Girly men and battlebots
Expanded from the 5-7-2006 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune
UPDATED 5-21-2006

Last Monday's Ballardini Ranch debacle is now officially installed in the Barbwire Rogues Gallery of Bad Government Boondoggles.

Letters to the Editor

Mr. Barbano:

Do you understand why it happened? 

I've watched the meeting on TV; something mentioned about the city attorney being in secret negotiations w/Evans Creek? 

— Reno

Dear Reno:

I hope this column answers some of your questions. The secret dealings happened in 2002. Apparently, Evans Creek convinced County Manager Katy Singlaub to enter into secret negotiations. She did so without the permission or knowledge of the commission, a serious mistake in the opinion of some. When commissioners started talking about eminent domain, she had to disclose what she had been doing. The developers apparently used this turn of events as reason to break off contact altogether.

"Singlaub was played," according to one observer.

Had the county moved in 2002, the market value would probably have hovered around $20 million, but Singlaub's dealings with guys who really didn't want to deal completely derailed matters, leading to the 2004 condemnation action.

The delay certainly proved to Evans Creek's advantage.

Reno Gazette-Journal, 5-7-2006

It's difficult to express the my disappointment with the county in the Ballardini Ranch settlement.

Once again, those with money will make even more. With this turn of events, I will be surprised if we do get even a trailhead out of it all.

— Larry Scritchfield, Reno


I told Washoe County commissioners that the proposed settlement ranked with Honey Lake water importation and the giveaway of Washoe Medical Center among the biggest mistakes county government ever made.

Alas, with only stalwart Commissioner Pete Sferrazza dissenting, your elected representatives gave the Minnesota developers everything they wanted with a cherry on top and not even a kiss afterward (although Commission Chair Bob Larkin and county-retained lawyer Mike Chapman were greeted with handshakes, shoulder pats and everything but high fives from developer representatives after doing the deed).

How bad was it?

They approved a six-page "statement of settlement" which curiously included additional items not agreed upon in negotiation, according to Mr. Sferrazza.

Chairman Larkin consistently tried to silence Sferrazza and prevent him from getting answers to his questions. Larkin's performance was both glaring and embarrassing.

I have requested a copy of the final agreement when the developer's lawyers have finished rewriting it. I have also asked if the public will get a chance to review it before it's signed.

I'm not hopeful.

I reminded commissioners that post-approval drafting resulted in a hemorrhage of millions when the 1985 commission gave away Washoe Medical Center. The Washoe County Grand Jury later found that now-Judge Ed Dannan, then a deputy D.A., had removed the reason for the privatization from the contract.

The new owners had promised to pay for the medical care of those unable to afford it in exchange for a free hospital. The county would be permanently off the hook. Dannan removed it from the contract. (Barbwire 8-5-2001)

In just the past five years, Washoe County taxpayers have given Washoe Med more than $35.5 million for indigent care. That's almost exactly the amount of debt commissioners approved to pay for the Ballardini Ranch.

The commission debate even produced a second new entry into the Rogues Gallery. Sferrazza noted a recent turnover of county owned land to the Mt. Rose ski resort. Forty acres of prime property, potentially worth hundreds of millions, was deeded over to private interests for just $200,000.

Again, more than enough was squandered to pay even the highest appraisal for the Ballardini Ranch.

Had Commissioner Jim Galloway not lost his nerve, Commissioner Dave Humke might have been emboldened to stay the course and let a jury decide the value. Humke faces a tough primary against Elisa Maser, daughter of former state treasurer Patty Cafferata and granddaughter of former Rep. Barbara Vucanovich, R-Nev.

Alas and alack, it all boiled down to a case of Reno good ole boy juice politics.

Powerful developers called and gave orders to back off. Major law firms sent out the word "you're gonna lose, so settle."

Larkin, Humke and Galloway, all highly educated men with passive personalities, were up against surly lawyers hired to implement a scorched earth strategy The battlebots won, even carrying uberconservative Commissioner Bonnie Weber, who originally wanted to give the developers nothing.

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