Spark of civic beauty in real dialogue

Carson City’s governing board, aided by city staff and citizens’ input, each year makes $100 million in decisions a few bucks at a time.

The misperception that it’s all done by an old boys’ & girls’ network of insiders using smoke and mirrors, gouging taxpayers in the process, amounts to little more than urban legend. Better decisions might be made, as in all fields of endeavor, but this group faces knotty problems and a mine field called public opinion. One good thing: some of these folks are real and decent people, or at least less phony than many politicos.

“In a country of pushers and yearners,” H.L. Mencken once wrote, “what a joy it is to meet a man who envies no one and wants to be nothing that he is not!”

By that 20th century columnist’s yardstick, few politicians deserve kudos. Few people for that matter. It’s difficult for anyone to keep personal ambitions or comparisons of self with others out of all equations.

So it was interesting to watch and hear an exchange between Mayor Robert Crowell and Malkiat Dhami, hotel owner and city Planning Commission member, at last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

The mayor asked Dhami whether a 1/8th of a cent increase in city sales tax, if it were adopted, should go for deferred street maintenance or for business revitalization spruce-up work by city government. Such improvements could include landscaping, sidewalks, bike lanes, signs and the like along thoroughfares with businesses. Dhami had just testified for a business corridor improvement plan.

Basically Dhami told Crowell it is the board’s job to decide. In other words, Dhami implied without saying it that his own view already was on the record regarding the issue about which he had voiced his support. Smiling — as he usually does — Dhami stressed it is up to elected officials to decide where to raise money for handling one or both of the priorities the mayor had mentioned.

These men hold community positions they undoubtedly enjoy and even benefit from, but neither appears to be a pusher or yearner. Whether either wants to be something he isn’t obviously is between him and his private concerns, but I doubt it.

Crowell is well-off and a Nevada born attorney/lobbyist in his second term as mayor. Dhami is a well-off hotelier and a Sikh from India, a Carson City resident for almost two decades serving his second planning commission term. The lawyer/lobbyist and mayor got an answer that shows the transplant knows the civic process and how to lobby in the best sense of the term with the same aplomb as the man who posed the question.

The system isn’t perfect, but often makes more sense here than elsewhere. At such times, it is a thing of beauty.

John Barrette covers Carson City government and business. He can be reached at


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