Las Vegas City Council sets priorities that need county cooperation

It took them two days of retreats, but the Las Vegas City Council decided its top three priorities are economic diversification, public safety and law enforcement, and transportation. In that order.

But as several council members noted, the city can pick priorities but won’t achieve much without cooperation from Clark County officials.

City Manager Betsy Fretwell said the next step will be for the City Council to invite the county commissioners to a public meeting in which they can discuss public safety — in particular, the More Cops sales tax increase which the city consistently supported and the county repeatedly rejected.

Fretwell said of the other two priorities — economic diversification and transportation, which are also regional issues ­— the city will assemble groups to build a community collaboration.

Henry Cisneros, former mayor of San Antonio and former secretary of housing and urban development for President Bill Clinton, was the retreat’s keynote speaker and at the conclusion said the city’s “act of prioritization is very, very impressive and a very hopeful sign.”

In his speech, he discussed how city government can take the lead in various areas.

But in Clark County, the county government is larger and governs more people than the city. So while the city can take the lead, it needs the county’s agreement, particularly in transportation.

“If the other government’s agencies are not with us, I don’t see how we succeed,” Councilman Steve Ross said.

This second retreat, at the Downtown Grand, consisted primarily of a captive audience of about 50 city employees.

The previous retreat, at the West Las Vegas Library on Feb. 25, pulled about 150 people and a broader mix of the community.

The focus of the strategic planning retreat was to pick priorities, not decide how to achieve them.

Today, Cisneros is head of CityView, a company that helps with the building of homes within the price range of average families in 13 states.

“My assessment would be you’re not thinking big enough,” he told the City Council.

Las Vegas was vulnerable to the recession because the city is not economically diversified, relying on entertainment and tourism.

Zappos, The Smith Center for the Performing Arts and a possible sports arena “don’t represent enough of a turnaround,” he said. He pointed to cities such as San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth in Texas, Denver, San Jose, Calif., and Albuquerque, N.M., which set big goals that took decades to achieve.

He said that San Antonio was so poor when he became mayor in 1981, the Peace Corps sent volunteers there for training before sending them to developing nations.

“Lift your sights to a new role for city government,” he said, comparing city government to the role of an orchestra conductor.

There can be no progress if the schools aren’t high quality, and education came in fourth in the list of priorities, he said, and as mayor, he used his bully pulpit to bring schools together to address issues.

Consolidation of city and county government would be a distraction and not worth pursuing, he said.

“The city has the largest voice and is the most respected,” Cisneros said, adding the city can be the catalyst for change.

Contact reporter Jane Ann Morrison at jmorrison@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0275.