Wednesday, April 18, 2012

High Salaries In Mesquite May Be Justified

On Monday, Mesquite Citizen Journal offered a story which reported on the top salaries in the city.  [Click Here for that story]
Some of the numbers are startling, particularly the notion that the city paid more than $12 million in salaries, overtime, and benefits.  That number is actually higher, but the city continues to use rules and policies to hide the truth from its citizens by refusing to include former employee salaries in the list (and with the amount of attrition the city has experienced in the last year, you can bet that's a serious number).
Twelve million dollars.
That's a lot of money for any community (except maybe Bell, Calif.).
In a town of around 15,000 (not the 19,000 population number city staffers continue to lie about), that comes to $800 for every man, woman, and child in Mesquite.
There's no disputing that we pay a lot of money to our government employees.  But that may not be a bad thing.
When you strip out the multitude of benefits and get down to the actual base salaries, they aren't that far off.  The cost of benefits, especially health insurance, has silently been exploding over the last decade.  It's one of the most disturbing secrets that nobody wants to talk about.  And that's the cost right now, before any "Obamacare" measures, in that "open market" (insert sarcastic laugh here) politicians and Wall Street have convinced you is such a great deal for the American people.
Like it or not, we have to pay benefits.  If you want to get ticked off about it (and you should), direct your ire at the insurance companies and their protectors, the United States Congress.  It's not the fault of the Mesquite City Council or even those much-maligned "city staffers."  Otherwise, the top news story wouldn't be about high city salaries; it would be about city workers forced to stand in line at the free clinic to get treatment for their children.  That's definitely not the image we want to promote.
Also, there's a change in the government employee dynamic.
It used to be that government employees were paid less than their private sector counterparts because a city job was usually a lifetime appointment.  Not anymore.  If we're going to wantonly terminate underlings to protect the salaries of the top dogs, then those employees need to be paid like the employees at corporations who are subject to the same callous fate.
Then you have to take a look at the individual wages and the dreaded "top ten."
A lot of people have been outraged that six of the 10 highest salaries in Mesquite are paid to mere police officers.
Not me.
For a change, unlike most of this country, Mesquite has it right.
I've never understood why office dwellers who never lift a finger or break a sweat get paid so much more than men and women whose careers involve taking turns in the crosshairs of a terrorist sniper's rifle.  In my book, anyone willing to sacrifice their lives to protect a neighborhood or a nation deserves the highest pay.
That's our local police department, and they deserve to earn more than the guy whose job is to rubber stamp "denied" on building and business permits.
In one online comment, someone was astounded to find that several Mesquite police department members earn more than the city attorney. 
I'm not.
Forgetting for a moment the question of whether we have ever gotten our money's worth out of our current city attorney, all you really need to do is take a look at the two job descriptions.  A cop has to literally stare down the barrel of a loaded gun, make split-second decisions about saving or ending another human life, and physically put their hands on violent human scum during the hottest days and most frigid nights.  Attorneys sit in nice air-conditioned offices shuffling papers until it's time to go to court or attend a meeting and interrupt with "point of order" every time an elected official tries to actually talk to a member of the public.
Another thing I like about our "top ten" is that we're mostly talking about local folks, people who have lived here for a long time while serving their community.  If we're going to give away $150,000, let's give it to the guy who has been here for 10 or 20 years, not the carpetbagging bureaucrat who's simply found a comfy municipal perch to land on while collecting big seeds before flying off to North Las Vegas or some other bigger, better nest.
The truth is that most of the big dollar earners wound up on the top ten list because they've been here so long.  More than a few started with the city in the early days back when our rate of pay could be characterized in the "peanuts" strata.  By simply sticking with us, their embarrassingly small pay raises over a lot of years have finally elevated them to the higher levels.  And in America, that's the way it used to be -- you hang onto your job, work your way up the ladder, and the rewards should be waiting. 
