and its casinos is that there are just too many smokers. 
I don't mean to be overly dramatic or Glenn Beck-ish here, but I seem to recall a certain European country deciding that all of their economic and cultural woes could be cured with the eradication of one particular kind of citizen back in the 1930's, and if I remember correctly, that didn't turn out so well.
For the record, I am not now nor have I ever been a smoker (just in case some Marlboro McCarthy is out there checking into un-Mesquitian activities).  However, my wife is a smoker, and my father was a lifetime smoker, so maybe I'm guilty by association - a smoker-in-law.
I'm sure that my dad's nicotine habit contributed to his death.  But the bigger culprit was diabetes.  Yet I don't see a lot of these "we're gonna tell you how to live" activists marching around with "Ban Twinkies" or "Secondhand Creme Filling Is A Killer" signs.
I also don't have any patience with people who claim employees at casinos, bars, and (used to be) restaurants shouldn't be subjected to secondhand smoke.
For starters, I believe secondhand smoke is about as real as global warming, vampires, and the heterosexuality of Ryan Seacrest. 
But more importantly, we've forgotten an important truth in a capitalistic society: customers don't gather in a place simply to create jobs for employees; employees are hired to serve customers who gather.  Customers should be welcomed and served, not discriminated and dictated.  There isn't a single waitress, bartender, roulette roller, or blackjack dealer in Nevada who took a job not knowing that some of those customers will be smokers.
Personally, I'm beginning to feel like Martin Niemoller, the guy who coined the famous phrase that includes the line "then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew."  I'm not a smoker, but I'm sick and tired of watching smokers being used as political pinatas by an arrogant collective who wants to impose their will on other people who are simply minding their own business and trying to get on with their lives.  Smokers have been kicked out of the workplace, kicked out of the sports arenas, kicked out of the restaurants, and basically kicked out of all public places for purchasing and using a legal, highly-taxed substance; a commodity which was essential to this country's founding and early economic success, and continues to fill state and federal coffers with plenty of coin.
But that's not enough for this new crop of zealots.  Now they want to run these people completely out of our town, like lepers whose waterfront colony has become too valuable.  "Give up smoking or relocate."
Mesquite already has the undeserved national reputation of being a "mean town."
Is this really the message we want to send out to people seeking a good time?  That if they smoke, they are a scourge and should avoid our town?  That we are such a judgmental collection of people that we would really parse out the smokers and exclude them from our gaming and drinking establishments?
I pray not.  I don't think I could live in such a city.
But if this is truly the track that Mesquite wants to follow, at least it gives City Hall one more new event that would be a sure draw for the soon-to-be-erected plastic tent.
All the zealots need to do is round up a few smokers every week and take them to the spectator-filled tent (which would have a sign hanging on the flap that says "Coliseum").
Then, just add lions.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

City Council Report Card

The new Mesquite City Council has been in place for nearly five months.  In that time, a lot of their effort has been spent undoing the mischief and mess left behind by the previous regime.  For the most part, they've made sound decisions.  More importantly, with one glaring exception, they've been doing an exceptional job at providing the much-needed transparency for which citizens have been clamoring, and appear to be more willing to listen to the people.
As a unit, the council appears to be very functional, without the suspicious trend of 5-0 votes that marred the previous council with the stench of back-room deal making.
One of their most noble votes was the approval of the election cycle change which will move the city elections from June of odd years to November of even years.  Most of the new council members campaigned against the move, but voted in favor of it after the citizens expressed their desire during June's non-binding referendum, indicating their preference that the dates be changed.  The council voted the will of the people instead of insisting "we know what's best for you."
With the end of the year fast approaching, here is our "report card" on the Mesquite City Council.

Councilman Kraig Hafen - A+
The best thing about Hafen is the fact that he has done exactly what he promised to do when elected.  He has asked hard questions, done his homework on issues, and applied the kind of almost unnatural common sense that is completely absent from nearly every level of government.  He has also put his money where his mouth is.  He dug into his own pocket to pay for a bus so Mesquite residents could go to and be heard at the Regional Transportation Commission meeting regarding local bus service.  He doesn't open his microphone unless he has something to say, and he says it in a passionate, concise, well-thought-out fashion.  Best of all, he has managed to maintain a careful balance between representing the citizens and representing the businesses, an almost impossible dance to maintain.

