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The twisted ethics of sports, politics and rock ‘n’ roll
by Andrew Barbano
Jul 11, 2010 | 819 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The apparent defection of the area’s major tourism, corporate welfare project provides poetic justice and overdue comeuppance to misguided town fathers and mothers.

The Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority saved Hot August Nights from bankruptcy and oblivion when the event went belly up in its second year, 1987. Organizers were so flush with the surprising success of the 1986 inaugural that they booked about twice as many rock ‘n’ roll dinosaurs than needed. When the hangover cleared, they found themselves upside down. (See the first Tribune Barbwire of Aug. 12, 1988.)

That was nothing new. I attended the last gloomy pre-event board meeting in 1986 when accountants announced a $105,000 projected deficit.

The people of Nevada saved it. At the door of the sold-out convention center on prom night, I had to turn away angry visitors who had driven all the way from Tonopah in poodle skirts and crinoline formals. The fire marshal threatened to shut down the Shirelles, Jan & Dean and several of the Beach Boys if we let anybody else inside. The floor was a sea of empty beer cups.

Local entrepreneur Willie Davison had put it all together and was rightly hailed as a promotional genius afterward.

Although in rough health, Willie is still around today, just having promoted his  downtown Reno chicken wing thing.

It takes an over-

promising salesman like Willie to get any grandiose new idea off the ground. The only other guy I have ever met in Willie’s class was Christopher Robin Pook, progenitor of the Long Beach Grand Prix Formula One street race. A much diminished Indy Car version survives to this very day. I produced and syndicated worldwide English and Spanish radio networks for the race in its first three years.

Chris went belly up just like Willie and the taxpayers of the town saved the race because they loved it. If you want a definition of irony, look no further than Long Beach, which is now stealing Hot August Nights. And there doesn’t seem to be a damned thing that local officials can do about it.

Locals saved and nurtured the antique auto and moldy oldies nostalgiafest with their financial support, taxes and sweat equity. It got so popular that the rejuvenated outfit starting charging volunteers to work on it. Now that’s chutzpah!

So, what are we to make of the current brouhaha where the always secretive HAN board isn’t talking and whatever information is leaked is quite contradictory? First and foremost, it may be no more than another shakedown. HAN execs have seen how easy it has become for corporate suede shoes to get the Reno and Sparks city councils to give them the keys to taxpayers’ treasuries.

Sparks is considering a sales tax increase ballot question for November because police staffing stands so dangerously low. Why? Too much money spent on corporate welfare programs like the financially devastating Marina project and downtown redevelopment. Reno and Sparks have spent a quarter-billion dollars or more on ill-fated downtown corporate welfare programs. I believe in public subsidy of the arts, but Reno’s Artown and all its freebies are cleverly designed PR to make taxpayers believe that redevelopment has been successful. So go tell a kid with no books or computers in a dilapidated schoolhouse that the money for his education has been better spent to support the casino industry.

Mayors Cashell and Martini have been screaming like stuck swineherds over the looming loss of the region’s signature special event. Victorian Square can go back to B”Street.

How stupid can you be to subsidize a project with obscene sums of public money without extracting contractual guarantees that the private outfit can’t sell you out? The convention authority, with later-disgraced former Sparks City Manager Jay Milligan at the helm, stepped in to take over HAN after the 1987 financial collapse. Why was it turned over to a private corporation? Dumb.

These are the ethics of sports. Baseball, basketball, hockey, football, soccer, you name it: It’s only wrong if you get caught. I have a lot more respect for golf, where infractions are called to the attention of officials by the players themselves.

With all the talk of athletes as role models, why has no one advocated that players who witness an unfair call in favor of themselves can reverse it by so stating to an official? Can you imagine Barry Bonds turning to an umpire at first base and saying “The throw beat me, so call me out.”?

But this is America, where all that matters is what you can get away with. And Hot August Nights is getting away to the streets of Long Beach because of the good ole boy mentality of the local jockocracy in control of local politics.

We reap what we sow.

Be well. Raise hell.

Andrew Barbano is a 41-year Nevadan and editor of E-mail Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.
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