The salaries that disturb me are the ones where we bring in gunslingers from out of town and pay them obscene amounts of cash because our collective self-esteem is so low we think nobody in our piddly little town is good enough or smart enough to do the job.  It's like the wealthy dweeb who hires high-priced prostitutes because he thinks he's too ugly for a woman to want him any other way.
A different question for another time is whether we're getting our money's worth.  When it comes to this police department, led by a real cop who isn't afraid to still get his hands dirty by working a case, I'd have to say yes.  The last three bank robbers sitting in their jail cells would probably agree, along with the murderers who got caught 10 years after the crime because our cops wouldn't give up.  With our police department's high solve rate, I'd say that's money well spent.
A lot of the same arguments could be made for our firefighters, a group that runs into burning buildings that other people are racing out of.  They risk their lives against threats more significant than a paper cut, so they deserve bigger bucks.  More importantly, unlike their crooked big city brethren in Vegas, our firefighters aren't gaming the system to squeeze even more money out of taxpayers.
As for Bill Tanner?  I saw that man stand atop a newly-created berm looking at the raging flood waters racing toward our homes in December of 2010.  You could almost see the wheels turning in his head as he figured ways to keep us safe.  A lot of it worked, as we saw less damage than we had seen from the floods of 2005.  He is also a tireless worker and quiet leader.  The only time he gets into trouble is when he gets sucked into politics, like helping push the government lie that we needed a bigger sewage treatment facility (we didn't) or that buying an expensive piece of downtown property for a mythical new library is a good idea.  Keep him out of the political side and he is one of the best city workers in the county.  Maybe even the state.  He's been here a long time, works hard, doesn't pump up his own ego, and quietly gets things done like the Hunter Park ballfields, the lights at the VVHS baseball field, and a dozen other city projects that came in on time and under budget during his watch.  He deserves whatever the city is paying him.
So is our payroll too high?  Probably.  Especially for a town this size.  Are there some cuts that could comfortably be made?  Absolutely, particularly in upper level management where a few bureaucrats have managed to prove just how overpaid they truly are.  I believe there's a job behind a McDonalds fry-o-lator with their plastic nametag on it. 
But for the most part, with those notable and way-too-powerful exceptions, our city employees are dedicated, hard-working individuals who deserve to be compensated.  We probably need to slow down the "raise" train and put the brakes on hiring, but the truth is we could fund a few more city positions just by dumping the overpaid consultants and lobbyists that are sucking us dry (another manifestation of the "we're too stupid to figure things out for ourselves" syndrome).  Our government is paying consultants (former government officials) to lobby...our government.  See anything odd about this picture?
Yes, our taxes are still too high and government spending in Mesquite could still do with another round of cuts.  But blaming salaries is such an easy target that it's unlikely to be the right one.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Speeding Tickets For Fun and Profit

I was driving to Las Vegas one night earlier this week to pick up my wife from the airport.
Before I get to today's actual piece, I just wanted to comment on the fact that government stupidity and incompetence have ruined two things I used to love.
The first is air travel.  I once loved the entire airline experience, from the greeting of enthusiastic skycaps when you pulled up in front of the airport to the excitement of showing the ticket agent your reservation for some exotic destination like Indianapolis.
Now, thanks to the government's inability to protect its people and refusal to apply a half-ounce of common sense in determining who might be a threat, the run-up (or more like "crawl-up" in one of those TSA lines) to flying on an airplane has become an excruciating endeavor that rivals a root canal for enjoyment.
The other is Las Vegas.
I once loved Las Vegas like no other city.  My wife and I got married there, long before we moved out west.  The lights, the neon, the impending excitement.
Now I would prefer a good rectal exam with knitting needles over venturing to that disaster zone of a city, due to the fact that practically every damn inch of asphalt in that zip code is under construction, recently finished with construction, or is about to undergo construction.