Councilman George Rapson - A
Rapson is easily the biggest and most welcome surprise on the council.  He is usually first to talk about an agendized issue, lets everyone know what he is thinking on an issue and why, and offers broad spectrum analysis that shows he has researched the issues and asked questions.  A lot of people said he ran for office just because he needed a job.  If that's true, we should be thankful we were able to get someone with his energy, wisdom, intelligence, and courage for the pittance we actually pay him.  The only area of concern is his connection to the Solstice liars, and his friendliness with the NCS crew.  So far, he has abstained when necessary, and continued to represent the people first.  Citizens need to remain vigilant, particularly on his stance defending NCS and their pet projects, as well as the proposed "sports tent" that would benefit them.  But he has shown himself to be something special, welcome, and needed on the council.

Councilman Al Litman - C+
Litman is Mesquite City Council's Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde.  Away from the council chambers, Al is outspoken, talkative, passionate, and ready to take on the world in his crusades.  On the council, he's the lamb that rarely offers an opinion; is timid and sometimes confused when he does; and doesn't always seem to have a grasp on the issues.  Occasionally it seems as if the first time he has bothered to open his council packet is when he arrived at the dais that night.  He has also shown little leadership up there.  However, to his credit, he continues to be a principled man and advocate looking out for the best interest of the citizens.  As time goes on, he will be an important counterweight to the overwhelmingly pro-developer lineup currently on the council.  Hopefully, as he gains more comfort and confidence in his seat, he'll become more vocal and better prepared.

Councilman Geno Withelder - D
If there's a golf tournament to be held, Geno is your man.  Also, as you would expect from a Realtor and broker representing one of the most successful development and real estate agencies in the city, he is very pro-developer.  That's not necessarily a bad thing in a city that still has a lot of growing to do.  But while Rapson favors some of the developers, it's clear that Withelder is deeply in the pocket of the development community.  That's not to say he's been bought off - he hasn't.  It's simply in his nature and job description to champion any and every project and move favored by big developers.  People also need to keep a very close eye on his relationship with NCS.  The bad news is that if it comes down between what's best for businesses/developers and what's best for the people of Mesquite, Withelder will likely side with the developers every time.  The good news is that, unless the discussion involves a golf tournament, he rarely bothers to participate or speak up.  If the developers are going to have a friend on the council, the people are lucky that it's the quiet guy.

Councilman Karl Gustaveson - F+
No surprise here.  Gustaveson is the last vestige remaining from one of the worst regimes this city has ever seen.  He is an arrogant, opinionated blowhard who thinks more of his own opinion than anyone else's on the planet, and leaves no room for perspective or input from anyone outside his circle.  And his circle continues to include former mayor Susan Holecheck.  Worse, his position on the Virgin Valley Water District board is downright dangerous to the people of Mesquite.  The smartest move the city could make would be to remove Gustaveson as the city's representative on the VVWD board and replace him with former VVWD president Kraig Hafen.  That said, Gustaveson still serves an important purpose on the Mesquite City Council.  He is the fly in the ointment that guarantees fewer 5-0 votes.  And that's a good thing.  He has been and will continue to be the lone opposition on a lot of issues.  It's extremely important and healthy for an elected government to have someone who consistently says "yeah, but..."  One other positive about Gustaveson is the fact that, while he is usually way wrong-headed on the issues, he is honest in his opinions.  He is virtually incorruptible.  When he votes, he is doing it from an anti-business, anti-freedom agenda steeped in the firm belief that "I know what's best for you."  But it's never about what's in it for him, or what he has to gain.  He won't bend, he refuses to "go along to get along," and that's an admirable trait.  It's just a shame that all that ferocity and courage is spent on trying to control the people instead of trying to serve them.

