Election Preview: Open seats for Carson City mayor and supervisor roles attract candidates looking to address infrastructure, budget
With Carson City Mayor Bob Crowell terming out this year after being first elected in 2008 and Supervisors John Barrett and Brad Bonkowski not seeking re-election, candidates are looking to take three open seats on the Board of Supervisors and navigate the financial fallouts of the pandemic and address homelessness, housing, vacant buildings and infrastructure in the state capital.
The three newly elected officials will all be on the Board of Supervisors, which operates much like a city council with the mayor as chairperson, and will vote on matters such as budget, strategic planning and growth management for the city-county that almost 56,000 people call home.
While all five members of the board are elected at-large, meaning they appear on all residents’ ballots, the four supervisors must reside within the geographical wards they represent.
The June 9 primary will narrow the pool of candidates to two for each of the nonpartisan seats unless one candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the election, in which case he or she would claim victory.
The race for mayor kicked off early: the first candidate, Aaron Sims, declared his intent to run last July and has been campaigning regularly since then, making appearances at events such as Northern Nevada Pride and Nevada Day celebrations.
Sims, a political activist and former Carson City Republican Party vice chairman, would be the youngest and first openly gay mayor. His website says he would work with the school board to increase teacher pay and decrease class sizes and improve infrastructure, especially in residential areas, if elected.
He also says he would address homelessness, as the city’s winter shelter program saw a 27 percent increase in demand from last year, and rising housing costs. An analysis from Affordable Housing Online found that 44 percent of Carson City renters were “overburdened,” or paying more than 30 percent of their gross income to rent.
But the early bird doesn’t always get the worm in fundraising.
Ward 3 Supervisor Lori Bagwell, also seeking the mayoralty, dominated in fundraising and spending in the first quarter. She raised $2,340, receiving $500 each from Silver Oak Development Company, Southwest Gas Corporation and Waste Management and Affiliated Entities.
The latter donation came after the Board of Supervisors approved a 15-year contract of mandatory residential trash and recycling services at the end of 2018. She also spent $5,826, mostly on advertising.
Bagwell, who defeated one-term incumbent John McKenna in 2014 to claim the Ward 3 seat and ran unopposed in 2018, has $9,524 cash on hand, $9,000 more than her opponents’ funds combined.
Sims raised $280 in the first period, $100 of which came from himself, and spent $292, leaving him with $215 cash on hand. Candidate Tod Jennings, an Air Force veteran and teacher, has $160 available, raising it all in the first quarter and spending none.
Neither candidate Nathaniel Killgore, a small business owner, nor Jim Shirk, a former supervisor, raised any funds nor reported cash on hand, though Shirk reported spending $105 on his filing fees.
If elected mayor, Bagwell’s website says, she would continue to work on ongoing plans of the Board of Supervisors, as well as budgeting for projects to avoid raising taxes and improving the stormwater system to prevent flooding. Over the city’s 169-year history, it has experienced a major flood about every five to seven years, according to the Carson City Stormwater Management Program.
Shirk has taken to Facebook to tell voters not to vote for Bagwell, citing her approval of a two-lane roundabout on Carson Street and reducing the number of lanes to make it more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, two projects that some critics have said are unnecessary and will increase traffic. He also criticized her for approving mandated trash pickup, contracting Waste Management for the job and then taking a campaign donation from the company.
Before becoming a supervisor, Shirk ran for mayor in 2008 and received 4 percent of the vote in the primary. He then beat one-term incumbent Molly Walt for Ward 4 supervisor in 2012 by 25 votes, after which Walt called for a recount that affirmed Shirk’s victory. Shirk lost his own re-election bid in 2016 to John Barrette, a retired journalist, by nearly 2 percentage points.
If elected, Shirk’s website and Facebook page says he would focus on street maintenance and reducing government spending in light of the financial toll of COVID-19 and to avoid raising the cost of living for residents.
All candidates for Ward 4, covering northeast Carson City, are competing in their first race, and all reported that their biggest contributions come from themselves or their spouse.
Candidate Lisa Schuette, a former sheriff’s deputy and health teacher and the founder of the Carson Animal Services Initiative that helps animals and pet owners in the city, out-raised her closest competitor by more than $10,000 in the first quarter. She raised $12,741, more than $5,000 of which comes from various donations from Schuette and her husband and almost $2,000 comes from “in-kind” contributions from people who offered services to the campaign.
If elected, Schuette’s website says she would expand workforce training resources, encourage diverse businesses to move into vacant buildings and support public safety and first responders.
Schuette also out-spent her opponents, spending $3,777 in the first period mostly on advertising, followed by consultant services and a special event. At the end of the quarter, she had $7,122 in available cash.
