For the last several weeks Duke and I have been participating in the Reno Citizens Institute (RCI). RCI is a ten-week class in which we have learned a lot about Reno city government. The city has run this program twice a year since 1999. The class meets every Thursday night. It has been a fascinating fantastic experience. I have learned so much. Let me give you just a few of the highlights from each week.
- Week 1 is the only week we missed. We were on vacation which was too bad because we missed the introductions. The program was about the City Manager's office. Luckily we will be able to make it up next time they run the program in the spring.
- Week 2 was about the Human Resources, Finance and Communications and Technology Departments. It doesn't sound too exciting does it? But it was great. We learned that Reno has 1500 employees. We learned about the budget process. Given the number of years I worked in IT I found the technology section of the program especially interesting. The software people must have enormous challenges given the diversity of software from Municipal Court Management to Geographic Information Systems to Building Permit Management to Fleet Maintenance Software to name just four.
- For week 3 we had a tour of the water treatment plant and learned all about Reno's municipal water sources and systems.
- Week 4 was all about the redevelopment agency and public works. Reno's downtown area along the river is so beautiful and is so obviously getting better and better that it was interesting to learn how redevelopment works and what is in store for the future. We had a short bus tour and also learned that there is a special public works crew that just focuses on keeping downtown beautiful and clean.
- Week 5 was at one of the fire stations and was all about the fire department. We got to see the equipment and talk to fire fighters. I was surprised to learn that only 6% of the calls they receive are for fires. 63% are medical calls and 31% are calls for other kinds of service. Another instructive tidbit of information was about the Mizpah hotel fire that happened when we were visiting Reno back in October of 2006. Eleven people were killed. The fire chief told us that anyone who opened the door of their room on the hall where the fire started died. Anyone who went out a window survived.
- Week 6 was about public works and was at the corporation yard. We toured the maintenance shop there and saw everything from snow plows to police cars to parking meter monitoring vehicles. Very cool! We also learned all about everything Reno is doing to be green.
- Week 7 was at the McKinley Arts and Culture Center and was all about parks, recreation and community services. There is so much to do in Reno. This year I want to be sure to go ice skating on the rink by the river downtown.
- Week 8 was on community development. We learned all about building inspections and permits. We also got a demonstration of the very cool Reno GIS mapserver. At this site you can use year-by-year aerial photographs to look at how a location changes from year to year. You can admire the scrub brush that five years ago was where our house is today.
- Week 9, last Thursday, was about the Reno Police Department and City Attorney's office (Civil Division), The assistant police chief who talked to us was fascinating. He described how Reno changed from an old time police department to a model of community based policing. He had lots of interesting examples. Last year Reno had something like 8 pedestrian fatalities this year I think he said we have had 1.
- Our final class (week 10) is next Thursday. It is about the City Attorney's office (criminal division) and the Reno Municipal Court.
I can't say enough about how great this class has been. The thing that has most impressed me is the enthusiasm and quality of all the city employees who have talked to us. From the people who run the water treatment plant, to the police chief, to the parks and recreations people to the building inspectors there has been a level of professionalism and pride that has just blown me away.