Mayor Mark Wier - B
Wier has been the same somewhat shy guy who campaigned quietly and gave the city a dramatic change from the egocentric leadership that previously dominated the mayor's office.  He does not have a forceful personality, although he used to be a lot more passionate and opinionated before he earned the title "mayor."  One thing he still does behind the scenes is deep research, particularly of the Nevada Revised Statutes.  The guy knows his state law, often better than Mesquite's City Attorney.  His quieter approach is also a welcome relief from the back room gamesmanship that previously defined the city council.  He is more of an arbitrator than a leader.  During the first six months, that's probably exactly what this city and this council needed.  However, he needs to step up his game in the next year.  Mesquite continues to founder in the economic storm.  To hope that the ship will right itself is naive.  It will take leadership and vision.  The jury is still out on whether Wier possesses either, or can muster support and lead the charge in any particular direction.  We need him to stand up and say "here's where we're going, here's why, and here's how we're going to get there."  Hopefully that will come in January's State of the CIty Address.  Knowing Wier, he will put a lot of thought and research into that speech, and will seek input from a wide variety of people and sources.  There have been complaints that he is less than diligent in returning calls and e-mails to inquisitive citizens.  However, voters knew this would be a weakness when they elected someone who works for a living instead of selecting someone who would take on the mayor's position full time.  It's not really his fault.  He has a stressful, demanding full time job, a wife and children, and all the obligations that real people must face.  The upside is that, under his administration, the volume of contacts and complaints is probably much lower than before, because he has eradicated most of the controversy and causes for people to be angry enough to contact City Hall.  To his credit, Wier has done more to promote transparency and openness in the Mesquite government in his short time than any mayor before him.  He has opened the technical reviews to the public, always allows citizens to have their say at council meetings (even if those comments go longer than three minutes), and has worked hard and successfully at changing the title of his board from "the" city council to "our" city council.  For that reason alone, he is to be applauded and commended.  He is a very good mayor so far.  The fact that he has room for a little bit of improvement means his future may be even better. 

Overall Mesquite City Council - B+
The funny thing is, this mix of unique characters and opposing viewpoints actually works extremely well.  The long, unbroken chain of 5-0 votes is gone.  Discussion and debate takes place openly on the dais (with the notable and shameful exception of the Nov. 8 meeting in which the council went behind closed doors with the City Attorney before rendering an abrupt and unexplained decision on the ill-advised Solstice debt).  They have gone a long way toward undoing the harmful folly of their predecessors, including the opening of the technical reviews to the public, the elimination of the restrictive and manipulative "Code of Conduct" that was previously used to go after a former councilwoman, and the recent change that allows the Boy Scouts to resume their annual door-to-door food drive after being banned for the last three years.  This council actually listens to the people, even if it doesn't always vote accordingly.  They don't appear to have an unstated agenda or back room consensus when they show up, and they don't display any signs of being manipulated or smacked into line.  It's odd to say about a group that has no women and no minorities among its number, but it is a very diverse collection.  That diversity and independence is a terrific thing for the people of this community.  While we disagree with the council on a number of issues, including the handling of Solstice; the forward movement on an indoor sports facility we can't afford; the continuing cowardice in refusing to stand up to the feds regarding the Habitat Conservation and Rehabilitation Plan extortion; and the retention of at least four high-ranking city staff members who are ineffective, incompetent, and in way over their heads, we believe strongly in this council and its approach.  Mesquite finally has what it wanted and deserves - a council that listens to and represents the people.  We once again have a council we can be proud of.  A great big round of applause and pat on the back goes to the Mesquite City Council.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Water District Board Must Be Overhauled

