Two of the three open seats for the Carson City Board of Supervisors were filled after the primary election, but the remaining seat has a tight three-way primary race with a Carson City School District trustee facing off against a retired diesel mechanic who thinks the board needs a new perspective.
Because of a rule that a candidate who receives more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary claims the nonpartisan seat, Lori Bagwell was elected mayor with 50.3 percent of the vote at the end of the primary count, and Lisa Schuette was elected Ward 4 supervisor with 65.4 percent.
The names that would be on November ballots for the Ward 2 seat, which covers Southwest Carson City, were unclear for days after the primary while votes were being tallied. In the end, there were just 490 votes between first and second place; Maurice "Mo" White earned 34.7 percent of the vote and Stacie Wilke-McCulloch took 30.9 percent, just 281 votes above Ronni Hannaman, director of the Carson City Chamber of Commerce.
All candidates for the board are at-large, meaning that the entire city votes for each seat, though candidates must reside in their respective wards. Each term lasts four years and comes with a salary of about $25,000.
The five-person Board of Supervisors, which operates much like a city council with the mayor as the chair, will have to prioritize projects and programs while responding to the continuing and long-lasting effects of the pandemic on the local economy.
For Wilke-McCulloch, running for Ward 2 supervisor seemed like a "natural transition" after her long career in education. She served her first term as a school board trustee in 1998, and then served a term on the State Board of Education. She was reappointed to her trustee seat in 2009 and has held it since, serving two one-year terms as board president in those 11 years.
"I love Carson City, and I have always enjoyed being a part of it and shaping it for my children. And now I have a grandson, so I really want to keep involved in Carson City," she said. "There's just a lot of stuff that I want to make sure that is preserved, and we're in good condition for my kids to live here and raise their children."
If elected, Wilke-McCulloch said she would seek to help local businesses recover from the pandemic, support outdoor recreation and expand mental health programs, such as the SafeVoice program that allows students, parents and faculty members to anonymously report threats — including bullying, self harm and suicidal thoughts — to students' well-being.
Wilke-McCulloch, who ran unsuccessfully for Ward 2 supervisor in 2012, said her experience on a governmental body and skills gained as a trustee, including negotiating contracts and balancing budgets, make her stand out on the ballot. She also highlighted her ability to work collaboratively with other trustees and said it’s one of the reasons Carson City is "one of the most solid" school districts in the state, receiving the Nevada School Board of the Year award twice during her tenure.
"You have to be able to work with your board members in order to get anything done. And we all have to be on that same page," Wilke-McCulloch said. "We all bring different ideas, but there's a way … working together we can bring together what's best for Carson City and its residents."
Wilke-McCulloch also said she's already dealt with pandemic-specific issues as a trustee. The board decided on a hybrid model for reopening schools in Carson City, and she also has worked on sports issues as a board of control member for the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association (NIAA), which oversees the state's high school athletics.
As the co-owner of a local home services business, she said she knows that public office is a "whole different animal than working in the private sector" and that her experience as a trustee will translate well to being a supervisor in the age of coronavirus.
But White said the concentration of administrative experience on the board means that the body needs another point of view, particularly when evaluating infrastructure and equipment contracts. As a retired diesel mechanic, he has on-the-ground experience in transportation, construction and agriculture; if elected, he said he would ask crucial questions about city contracts, which he said have been "a little loose" including allowing for substantial cost increases and changes.
White, who ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2012 and 2016, pointed to the city's Complete Streets construction projects as some initiatives that need to be reevaluated. Complete Streets is a concept in the transportation realm that aims to make roadways accessible and accommodating for various modes of transportation.
On South Carson Street, for example, the city's Complete Streets approach includes a roundabout and a reduction of the number of lanes to make it more pedestrian- and bike-friendly. White thinks narrowing an arterial road while the city is expected to grow is "not logical." The city estimates it will have an average annual growth rate between 0.6 percent and 1.3 percent until 2065.
Instead of focusing on Complete Streets projects, White thinks the city should focus on other needs such as infrastructure for flooding.
"We need to make decisions based on what Carson City needs, not on best management practices manuals that come out of some ivory tower," he said. "We need to figure out how we're not going to bend to those mandates that come with Complete Street projects."
The city's Complete Streets policy says it will use the "best and latest design standards available" and "nationally accepted standards" from places such as the National Complete Streets Coalition and Institute of Transportation Engineers.
When addressing budget cuts, White said he would prioritize health and safety issues, particularly programs that address mental health issues in the community, such as the Mobile Outreach and Safety Team (MOST) program that pairs social workers with sheriff's deputies and the Forensic Assessment Services Triage Team (FASTT) program that provides mental health services for people arrested for low-level offenses.
White said he would also be creative in finding ways to cut down costs.
"There's not a lot of places in the budget to cut big numbers out — there's really only pennies. But we need to find ways without cutting services and debilitating things like our parks and rec department," he said. "We have to start, I believe, working with our neighbors, figuring out a way to consolidate services and contracts, so we can get those costs down."
For example, White said he would look at the possibility of combining city government employees and school district employees in order to seek a better rate on health insurance.
White, a registered Republican who is an active member with the local and state GOP, said that although the seat is nonpartisan, each supervisor will bring their "political sensitivities" with them when voting. He encourages voters to consider candidates' political affiliations. Wilke-McCulloch is a registered Democrat.
To reach out to voters, White has been active on Facebook since the beginning of the race and has been hosting virtual town halls. He's also aiming to call 9,000 voters before the election, and has recently started holding in-person meet and greets that comply with COVID-19 safety protocols.
Wilke-McCulloch said that she wasn't able to campaign for the primary because she was consumed with addressing the pandemic in her capacities as a trustee and NIAA board member. Since learning that she will be on the November ballot, Wilke-McCulloch said she's been putting up signs, leaving door hangers and doing virtual meet and greets.
Despite a quiet first period during which all candidates reported funds coming in only from themselves and spending going only toward campaign filing fees, the second period had both White and Wilke-McCulloch raising and spending more funds, though White dominated in both areas and in cash on hand.
White raised $5,400 in the second quarter, with the largest donation being $525 from Ruth and Joe Hart, who is a state committeeman for the Carson City Republican Party with White. White also received a $315 in-kind donation in the form of a newspaper ad from Marti Cockell, the second vice chair of the Carson City Republican Party.
He spent more than $3,850, mostly on advertising in the form of Facebook and newspaper ads. He has about $2,000 in cash on hand.
Wilke-McCulloch raised $300 in the second quarter, all of which came from donations of $100 or less. She spent $340 on political signs and has about $50 in available cash.
This story was updated at 5:20 p.m. on October 13, 2020 to correct Wilke-McCulloch's party registration.