Her opponent Michael “Mike” Smith, a program manager of the American Job Center of Nevada and board member on the Carson City Redevelopment Authority Citizens Committee, comes in second for fundraising. A retired educator from Mississippi who moved to Carson City three years ago, Smith raised $2,100 in the first quarter, mostly through a $2,000 contribution from his wife.
He spent most of his $1,880 in expenditures on advertising and miscellaneous purchases and comes out of the first quarter with about $220 in cash on hand.
Smith told voters “Hold on I’m coming” on Facebook by singing and dancing to the song by Sam and Dave in a cowboy hat. If he does come to hold office, his website says he will address the vacant buildings around the city, implement a multi-year budget and change the perception of local leaders and how public funds are used.
The final candidate, Ronald Bratsch, markets himself on his Facebook page as a “fiscal conservative” who will follow the budget, review contracts and delay or eliminate projects to avoid raising taxes because of the economic challenges of COVID-19. A security manager and Marines veteran, Bratsch says he will prioritize road maintenance in the budget.
Bratsch’s Facebook shows he opposes a proposed 5 cent special diesel tax, which traces back to a 2016 gas tax ballot question that failed in Carson City. SB48 of the 2019 session allows rural counties to use ordinances or vote to add a tax of up to 5 cents per gallon on diesel fuel to fund local road maintenance.
In November, the Board of Supervisors voted 4-1, with Bagwell being the nay vote, to add the temporary tax and give voters the opportunity to keep or end it in a ballot question in 2022. A meeting on June 4 will determine how they move forward on second reading of the ordinance.
He raised $120, all from himself, reported spending nothing and had $170 in available cash at the end of the first quarter.
Ward 2, covering Southwest Carson City, is the geographical opposite of Ward 4, and its respective candidates are opposites too.
Though all of the candidates for Ward 4 are running their first race in Nevada, all but one of the candidates for Ward 2 have had their name on the ballot - or several ballots - before. Also in contrast to their Ward 4 counterparts, the candidates for Ward 2 have spent no campaign funds outside of two candidates reporting filing fees.
This is candidate Maurice “Mo” White’s third time running for the Ward 2 seat. He took 17 percent of the vote in the 2012 primary, and earned 41 percent against the incumbent in 2016.
White, a retired diesel mechanic, is mostly campaigning on Facebook, where he advertised virtual town halls and an appearance on the radio to connect with voters during the pandemic.
His page shows he is roundly against how the proposed 5 cent special diesel tax came about, and he has tried to rally voters to call the supervisors, speak up against the tax and show up to meetings. His page says he takes issue with authorities ignoring the original votes and says he will honor the community’s voice if elected.
White’s Facebook page also says that he would address flooding issues and support the sheriff and programs such as the Forensic Assessment Services Triage Team, or FASTT, program to provide individuals arrested for low-level offenses with mental health services.
The only other candidate who has been actively campaigning is Ronni Hannaman, the executive director of the Carson City Chamber of Commerce since 2006. Hannaman has been using her Facebook page to show she is on the ground, often sharing photos of sites in Carson City and giving shoutouts to local businesses.
She posted photos of a voter putting up signs telling people to “vote for Carson City’s female trifecta” with the names of Schuette, Bagwell and Hannaman on it, though Schuette and Bagwell have not campaigned as part of a joint ticket.
Her platform focuses on improving the water plant and neighborhood roads, creating more upscale housing to generate more tax revenue and furthering Carson City’s tourism industry, including opening the Nevada State Prison as a tourist attraction.
Candidate Stacie Wilke-McCulloch has been involved with education policy-making since 1998, when she was elected for her first term as the Carson City School Board trustee for District 3. After serving on the State Board of Education in District 9 for one term starting in 2004, she was reappointed District 3 trustee in 2009 and has held the seat since, serving two one-year terms as president during that time.
Wilke-McCulloch also ran for the Ward 2 supervisor seat in 2012 and took 24 percent of the vote in the primary.
The final candidate, Lorne Houle, is a Marine veteran who ran for sheriff in 2014, taking 1 percent of the vote in the primary, and again in 2018, earning 21 percent in the general election against Kenny Furlong, who has been sheriff since 2003.
Other than Houle, all of the candidates reported that their only funds in the first quarter came from themselves: White contributed $500 to himself, Wilke-McCulloch loaned herself $200 and Hannaman loaned herself $1,500. Only Wilke-McCulloch and Hannaman reported any spending, both spending $150 on their candidate filing fees, which leaves Wilke-McCulloch with $95, White with $500 and Hannaman with $1,695 in cash on hand.
Houle did not file a campaign finance report with the secretary of state and did not respond to a request for comment.
This story was updated at 9 a.m. on September 16, 2020 to clarify White's position on the proposed 5 cent diesel tax.