Every once in a while, whining and whisperings begin over the way the Virgin Valley Water District is formulated.
Specifically, the call occasionally goes out insisting on changes in the way the five members of the governing board are selected.
Currently, the people of Mesquite elect two board members, while the people of Bunkerville elect one member.
Another Mesquite board member is selected and appointed by the Mesquite City Council, usually choosing one of the council members to fill the slot. 
The final spot is filled by the Clark County Commissioners, after recommendations from the Bunkerville Town Advisory Board.
The problem with that arrangement is that 40% of the board is not directly answerable to the people.
That reality was highlighted again on Tuesday night.
The contentious issue of adding another surcharge to the LONG list of permit fees, impact fees, connection fees, and various other costs involved in signing up for water was the topic.  This one wasn't exactly the water district's idea.  It was a pure and simple case of extortion by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies to hammerlock builders and newcomers to the valley into paying a fee for a nebulous, undefined program for "endangered species."
Unfortunately, the only species endangered in this scenario is the "Overtaxed Overburdened Cost-Dissuaded Homeowning Newbie," a genre of new resident moving into Mesquite that will become all but extinct thanks to the new $166 fee approved on Tuesday that will be added to the City's $500 fee for new homes and businesses.  All of the money is supposedly for the Habitat Conservation and Rehabilitation Plan, a government slush fund for a program that currently isn't even finished and that doesn't begin to specify where and how the money will ultimately be spent.
On Tuesday, the feds again explained that without that fee, they would make it almost impossible to develop future construction projects in Mesquite.  No matter how you slice it, as Bunkerville water board member Kenyon Leavitt reiterated, it's a criminal practice of extortion that would lead to jailtime if it were attempted by anyone except Uncle Sam.
For the last few months, Leavitt and heroic board member Ted Miller have courageous fought against the fee. 
On Tuesday, mostly because of the citizen-unfriendly makeup of the board, the fee finally passed.
In the final 3-2 vote, Miller and Leavitt did their job, representing and defending the people of this valley.
Unfortunately, current VVWD board president and Mesquite city councilman Karl Gustaveson led the charge in pushing this fee through.  The City of Mesquite made no secret of the fact they desperately wanted the water district to impose this fee, and the G-man is THEIR man.  Gustaveson, who it seems never met an anti-development fee he didn't like, could make that vote because he does not have to face the wrath of the voters in order to keep his seat on the Virgin Valley Water District board. 
He does have to face the voters to stay on the Mesquite City Council in 2013, but he has about as much chance of being re-elected as a desert tortoise does of winning the Daytona 500.  In fact, rumors are swirling that he won't even bother to face the embarrassment of running for re-election.  It's a smart move, judging from the way his best political friend (former Mesquite Mayor Susan Holecheck) got humiliated after gaining only about 20% of the vote in her 2011 re-election bid.
The other untouchable board member is Mark McEwen, who was picked by the Clark County Commission to replace Cecil Leavitt.  He doesn't have to pay a price for Tuesday's bad decision, because he isn't accountable to the voters.
The third member actually is accountable.  However, since her election last year, board member Sandra Ramaker has shown that if board president Karl Gustaveson takes a crap, she'll be the one there to wipe.  (And that's exactly what the two of them did on Tuesday - took a big dump on the people of this valley).  Whatever Gustaveson wants done, it appears she is his sycophant. 
We can only hope the people of Mesquite won't pull our famous amnesia act and forget harmful actions like this when her name reappears on the ballot in 2014.  Hopefully, the board will also show better sense and not appoint this power-hungry seat seeker (she is next in line to head the Mesquite Chamber of Commerce, despite the fact that she doesn't own a business here) as the board president when Gustaveson is ousted in 2013.
But this is bigger than one 3-2 vote on one case of federal extortion.
It's really a question of whether democracy has a place here.
There is no way that the second most powerful governmental agency in the Virgin Valley should be structured with appointed officials.  This agency has the power to essentially levy taxes with their fees and rates, and controls the most important and valuable resource in the desert - water.  Any body with that kind of power must be answerable to the people.  That means all of the board members, not just a little over half of them, should be elected.
This will take an action from the Nevada State Legislature, which originally created the VVWD. 
With the next session of the legislature not scheduled until 2013, we have time to start petitioning and requesting that this issue be put on the senate and assembly agendas.  Unfortunately, because of redistricting, we don't even know who our representatives will be in the legislature until after the 2012 election.  The good news is, this should be an important campaign issue in that 2012 run-up.  The people of this valley should make sure that every time one of the senate or assembly wannabes show up for a fund raiser or campaign stop, the question of changing the makeup of the Virgin Valley Water District gets pressed. 
The hard part will be keeping old arguments from festering to the surface and killing this initiative, particularly the question of who gets to vote for whom.  There is a good argument to be made for making all five board members "at large" candidates, meaning they all get voted on by everyone in Mesquite and Bunkerville instead of the current setup where the people of Bunkerville vote for one board member, and the people of Mesquite vote for two other board members.  With an "at large" setting, it's possible that Bunkerville could wind up without anyone from their town on the board, which is unacceptable.
For now at least, the best approach would be to simply change the rules so two of the board members are elected by Bunkerville, and three are elected by Mesquite.
No matter how the final balance comes out, it's time to fix this abomination to thinking and voting people in the Virgin Valley.  We need to be able to hold all of these board members accountable.  It's our destiny, it should be up to us to decide whose hands rest on that tiller.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