On the recent trip to the airport I mentioned, I endured the joy of sitting at a dead stop on I-215 at 11:30 at night on a Tuesday because the IIC (Idiots In Charge) decided to close four of the five lanes to do some sort of road maintenance.  I'm not sure what they were doing, but they had a couple of large pieces of equipment that resembled Imperial Walkers from the Star Wars movies creeping along the roadway.  They weren't paving or tearing up pavement.  It almost looked like they were simply cleaning the surface.  Four out of the five lanes.  What made it even more infuriating is that this piece of highway was built less than 10 years ago, and had just been repaved within the last 3 years (in keeping with the Las Vegas law that states "what happens in Vegas...must be repaved every fifth full moon).  Because of the constant traffic congestion and incessant road construction, I now hate Las Vegas and any cause that drags me there.
But back to the real thrust of this week's story.
While heading out of town Tuesday night, I noticed a Mesquite police car hiding in a median behind one of the mini-mountains on I-15 west of town.  It was obviously running a "traffic enforcement operation," which is cop-eze for what regular people refer to as a speed trap.
I've seen this a few times, and I always find it odd.  Why is a city police car doing traffic stops on the interstate?  Jurisdictionally, that's the province of the Nevada Highway Patrol.  Even the Las Vegas Metro Police Department (southern Nevada's version of the sheriff's department) shies away from handing out traffic tickets on the federal highways.
The obvious answer is: money.  Writing up speeders on their way to Dubuque can be a cash cow, especially since most out-of-staters receiving these unwelcome municipal greeting cards won't be coming back this way to dispute the charges.
Every once in a while we also get lucky and catch somebody moving a trunk full of crystal meth or other illicit substances, because we have one of the best and sharpest police departments in the west, with one of the highest "solve" rates in the country.  That's a good thing.
But make no mistake, the real impetus is fines and cash for city coffers.
And that begs the question: is it worth it?
Is hiding in the bushes with a radar gun like a big-bellied Jackie Gleason-type from Hickwater, Georgia really the image a tourist town like Mesquite wants to convey?  Do we really want the reputation of being nothing more than a money-grubbing speed trap aiming to fleece the last dime from broke gamblers leaving Las Vegas? 
It's a legitimate question with a very concrete divide. 
There is a definable financial cost to creating and maintaining an image.  It's why the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority spends millions of dollars each year on TV commercials around the country trying to show the shiny side of Sin City (while spending about $15 a year to mention its ugly step sister, Mesquite).  Tennessee has jumped on the same bandwagon, burning millions on television ads hyping the beauty of the state.  (The truth is that I've been to Tennessee, and Nashville is every bit as filthy as New York City's Bowery).  Even the perennially impoverished state of California finds a few million each year to lie to the rest of the country about why they should pack up and move to a place that obscenely overtaxes its citizens and overburdens its businesses with untenable fees and rules.
There is a cost to develop and maintain a friendly, welcoming image.
The question for Mesquite is: do we take in enough money from our interstate speed traps to offset the amount of marketing money we'll need to spend to lure in new visitors to replace the passersby we've alienated with traffic tickets?
For every $100 we collect in speeding fines, how many hundreds in image damage are we losing to the enraged insurance salesman who is telling all 200 of his Jackson Hole Kiwanis buddies about the "jerks in Mesquite who bushwhacked him."
Then you have the radio.
Truckers are eagle-eyed about spotting "bears with Kodaks" (CB talk for police running radar).  They're also notorious gossips, which means our unfriendly speed-trapping ways are being gabbed about from Tucson to Tucumcari.
Once again, it comes down to a lack of direction and leadership from City Hall, and the fact that we STILL don't know what we as a city want to be when we grow up.  Do we want to be a tourist destination, where people equate the word "Mesquite" with friendship, hospitality, and fun?  Or do we want to be a caricature in a road movie where our official slogan has changed from "Come for a day, stay for a lifetime" to "Y'all ain't from around here, are ya?"
