If Brian Knudsen is elected to the Las Vegas City Council, expect one bold push during his tenure: a children’s hospital. Should Robin Munier be the choice of voters, plans will be, in part, to stay the course of her predecessor.
Munier, a longtime special assistant to Mayor Pro Tem Lois Tarkanian, is perhaps unsurprisingly deferential to the term-limited councilwoman, calling her “a pioneer.” In return, Tarkanian has endorsed Munier to take over for her in Ward 1, believing her experience matches the seat more than Knudsen’s does.
“It’s kind of like a marriage in some ways, and kind of like a friendship,” Munier said of her relationship with Tarkanian, who she has worked alongside in City Hall for more than 14 years and for 12 years before that when Tarkanian was a Clark County school board member.
Knudsen and Munier enter the June 11 general election as one-two finishers in the April primary, where Knudsen won 27 percent of ballots cast, outgunning Munier by more than 300 votes. He has also doubled her fundraising during the first quarter of the year and outspent her.
Munier said she wants to keep progress in offering coding classes in schools, encouraging neighborhood associations to be more active and upgrading city parks and pedestrian safety — all projects started by Tarkanian with Munier heavily involved. But Munier also says she’s got more ideas, stemming from her years of public service dating to her days with the Nevada Parent Teacher Association.
In separate interviews this week, both Munier and Knudsen — who has been endorsed by Mayor Carolyn Goodman and a slew of major labor groups — pitched their backgrounds and specific ideas for the district. Much of the conversation revolved around building out the Medical District, which although a small part of the ward, has been touted as potentially the city’s next big enterprise.
Medical on the mind
Knudsen, 40, said he entered the race believing he fielded the right combination of experience and education to improve access to health care in the community. A USC alum with a graduate degree in public administration, he spent nine years in City Hall managing council staff and overseeing difficult cuts to programs and employees during the height of the recession. He briefly served as CEO of the Boys &Girls Club, and then became a consultant.
He said he was motivated to run for office amid worries that the next council person would overlook the significance of the UNLV School of Medicine as a cornerstone in the district.
“Looking at the optics of our community, and what people in poverty need, health care is almost non-existent for a large portion of our community, especially mental health care systems,” he said.
His push is focused on doctors, particularly keeping them in Las Vegas after they graduate. The school will ultimately graduate 60 doctors in two years, he noted, and 120 doctors by 2023. Each will require staff members. The city must develop the medical office space, infrastructure and housing, he added, while boosting education to be attractive to their children.
A health scare with his own 3-year-old daughter is what Knudsen said sparked his desire to build a full-fledged children’s hospital, even if he understood that public opinion may be slow to catch up. Yet it’s the government’s obligation to think five and 10 years ahead, he said.
Munier also talked about a fear of losing doctors to other states like California without protections in place. She said she would convene an ad hoc committee of medical professionals to prevent that. She wants to expand medical residencies as part of the solution. Both she and Knudsen have lamented shortcomings in health care that have people going elsewhere for treatment.
“That shouldn’t be. Not in a city of our size, not in a city with the wealth that we have or the valley that we have,” Munier said. “That’s just unreasonable in my opinion.”
Munier said city staffers have given “more than 110 percent” to cobble resources together for the homeless courtyard project, but she is quick to note that city taxpayers cannot be the only funding source. Instead, she suggested taking a step back, calling herself a “big- picture person,” and establishing a multi-agency nonprofit to carry the load with the city role reduced to an equal partner, not the leader.
The courtyard presents “initial first steps,” according to Knudsen. But a coordinated system for helping the homeless is a missing link, he said, and addressing mental health, addiction and basic needs is critical.
Ultimately, the city does not need to rely entirely on city tax dollars, he concluded, but should instead rally county, state and federal partners, build out housing with federal aid and negotiate with the Regional Transportation Commission and Department of Health and Human Services to discuss local transportation funding.
“And that’s where I’m hopeful to use the bully pulpit of the city council to fight and advocate for those kinds of relationships that really do matter at the end of the day for people in poverty,” he said.