City Council Takes First Step Down Same Old Secret Path In Solstice Debacle

The site of the promised Solstice hotel and casino at
Falcon Ridge and Pioneer remains as unbuilt today as it did
when this photo was taken in 2008. 
Just when it looked like the Mesquite City Council was showing itself to be something special, something the people of this city could be proud of, the council returned to the old, secret, behind-closed-doors practice of making decisions away from the public's eyes.
On Tuesday, the council tackled just one more remnant of the failed Susan Holecheck administration when it discussed the ill-advised $2.5 million loan to Solstice during the Redevelopment Agency board meeting which preceded the regular city council meeting.
The loan was a horrendous idea when the previous council voted to take the huge chunk of money out of the city's RDA fund.
The fund, created by an act of the state legislature specifically for Mesquite, was originally intended to renovate and improve the city's downtown business district.
In 2009, the city initially tried to just give the money directly to Solstice to build a road to their high-end trailer park just past the Mesa View Regional Hospital. 
Of all the things Solstice and their owners Barcelona Partners promised to build when they bought city-owned land for a fraction of its value back in 2006, the trailer park is the only thing they've actually built.  The 20-story hotel, casino, shopping plaza, and housing development originally touted by Solstice back when they were playing Pied Piper at civic clubs and public gatherings to gain the support of the community were never even begun.
Some of the land obtained by Barcelona Partners for the project has since been foreclosed on by lenders after the company ran up debts that were higher than the original purchase price of the property.
The land where the luxury motor home park is located is still owned by Solstice and Barcelona.  For now. 
In 2009, when the city figured out they couldn't give away RDA money to a private entity for a project that was nowhere near the city's downtown business district, the administration figured out how to use some loopholes and get around the RDA rules by making the $2.5 million a "loan" to build the road that was supposed to be the responsibility of Solstice, according to their own development deal with the city.
It was a galactically stupid decision, particularly considering Solstice was already showing signs of economic trouble, in addition to the fact that they hadn't built any of the hotel or casino projects they had promised when the city sold its rodeo arena to the company.  Now we have no rodeo in Mesquite, a longtime tradition that pre-dates the city's founding, and we don't have the stores or entertainment venues the company promised.
On Tuesday, the council considered Barcelona's request to "restructure" the loan, now that they've missed the last two semi-annual payments.
At first, the council debated whether foreclosure would be an option, but quickly figured out just how stupid they had been in floating a loan on property that already had two lenders ahead of us (another red flag that was ignored in 2009). 
Then the city asked for more information on Barcelona's financial situation.  The company refused to release the numbers, claiming it was "proprietary information."
Sound familiar?
Throughout the catastrophically flawed Desert Falls fiasco, that term was thrown out every time the citizens asked for more info on their funding (which, it turned out, didn't exist).
Can you imagine any bank accepting the "we can't tell you our financial situation because it's proprietary information" stall when deciding whether to renegotiate a defaulted loan?  Not hardly.
So instead of pushing through with foreclosure or a restructured payment schedule, the council took a "time out" on Tuesday to meet behind closed doors with the city attorney.
Just like the most insidious days of the former mayor's regime, the council then returned and quickly voted to "use any reasonable, available remedies in consultation with outside counsel to satisfy the debt that is owed to the City of Mesquite," without further explanation.
The first problem is they made a decision outside the public arena.  That $2.5 million is OUR money, so our government needs to be very open in how they plan to get it back.
Second, the motion is so vague that it allows a ton of wiggle room and negotiations that will be done quietly in the back rooms of city offices instead of on the council floor, where it belongs.
Sadly, this is what lawyers like to call the "slippery slope."  Once a government starts going down this secretive road, it is almost impossible for it to break the habit.
The people of Mesquite should be angry and disappointed that once again, their elected officials are saying "trust us, we know what's best" instead of doing their job of representing the people, in front of the people.
At some point, we can only hope that state investigators get off their duffs and start looking at the details of this shady deal, going all the way back to 2006, with special emphasis on the use of RDA money for a project outside the RDA area.  It's unlikely that the state would take kindly to the city thumbing its nose at their rules.
About the only thing that's funny or ironic is the fact that, months after Holecheck, most of her council cronies, and her ringleader Tim Hacker are gone, that administration has posthumously found a way to do what they couldn't do in 2009 - find a way to give RDA money to that private entity without the city ever getting paid back.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Gas Prices Better In Mesquite

