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First 100 Days - Karl Gustaveson
Posting Date: 10/18/2011
By Barbara Ellestad
As the longest sitting member of the Mesquite City Council, Karl Gustaveson often finds himself at odds with the newly elected officials on Mesquite City Council. Photo by Barbara Ellestad.
[Editor's note: This is the last installment of a six part series in which all five City Councilmen and Mesquite's Mayor reflect back on their first 100 days of the new administration. See MCJ story The First 100 Days for more details.]
As the longest-sitting Councilman on the Mesquite City Council, Karl Gustaveson has also been the most vocal against some of the changes brought about the new administration.
Gustaveson was first appointed to the Council in 2007, to fill a seat left vacant by former Councilwoman Susan Holecheck's election to Mayor. He ran a successful election on his own in 2009. "I've been a part of three different councils," he said. He matches his four years experience against the newly elected Mayor, Mark Wier, and three Councilmen, George Rapson, Kraig Hafen, and Al Litman, who "have no experience in government."
He later amended that statement by referring to Hafen's several years as an elected representative on the Virgin Valley Water District Board of Directors.
"Everything is bridged from one Council to another because some things take years to develop," Gustaveson commented as he discussed his pleasure with the Council's recent action to change local elections from odd-numbered years to even-numbered years. It was a referendum question on the City ballot in June and passed with a 54 percent approval rate. He was strongly in favor of the change so that part-time residents could partake in local elections in the fall months.
"Some people on the Council, when they were running for election, were very much against that," he said in reflection. "Miraculously, once the vote came back, I'm glad they were able to make that adjustment and do what the people asked." All four newly elected officials, Wier, Rapson, Hafen, and Litman, campaigned against the change. All four voted in favor of the change once they were seated in office.
He mentioned that he thought some of the new council members displayed "narrow-mindedness at times" but wouldn't speak about it any further saying, "I think those individuals already know what I'm talking about."
He thinks there is an up- and down-side to opening Technical Reviews to the public. "We aren't doing them appropriately. Having the public there doesn't mean you let them come in and help you make decisions before you're even supposed to be making decisions. We've had a few citizens come in and try to have a dialogue," he commented.
He described the upside of open tech reviews as having the public understand that nothing nefarious occurred when the meetings were closed.
(9:30) He was a strong opponent of the Council's action to rescind the Code of Conduct for Elected Officials which he helped adopt in 2008. "We'll do just fine without a Code of Conduct. I think our new Council had some misperceptions. There was one unfortunate comment made about the Code being used as a weapon. That was a very inappropriate comment to make because it slandered some good people who worked hard, including myself. It was never used against anybody."
Rapson mentioned during Council meeting discussions about rescinding the Code on Aug. 23, that "I think there’s a perception, with no claim to reality, that this code of conduct was used as a weapon and I object to that usage. I believe it's wholly unnecessary."
He thinks that rescinding the Code "degraded the perception of Mesquite. It was some type of stupid political statement that they were trying to make. We all learn, as we play with politics, it's very easy to think you know what might be a really good idea. Yet, it's a very bad idea."
Budget and Spending Decisions - Video 2
Gustaveson has been through four budgeting cycles during his tenure on the Council. He disagrees with Mayor Wier's concept of using more quantitative measures in developing budgets and making spending decisions.
"I understand what the Mayor is talking about. But because he hasn't been involved in the budgeting process, I don't think he understands how the budget process really takes place or whether there's a need for doing the things he's talking about," Gustaveson commented.
"The budget is not where we're going to end up," he said about people who criticized the previous Council's actions during budget hearings in May. He commented that the projected $2 million deficit "came in about $950,000 under on both sides" - revenues and expenses. "The $2 million everyone was upset about us taking out of reserves never happened; just a small amount happened."
He went on to discuss proactive measures previous councils took, starting back in 2007 when the economy started dropping, that is helping Mesquite weather budget shortfalls now.
Gustaveson praised Mesquite City Finance Director Dave Empey, saying "he's probably one of the best financial people in the State. Not only is he extremely honest, hard-working and diligent, but he's brilliant when it comes to finances." He added that no one on the Council or the Mayor has better knowledge of budgeting processes than Empey.
"The Mayor wants things to be measurable. They are measurable," Gustaveson stated. He explained that city department managers discuss their budgets weekly in staff meetings. "If you look at the budget today, almost every single line item is within budget. Most of them are under budget. When things are working very good, shame on anyone who thinks they want to make changes. They're liable to find out the change won't be a positive one," he added.
Gustaveson explained that the budgeting process does not fall within the realm of responsibilities of the Mayor. "I don't think he needs to take on responsibilities that are not given to him by State statutes or by our own ordinances."
Proposed Indoor Sports Complex - Video 3
"I find little to be concerned about in terms of whether it will be successful or not successful," is how Gustaveson opened a discussion of the proposed indoor sports complex that the entire Council voted to send out to bid at its meeting Oct. 11. "The concern has to be, how are we going to fund it."
He explained that the existing Mesquite Sports and Events Center (MSEC) in the same general area was funded in large part by grants from the County and Federal governments and land sales by Mesquite City government. "Mesquite doesn't have any land sales right now. We need to be very aware of that."