I'm not sure which way is best.  I want to be from a town known for its golf, gaming, and good times.  But it might be more lucrative in these difficult economic days to collect speed trap tolls from passing motorists.
Who knows.  If we hand out enough $200 tickets, we might be able to one day afford our own national TV commercials touting Mesquite as the next incarnation of Oz, complete with the ending disclaimer "pay no attention to that man behind the bushes with the radar gun."

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

New Leader In Local News

MesquiteCitizen Tops Online Rankings

It looks like Mesquite has a new leader in news.
For print newspapers, the traditional benchmark is circulation, or the number of newspapers printed each day or week.  In the race between the Desert Valley Times and Mesquite Local News, the DVT wins that one hands down with a circulation of about 7,500 on Fridays, not to mention another 7,000 on Tuesdays, compared to MLN's stated circulation of around 6,000.  Of course, the argument when I was with the MLN was that the 7,500 number wasn't legitimate, since it didn't factor in "returns" the way an audited circulation number does at major newspapers.  Judging strictly by the fact that Mesquite Local News racks were always empty within a day or two all over town while DVT racks were filled with extra, untaken newspapers (and the enormous stack of advertising inserts people had pulled from the DVT's guts and thrown on the retailer's floor, shelves, and even our racks), I always believed the actual number was a lot closer.
But that's a quintessential discussion of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  Print newspapers are journalistic dinosaurs, destined for the tar pits of "remember when?"  Even hard core newsies are finally admitting that print is on its way out as a means of delivering news.
The final piece in the newspaper puzzle has fallen into place, ensuring that online news isn't just the future but is now the accepted and embraced norm.  When we started MLN as an online-only entity, we heard from so many people who wanted us to offer a print version of our successful news service.  The consistent complaint was that online news wasn't "portable" enough (meaning, you couldn't take your desktop computer into the bathroom with you). 
The final puzzle piece is today's proliferation of smart phones and tablets like the iPad.  These hi-tech devices deliver the old-fashioned convenience of being able to read the news while sitting on the toilet, which I learned years ago is a bigger deal than you might imagine.
The reality is that online news is far superior with its immediacy, its video and audio capability, and its capacity for interaction with and feedback from the readers.  Comments from readers have become part of the news itself. 
And did I mention the immediacy?  "News" in a weekly newspaper can be as much as 10 days old, while a car wreck or house fire that happens this morning can be online before firefighters have even left the scene.
Mesquite is extraordinary, unlike any other municipality of its size.  Because of mergers and usurpations by mega media giants, what were once small town newspapers have become regional rags.  Most small towns our size are lucky to have their own newspaper, online or otherwise.  It's unusual to have two.  In Mesquite, we have the unheard-of luxury of three different online newspapers: Desert Valley Times (, Mesquite Local News (, and the new upstart, Mesquite Citizen Journal (
What might be even more surprising to the casual observer is that the new kid on the block is now ranked number one online.
When determining the most popular websites, a service called Alexa is acknowledged as the arbiter of web ranking., owned by, ranks the top 25 million websites in the world based on visitors, hits, and other criteria.  That includes all websites, not just news sites.
Over the last few weeks, Mesquite Citizen Journal has knocked Mesquite Local News from its perch atop the local Alexa rankings.
In 2007, MLN surpassed the Desert Valley Times online.  By early 2009, MLN was ranked in the top 500,000 in the entire world, an astounding accomplishment for a news site in a little town of 15,000.  Being ranked 500,000 doesn't sound very impressive, until you realize that out of 25 million websites, it means Mesquite's online paper was in the top 2% in the world.
While the numbers slipped after MLN was sold in 2009, it consistently remained in the top million. 
Today, the Mesquite Citizen Journal is ranked 1,118,155 in the world by Alexa.  Mesquite Local News is ranked 1,730,050.  (Remember, the higher the number, the worse the ranking).
