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COLUMN: New energy, old feuds

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By David Giuliani

Las Vegas City Manager Timothy Dodge took the helm more than a month ago after having served several years as the manager in Santa Rosa.

So far, he has been receiving good reviews. He has been credited with getting citizen input in the Lee Drive area about a controversial roundabout and acting on their concerns. And he has also gauged residents’ views on various issues in the area of Robertson High School, especially when it comes to traffic.

Dodge has put a new energy into city government. He is organizing two meetings in which he is trying to put his theme —  working together — into action. He  has organized a event called “Community Collaboration,” which will involve officials from government entities around the area. It will last from 9:30 a.m. to noon Thursday at Luna Community College’s Rough Rider Grill, where he hopes to identify each entity’s projects and how they will help the community. This, Dodge hopes, will give the city information to provide support for others’ projects.

Another important meeting, “Commitment to Community,” which will be 6-9 p.m. May 7 at Highlands University’s Sala de Madrid. Dodge will be seeking the community’s ideas for a “vibrant Las Vegas.” The city is hosting the event with other governmental entities in Las Vegas.

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Dodge’s initial performance is promising, and he has received public praise from a number of department directors and most of the City Council, including Mayor Tony Marquez.

The city has seen its share of instability at City Hall since Marquez took the helm last March, mainly because of a series of firings. Now that Marquez has a city manager that appears to have the support of the entire City Council, he may want to forget battles of old.

Occasionally, however, he seems focused on previous controversies. In a column last month, Marquez took yet another dig at former City Manager Sharon Caballero, four months after she suddenly resigned, criticizing him for micromanagement. OK, it was a rough time for Marquez when Caballero exited loudly. And the public knows that all was not happy between Marquez and Caballero. That chapter is over. Mr. Mayor, it’s best that you let it go.

Last month, Marquez stopped answering our newsroom’s calls and e-mails. Apparently, he was frustrated with some of our coverage, including our story on state open-government advocates’ criticism of the council for apparent violations of the state Open Meetings Act.

Since he became silent, the mayor seems harder to find these days. Is he brooding in his bunker? Maybe not, but it seems that way when he is mostly silent publicly outside of council meetings.

In some ways, it’s as if the mayor wants to hold a tight rein on information, even keeping the city’s own public information officer out of the loop.

Last week, this newspaper received a press release on how the city got back the $1.2 million for water projects it lost a few months ago. It came from the mayor’s secretary.

So I decided to call the city’s public information officer, Mercy Lopez, about the release. She’s the one who is paid to write such releases. She told me that she knew nothing about it. So I was in the unusual position of giving Mercy news about the city. (Latest information: Mercy was officially no longer employed with the city as of Friday afternoon.)

Before last week’s City Council meeting, I asked the mayor, who wrote the press release, about the $1.2 million. He wouldn’t answer the question, pointing to Dodge to give the answer. Dodge wouldn’t say either, telling me that I needed to meet with him the next day. I didn’t get around to going to City Hall; it was a busy day.

Why is it so hard to find out who wrote that release? And why were the city’s top dogs keeping their public relations guru in the dark about, well, city information.

This is not the first time that Lopez has been left out of the loop. Last month, the city issued a press release to the Albuquerque Journal and took out a paid advertisement in that paper about a water task force. Again, it came out of the mayor’s office, with Lopez left out of the loop.

At that time, city employees were telling us that the mayor didn’t want any more city advertising in the Optic because he was upset with us. The city apparently backed off that idea after it was exposed.

Even good causes are taking a hit. Recently, the city released information about a city blood drive to the new local newspaper, the Meadow City Independent. It appeared to be written by Mercy, but apparently her superiors didn’t sign off on it. It was never sent to the Optic. Should we let politics get in the way of a worthy cause?

Again, Dodge seems to be moving in the right direction for the benefit of the city. But Marquez is mayor for at least the next 10 1/2 months. Let’s hope he stays out of Dodge’s way as much as possible. The mayor promises to do so.

David Giuliani is managing editor of the Las Vegas Optic. He may be reached at 425-6796 or dgiuliani@lasvegasoptic.com.