Prices have gone down even further in Mesquite since
Friday, dropping to $3.25 as of Wednesday morning.
While traveling to Las Vegas last week, something I am loathe to do, I received a pleasant and very welcome surprise.
Sometimes along the way on I-15, I will stop at the new Love's truck stop for fuel.
Last week, I noticed the price of regular gas was $3.69 a gallon. 
Fortunately, I didn't need gas, so I was able to pass up this price.
Once into North Las Vegas, I checked the sign on Craig Road for the Pilot truck stop, a fueling station that I use almost every time I visit Sin City.
Their posted price for regular gasoline was $3.49 a gallon.
That was a much better deal.
However, I didn't need gas, so I didn't partake.
The reason I didn't need gas is because I filled up at the Smith's in Mesquite on the corner of Sandhill Boulevard and Hillside Drive.
There, gasoline on Friday was $3.26 a gallon.
That's not a typo.
It's hard to believe that after all these years of growling and grumbling about the price of gas in our little microwaved slice of Heaven, fuel fees are finally becoming competitive.
The Smith price was even less than the Pilot truck stop in St. George, which is usually the bellwether for gas prices in the area.  Pilot's price was $3.45 per gallon.
It's a gratifying change.
While working in the newspaper business in Mesquite over the last eight years, I frequently did stories on runaway gas prices in our town.  Most of those stories required a quick stop at the gas station on the corner of Sandhill and Hillside for a photo, because the sign at what was then a Chevron station usually boasted one of the highest prices in town.  The price gouging wasn't just a reflection of this big oil participant, although Chevron is usually among the most expensive gas in Mesquite.  I always believed the ripoff factor was elevated because of the station's close proximity to the interstate exit.  The price at Sandhill and Hillside was regularly the highest among the three Chevron stations in town.
Now, that same corner under the Smith's banner consistently boasts the lowest price in the 89027 zip code. 
Prior to Smith's arrival, the low-price battle was usually between the Maverik just down the street and the Terrible's at the corner of Mesquite Boulevard and Riverside Road.
These days, it's hard to know which of the three stations is the catalyst for the price drop, because as soon as the price goes down at Smith's, Maverik is quick to follow.  Or perhaps it's vice versa, with Smith's following Maverik's lead.
For example, last Friday, the price for gas at the big M convenience store was also $3.26 per gallon. 
Whichever way the flow goes for low price supremacy, it's a major win for local consumers.
Part of the victory can be attributed to one of the core tenets of capitalism, which is the fact that competition breeds better service and lower prices.  Because there is so much collusion between the big oil players like Exxon, Chevron, and Shell, (all of which reported incredibly high multi-billion dollar profits in the third quarter of this year, including Exxon's $10.3 billion windfall), it's rare to see a low price posted on one of their signs. 
On the other hand, the smaller gasoline purveyors continue the American tradition of trying to beat the other guy's price.  This downward pressure is a positive for our town.
In fact, I wish there was a way we could get this message out to the potential visitors whizzing by our interstate exits, and residents of neighboring towns.  It would be a huge boon for the community if we could somehow let those travelers know that not only is Mesquite a fun place to stop, with our casinos, bowling alley, golf courses, movie theaters, and friendly people, it's also a place to find a good deal on fuel. 
It's sort of like the "loss leader" technique often used by big retailers: Lure the customer in with an insanely low price on one popular item, and more than make up the difference with all the other buys the person will make while they're there.
Unfortunately, that strategy will never catch so long as the Rebel station at exit 122 and the Chevron Travel Center at exit 120 continue to commit mercantile rape on visitors with their outrageous gas prices at their high visibility posts at the two entryways to our city.
But we can blast our good gas news about Smiths and Maverik to everyone in our Facebook lineup and e-mail address book (along with driving directions on how to bypass Chevron and Rebel), letting friends and acquaintances know that Mesquite is the place to go for low gas prices.
So after years of complaining about our place in the gas price pecking order, I want to thank Smith's, Maverik, and Terrible's for treating Mesquite residents right, and bringing some sanity back to an overpriced commodity.  We appreciate you.
To my friends and neighbors, I encourage you to bury your Chevron card deep in your wallet and take your cars to one of these three low-priced options.  If we don't support their efforts with our dollars by ensuring they sell in enough quantity to keep their prices low, we won't be in a position to complain when the prices go back to big oil levels.
And be sure to tell your friends and neighbors here and outside Mesquite that we are the area's low price leaders in gasoline.