Douglas County commissioner candidates state stances on affordable housing, events center
May 9, 2018
STATELINE, Nev. — For Republican voters weighing in on two Douglas County commissioner races, the issues of growth and general improvement districts could factor greatly in the upcoming primary election.
That is if the line of questioning at a candidate forum today is any indication of electoral priorities.
The four Republicans running for the two seats on the five-member Douglas County Board of Commissioners fielded questions, ranging from affordable housing to the proposed events center in Stateline, for more than an hour Wednesday.
It was District 4 candidate Janet Murphy, though, who faced a handful of questions centered on her commitment to party and her ambitions.
Murphy, a Zephyr Cove resident who has served as administrator of the Tahoe Douglas District for the past 25 years, is running against Wesley Rice, a Round Hill General Improvement District (GID) trustee and deputy constable with the Douglas County Constable's Office.
The two Republicans are facing off in a contest that could ultimately decide the replacement for District 4 Commissioner Nancy McDermid, who is term limited.
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Incumbent District 2 Commissioner Steve Thaler and challenger John Engels — both Republicans and the only two candidates of any party running for the seat — also participated in Wednesday's forum.
The winner of the District 4 primary in the predominantly Republican county could face Kristi Kandel, a Lake Tahoe resident who has said she is running as an independent, in November.
Murphy was questioned twice on how she would juggle all her potential duties. In addition to keeping her job with Tahoe Douglas District and running for county commissioner, Murphy is among five candidates running for three seats on the Round Hill GID — a race that will be decided in the November general election.
The common thread between all three positions is that they're government jobs, Murphy said, adding that she already attends many of the same meetings for her current job that would be required if elected to the two positions. She referenced "draining the swamp," a remark made popular by President Donald Trump.
Murphy also was questioned on a previous run for county commissioner in which she ran as an independent. Murphy said she was an advisor in the Nevada Legislature at the time and needed to be able to "work both sides of the aisle." She is running as a Republican now because she is "an extreme conservative," a fact Murphy said she has proven over the past 26 years.
In contrast, Rice touted his decades-old tie to the local Republican Party and his endorsements from state Sen. James Settlemeyer, Nevada Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, former Lt. Governor Brian Krolicki, Sheriff Ron Perini and others.
On the issue of affordable housing, Rice said the need is apparent.
"The housing market in Douglas County is getting to the point where the people that work here can't afford to live here, so I believe we need affordable housing."
In clarifying his position further, Rice said he was not in favor of "section 8 housing" — a reference to the federal housing voucher program for low-income people. Rather, Douglas County needs more homes that a recent college graduate working his or her first job could afford, Rice said.
Those homes would almost assuredly have to be built off the hill, as Lake Tahoe is "pretty much built out," he said.
Rice also spoke in favor of efforts to build an all-weather events center in Stateline.
The Stateline redevelopment area, a designation that raises money from increases in property tax revenue over time, was approved in February 2016 to construct an events center next to MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa.
With the challenges facing the gaming industry, the events center is critical for future revenue generation in Stateline, Rice said.
When asked by the Tribune after the event if she supported the events center, Murphy said she would want to look at all of the financing options.
"You have to look at every option. The numbers have to work, but I don't know what the numbers are," she told the Tribune, adding that the events center could have additional financial implications, such as a need for additional law enforcement and wear and tear on infrastructure.
Asked for her stance on affordable housing in the county, Murphy delved into an attempted explanation of the difference between affordable housing, attainable housing and subsidized housing.
"We need to take care of our infrastructure first. We need to make our infrastructure strong and stable, rather than neglecting it, and that's all infrastructure. … I don't want to see urban sprawl."
The Tribune then asked Murphy if casino employees should be able to afford to live in Douglas County.
“If they asked me questions I'd tell you the answers, 'cause I've got a lot of answers. I've got a lot of solutions but the problem is, you know, I give away all my ideas and solutions, guess what? They all take them. … Years ago Harveys had a hotel and they housed all their employees in it."
The line of questioning Wednesday — which also touched on general improvement districts, relationships with state agencies, vacation home rentals and more — drew at least one critic.
Cave Rock resident Brett Tibbitts said he felt the questioning was biased in favor of Rice.
Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce CEO Steve Teshara, who moderated Wednesday's forum, said the questioning was fair and relevant.
"We worked very hard on putting the questions together, we took a lot of questions from the audience, some of the people felt that the original answer to the question wasn't satisfactory so I pressed them on it."
He clarified that neither of the event's two sponsors, the Chamber and Tahoe Citizens Committee, have endorsed candidates in either race.
"The goal is to educate our community," Teshara said, adding that he felt that goal was accomplished Wednesday.
Nevada's primary election is June 12. The state has a closed primary system, meaning voters must be registered with a primary party in order to vote in those races.