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Send RSCVA to the ‘Chamber’
by David Farside
Apr 05, 2011 | 832 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I don’t often agree with the editorials published in the Reno Gazette-Journal (RGJ), but that paper’s April 1 editorial suggesting an “overhaul” or elimination of the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority (RSCVA) was right on target and long overdue. I almost thought it was an April fool’s hoax.

According to its website, the mission of the RSCVA is to “attract visitors to Reno and Lake Tahoe lodging properties through marketing, convention sales and facility operations, featuring local amenities, attractions and events.” That seems like a good project, but the problem is the agency has been historically corrupt, inefficient, mismanaged and a cash cow for incompetence.

I remember when I filed a complaint with the Nevada Commission on Ethics against RSCVA CEO Phil Keene in 2000. Keene was caught using RSCVA credit cards for his personal use. In 2001, the commission found him in violation of state ethics laws and he subsequently moved out of town. As I started reading between the lines of Keene’s testimony and listening to his attorney’s defense, I realized he might have been set up. It appeared that Keene was told he could use the cards as his own if he paid them off within 30 days and no interest was accrued.

The RSCVA board also was found guilty by a jury for violating open meeting laws in 1984. The district attorney’s office claimed the same board used bad business judgment in its bidding process the following year for not issuing contracts to the lowest bidder. So much for corruption.

Having 12 members on the board — five representing three political jurisdictions and seven appointed representatives from gaming, hotels and motels — is a guaranteed prescription for failure. The board cannot be efficient because its members are too political, territorial or self-serving to reach any logical consensus.

The inefficiency of the RSCVA is in part attributable to its funding source and the composition of its board. Since the room tax is the agency’s primary funding source, each appointed member wants to spend the tax on enhancing their own amenities and marketing their individual property, conventions and special events instead of on what is best for the community.

It doesn’t help that the RSCVA can’t hire any administrators who know what they are doing or who have the political courage to make decisions even at risk of losing their job.

But it’s almost impossible for any CEO to get anything positive accomplished while navigating through 12 board members who all have their own personal agendas without the fear of being fired by the same board that hired him or her in the first place. Therefore, the CEO should be approved, hired or fired by representatives of our three political jurisdictions, not members of the special interest groups who hold their job security as hostage for their individual agenda.

The RGJ editorial suggested that if the RSCVA can’t do a better job, maybe it shouldn’t do the job at all. That’s been the opinion of most of us for the last 20 years. I’m glad they finally caught up with the pulse of the general public.

But how do we replace the RSCVA? Let’s look at the mission statement of the Reno Sparks Chamber of Commerce. Its goal is to help shape and support local business, create an environment that sustains growth, promote the regional business community and develop local community leaders. Expand those ideals to include marketing, promotion and attracting visitors to our area and I think we’ve found the answer.

Actually, it was the chamber of commerce that promoted events for the original Washoe County Fair and Recreation Board in the late 1950s. The RSCVA replaced it and began promoting conventions and tourism.

By state statute, the RSCVA was mandated to include representatives from gaming on the board. In doing so the agency did expand special events but forgot the core values of commitment and integrity held by the chamber of commerce.

Statutorily, changes in the RSCVA have to be implemented. The RSCVA only needs seven board members: five from political jurisdictions and two from the chamber of commerce. Currently, board members representing gaming compete with themselves and the RSCVA for conventions. By eliminating them from the board, the agency has a better chance to be successful.

The agency’s budget should be approved and audited annually by the county. Its CEO should not be beholden to board members because he or she was hired by them. The RSCVA’s mission statement should include “attracting business” as well as tourists to our community. Room tax funding should not preclude marketing for new business.

If the RSCVA can’t be revamped to do a better job, we should get rid of it and replace it with the business and marketing skills of the Reno Sparks Chamber of Commerce.

David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. The polemics of his articles can be discussed at His website is
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