Election 2012: Challenger says county needs to build voters’ trust
October 11, 2012
Commission candidate Barry Penzel can pinpoint the moment he decided to run for office.
“I was sitting in my living room contemplating increases in the garbage fee, utility fee, water rates, and I thought there’s got to be a better way to run a railroad, and I got involved,” said the 67-year-old Saratoga Springs resident.
This is Penzel’s first attempt at an elective office. He has been a Douglas County resident since 1992.
He is a retired colonel, U.S. Army, with 25 years as a ranger, aviator and combat leader. He recently retired from operating a business in the geothermal industry.
Penzel is former owner of the Genoa Country Store, and has lived in several Douglas County locations including Tramway, Sunridge, and Winhaven before moving to Saratoga Springs in the heart of District 5.
Penzel said he began attending commission meetings in January, and, as a candidate, began hosting town hall meetings around the county.
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“I began listening to everybody else and learned nobody’s happy,” he said.
Penzel faced incumbent Mike Olson and challenger Dianne Humble in the June Republican primary and came out the top vote-getter.
He is up against Olson on Nov. 6 for District 5 which includes parts of north and northeastern Douglas County.
All residents vote for commissioner.
“The primary results said I was on the right track, but I didn’t walk away saying this was going to be easy. It told me some of the things we are questioning are correct, like fiscal responsibility,” Penzel said. “But I certainly didn’t take it as a mandate.”
As he canvasses the county door-to-door, Penzel says he is hearing “a lot of pent-up feelings of how the commission is run.”
“People are generally upset that they don’t get to talk to anybody,” he said. “What I have gleaned in the past nine months is there’s a great deal of distrust of government at all levels.”
If the county built up trust, Penzel thinks citizens would support such issues as gas taxes to pay for the county’s deteriorating roads.
He also questions whether it’s the right time to build the Douglas County Community and Senior Center set to open in 2015.
Through his town hall meetings – cohosted with Nevada Assembly candidate Jim Wheeler and pool board candidate Carl Schnock – Penzel said he is hearing that issues residents are identifying “aren’t easily transferable to the six county (strategic plan) priorities.”
The main concerns appear to be redevelopment at Lake Tahoe and water and sewer issues throughout the county.
“Water and sewer rates are huge issues. I would almost put those in the ‘revolt’ category,” he said.
Penzel said he would listen to all who come before the board. He said he hoped there was a way to include citizen comments and provide feedback from commissioners at meetings without violating the Nevada open meeting law.
“There will always be a critical review of decisions,” he said. “When citizens make comments, they should be part of the discussion. Citizens need to hear the mindset of the commission. The discussion shouldn’t be cut off because of the open meeting law.”
Penzel said he is older than Olson, has more business experience, and, as a retiree, has more time to devote to county business.
“I am not critical of him as a person, but I think his votes are motivated by other than what the citizens want,” Penzel said. “It’s time. Not only do I have the experience, but I understand how to read a balance sheet.”
Penzel said he is beholden to no special interests.
“I use three words to make decisions – right, just and fair – as my guiding principles,” he said.
He and his family first visited Douglas County in 1983. Penzel and his wife Cindy have been married for 45 years.
“Besides the people, we were drawn to the beauty of the area,” he said. “In 1983, we were on a family vacation to Lake Tahoe. We went to the Ridge and it (the view) was so dramatic. We had been in Germany for three years, we have been all over the world, and this is the place.”