The DVT, which has never had a strong online presence, isn't even in the top 25 million.  It is listed as "unranked" by Alexa.  Part of the reason might be because the DVT's news site is actually an adjunct to its parent newspaper, the St. George Spectrum, instead of its own stand-alone site.  The Spectrum itself has a mediocre Alexa ranking, coming in at 173,202.  That compares to the Las Vegas Review-Journal at 11,347.  Once in awhile the DVT numbers crack the top 25 million, but not often.
Mesquite Citizen Journal was founded by Barbara Ellestad, who used to be one of the hard-hitting investigative reporters for Mesquite Local News.  She has taken the spirit of the original Mesquite Local News, which was "to tell the truth no matter what the personal cost," along with an incredible talent for deep research and an indefatigable courage, to push her online newspaper into the top spot in Mesquite.  And she's done it in less than a year.
On a personal note, I'm proud to know Barb, and proud of her accomplishment.  Thanks to her brave and tireless efforts, Mesquite citizens aren't being treated like mushrooms (kept in the dark and fed a steady diet of BS).  She is making sure that the people are aware of the nonsense going on at City Hall and the water district.  Without her and her staff of writers like John Taylor, residents would know only the soft and fluffy side of Mesquite while the real news is swept under the carpet by corporate-owned news agencies more interested in advertisers and their dollars.  Ironically, if you look at, you'll see they have way more advertisers than Mesquite Local and the DVT combined.  Well done, Barb!
Rounding out the lineup of local information websites is the new Discover Mesquite website, which is a tourism publication offered online and in print by my former partner at Mesquite Local News, Cindi Delaney.  In less than three months, is ranked 12,157,834, and has been climbing every week since it first appeared on Alexa on Jan. 29.
Like the DVT, Mesquite's other print publication has never had a strong online presence, as has rarely made it into the top 25 million and is currently listed by Alexa as "unranked."
This website,, has had some success online, peaking in November of 2011 with an Alexa ranking of 6,254,245.  However, particularly after taking the last two months off, has fallen off the charts altogether and is now listed as "unranked."
The Alexa numbers aren't only for publications.  It ranks all websites, from the "big four" of Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Yahoo (ranked 1-2-3-4) all the way down to obscure blogs and family websites. 
In Mesquite, the #2 ranked website is, which is listed at 1,461,229, followed by at 1,480,098. 
The City of Mesquite and the Mesquite Chamber of Commerce both used to have excellent Alexa rankings over the years, but have fallen off dramatically.  In 2010, the city's website was ranked as high as 2,228,505, but is now ranked around 4,355,001. has fallen from a high of 2,762,764 in 2010 to today's rank of 8,391,302.
Over the next few weeks, we're going to introduce a new section which tracks the top 20 websites in Mesquite according to the Alexa rankings.  If you're aware of a website we're missing, please let us know and we'll check it out.


1.  Mesquite Citizen Journal ( 1,118,155
2.  CasaBlanca Resort ( 1,461,229
3.  Wolf Creek ( 1,480,098
4.  Mesquite Weather ( 1,580,807
5.  Mesquite Local News ( 1,730,050
6.  Virgin River Casino ( 1,927,658
7.  Golf Mesquite ( 2,098,877
8.  Eureka Resort ( 2,471,751
9.  LVCVA Visit Mesquite ( 2,869,015
10.  Reliance Connects ( 3,162,470
11.  City of Mesquite ( 4,355,001
12.  Highland Estates Resort ( 7,694,797
13.  Chamber of Commerce ( 8,391,302
14.  Skydive Mesquite ( 12,133,773
15.  Discover Mesquite ( 12,157,834
16.  Computer Help ( 13,019,163
17.  Quality One Realty ( 14,743,000
18.  Mesquite Bus Company ( 15,529,722
19.  Bowler Realty ( 16,108,329
20.  Chris Miller's Mesquite Market ( 16,134,291