Bonner promotes government accessibility
Douglas County Commission Chairman Lee Bonner said he hopes to raise “the invisible curtain” between elected officials and the public they serve.
“I think people feel their government isn’t accessible, that we’re behind this invisible curtain. They’re afraid to call, e-mail or ask about an issue,” said Bonner who was elected chairman on Jan. 5.
“This is Nevada,” he said. “The government is very accessible. We’re not a heavy-handed bureaucracy. We’re not like that.”
Bonner, 52, was elected chairman at the beginning of his second year on the board.
Some commissioners expressed concern that the 7-year resident of Douglas County was too new for the leadership position.
“I don’t think I’m too new,” Bonner said. “Mike (Olson) was elected chair his second year (on the board) and he did a great job. I want to continue the same practices. When you’re a leader, you want to take the reins. I think anybody would want to be chair. We have a great board. I think we all get along.”
Bonner said his top priority for the year would be economic development.
“We’ve got to get our people back to work,” he said.
“I got a phone call today from a vitamin manufacturer. They made a decision to move here probably in August or September,” Bonner said.
He said he couldn’t disclose the company identity, but hoped the move would generate 25-35 new jobs.
In the past year, Bonner said about a dozen companies created more than 120 new jobs in Douglas County through relocation or expansion.
He disagrees with the criticism that the county is unfriendly to business.
“We need the right fit,” he said. “We don’t want to bring a company that would change or pollute the Valley. The county is doing a lot to help businesses on their way. Could we be better? Could we do more? The answer is always yes.”
“It hurts me every time I see a restaurant closing,” he said. “When I go to a restaurant, it’s not just a restaurant, I’m visiting friends.”
Bonner said his first year on the board was an eye-opener.
“I wasn’t prepared for the amount of time I was going to spend in meetings,” he said.
Bonner has been willing to change his mind on some matters.
“When I ran for office, there were things I was against like water consolidation into one system. I strongly opposed it. But, now, I am on this side of the wall, and I am looking at things differently. There are some real strong values to consolidating the Valley into one system and the Lake into another system. But it will be a board decision,” he said.
Bonner’s first meeting as chair ran almost eight hours as the board debated the master plan, community center, sewer rates and other agenda items.
“Everybody has something valuable to add to the discussion,” he said. “We listen to everybody in public comment. It’s part of the process. I wish more people would share their opinions.”
Bonner thinks highly of County Manager Steve Mokrohisky and the county employees.
“We have a great county manager, great staff. Why wouldn’t anybody want to move their business here?” he asked.
Since September, Bonner has been working with a Douglas High School intern.
He meets weekly with junior Darrell Morlan, 16.
Senior Brenda Medina, 17, participated last semester, and continued this semester even though she isn’t receiving credit.
“It’s a great internship,” Morlan said. “This community has given a lot to me, and I want to have an opportunity to give back.”
Bonner and his interns review the commission agenda, and he sends them into the high school community for feedback.
“It’s different,” Morlan said. “Students’ voices aren’t heard that much, and this give us an opportunity to get our viewpoint into it.”
Morlan said he spoke with classmates and teachers about the community/senior center.
“For a lot of kids who aren’t in sports, there’s not much to do. Sometimes they turn to drugs or violence. The idea of the community center really got them interested,” Morlan said.
Morlan applied for the internship last May.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to be the first kid at Douglas High School to make this pathway,” Morlan said.
Bonner said he would like to see more students involved in the community.
“Before, government was just a big blur. It seemed so boring,” Morlan said. “I didn’t know how a budget worked. Now that I am involved, I understand. I see where our parents are putting their money (taxes) into it. I’m all for keeping the Valley the way it is, but I understand you have to build on it. I like being that bond, that bridge between the students and the commission.”
During his chairmanship, Bonner said he hopes to see ground broken for the new community/senior center, and more jobs come to Douglas County.
“We really need to see the economy turn around and keep people working,” he said.
Bonner said he felt privileged to serve as chairman.
“It’s very humbling. I am very honored to serve as chairman,” he said. “We have a great board. I lean on them for support.
“As chairman, I see myself first serving the citizens of Douglas County, and, second, serving county staff and the board. I couldn’t be chairman without their support or that of the citizens.”