"We have some money in the Redevelopment Agency fund. I know some people are concerned about how that money needs to be spent in the downtown area. I tried to explain to the other Council people that ultimately our goal is to redevelop the downtown area. I think it's an inappropriate thing to say that we want to develop something that was never really there. This community never really had a downtown area," Gustaveson remarked.
His contention is that there is no defined area constituting a typical 'downtown' area like many other cities and towns have.
He explained some of the intricacies of the RDA fund and how some property owners along Mesquite Blvd and Sandhill Blvd opted-out of the program and don't have to pay into the fund.
Returning to the proposed event center he continued with, "there's no doubt in my mind, based on what's already happened up there, and people who have interests in that area, have come in with opportunities for us that we weren't able to participate in. We need more venues up there. We need more ballparks. We need a lot more of the outdoor stuff as well as the indoor venue."
"When I was first on the Council, I wanted to use some of the RDA funds to build an event center in the downtown area. I felt there were more opportunities with that. I was the only one that liked the idea. I think an event center that is more multi-use is a good idea."
Continued Partnership with NCS - Video 4
He discussed the seven year old joint development agreement the City has with Nevada Community Solutions (NCS), saying that he "would have been in favor of it initially but not in the form it ended up taking. They [past Councils] never should have tied up all our available land with one developer. That agreement never should have been open-ended so that there was no timeframe on them for doing any development at all. We have totally been held hostage to one developer. We couldn't determine our own destiny. They [NCS] were determining our destiny for us. Should we continue with them? I think that depends."
Gustaveson discussed the prior Council's actions to "work the City away from" the development company. He reviewed other actions by past Councils that muddied the waters with NCS. "They were given the opportunity, against the advice of the City Attorney at the time, to pull out anytime they wanted, they could terminate the contract at anytime they wanted. The six million dollar down payment on the land is all the City ever received. We were required to pay them interest [on the money] from day one. They were parking money with us. We were being a bank for them."
"Much against my desire and opinion, we gave up an option on those 500 acres." Gustaveson was referring to a 2010 amended agreement the City worked out with NCS for the company to switch its land interests from 1000 acres near the proposed new airport to 532 acres at the base of Flat Top Mesa near the existing MSEC.
"They want additional land out there. That's one thing I would definitely have to be against. That is our best land. Long term, I'm not sure they have plans for it," he commented. NCS is on record as wanting an additional 10 acres adjacent to the MSEC. They have refused multiple times to explain what they would build on the acreage. The land currently belongs to the Bureau of Land Management. Mesquite would have to purchase the land from the BLM and then re-sell it to NCS.
(7:00) Gustaveson has been the City representative on the Virgin Valley Water District Board of Directors for two and a half years. He's served as the President for almost two years. He explained the relationship between the City and Water District. "The most important factor of development in this area boils down to water and [electrical] power," he said.
"I have to be careful who I talk to about water issues because I can't be put into a position of a conflict of interest. Whatever happens with water is important to the City," Gustaveson commented.
Other Issues - Video 5
"I believe in people's personal rights. So, I have a little bit of a problem with it," Gustaveson replied when asked about his thoughts on the smoke-free Mesquite movement underway in the City. "We need to move forward on this in a very cautious way. We have businesses suffering now. Do we want to put additional burdens on them?"
He favors letting private businesses make their own determination about the issue. "Everybody is concerned about everybody else's health. I think we need to be concerned about personal rights too."
Returning to the inexperience of newly elected officials he said, "I never saw some of the newly elected Councilmen at any of the meetings before they were elected. I sat there for four years and never saw their faces at all. They all came in as experts. I did too. I thought I was an expert but it's a lot of hard work if you're going to do it right. But we'll do just fine."
Gustaveson ended the interview by discussing how great Mesquite is as a place to live and all of the positive things about the City. He thinks the City should continue to promote itself as a sports center. He doesn't think "we should get too wrapped up in the recession. People want to go back three steps. I think we should go forward three steps."
Posted Date: 10/18/2011 Keep up the good work Karl. That NCS ripoff is a fiasco. Don't let NCS get away with it. We count on you to protect us. By: Ossie Henderson
Posted Date: 10/18/2011 Karl is right about redeveloping downtown. If we don't put the sports center on Mesquite Blvd, all of the plaza's will become a ghost town. The business owners should band together and demand it. As for NCS, the council is just plain stupid to deal with them. By: David
Posted Date: 10/18/2011 I think Gustaveson is being a little dishonest when he says "there is no downtown." Up until a few years ago, when Walmart got here, there was nothing on that side of town, just houses and dirt. The "downtown" was right where it still is. Gustaveson probably drives through it because, Karl, it is close to city hall. By: Mark
Posted Date: 10/18/2011 "We have been held hostage by one developer" said Gustaveson. What more do we need to get rid of NCS? By: Sandy
Posted Date: 10/19/2011 Should the indoor sports facility be built downtown on the former LDS Church land, where would the facility's patrons park? By: David West
Posted Date: 11/30/2011 I have to say Karl, this article makes it seem as if you are putting down the present council becasue of their inexpierence but think about this....It was the more "experienced" council that got Mesquite into that unconditional land deal with NCS. Maybe the inexperienced ones will be able to get us out. Maybe Mesquite, like the rest of the country, can do a little better without the political experience we've been given. By: Teri Nehrenz