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Lobbyist looks out for Doguals County

by Sharon Carter

When Douglas County commissioners looked north to Carson City to hire Walker and Associates to look after the county’s well-being at the state level, they had a good idea what their $25,000 per year was buying – the time and talents of former Carson City financial officer Mary Walker and input from her chief associate in the business, former Carson City mayor Marv Texeira.

Walker, a certified public accountant who grew up in Carson City, looks after the interests of both Douglas County and Carson City at the state Legislature, while Texeira represents Lyon County and Carson-Tahoe Hospital.

“My strength is in technical things and Marv is a people person, we made a great legislative team (for Carson City) and we still do. We cooperate and coordinate our efforts and share information,”Walker said.

n No conflict. There have been no conflicts of interest because the needs of the three western Nevada counties are very similar, Walker said.

“There is a little more emphasis on economic growth in Lyon County, especially in the Fernley area, and more on open space preservation in Carson and Douglas,” she said.

The hospital’s interests, also, have posed no conflict for the lobbyists.

“In fact, since both the counties and hospitals are the ‘payers of last resort’ – meaning they are the last ones to be paid out of state and federal funds – the hospital’s interests are very much in line with those of the counties,” she said.

n Weekly reports. It was a Monday morning at the Nevada Legislature. Walker, as is her habit, was seated in the Legislature cafeteria reviewing the Senate and Assembly Daily histories and calendars. The information determines Walker’s daily schedule and is incorporated into the weekly reports she makes to her clients.

Her typical working day begins at 7:30 a.m. and can go until 9 or 10 p.m. And, with shortfalls in the state budget forcing bureaucrats and lawmakers to hunt for alternative sources to pay for programs and services, Walker said, the 1999 Legislature promises to make for some very, very long days.

“The first week the Legislature opened, SCR10 was presented,” she said. “It was one of the biggest issues of the year – the state wanted to take its fines money away from local governments. It would have meant closing down courts in smaller rural counties, where they need the revenues from fines and fee to support their courts. They can’t operate without it.”

Even in the bigger jurisdictions like Carson City and Douglas, she said, it often costs more to process Nevada Highway Patrol tickets than the tickets bring in in revenue.

In Carson City, for example, she said, it costs $130,000 per year to handle NHP tickets. The tickets average three days to process, and because a big percentage are issued for drunken driving offenses, it usually involves taking people into custody and keeping them in jail for a time. Under the proposed law, local jurisdictions would have had to bear the booking and housing expenses.

“It would also add costs to handle the extra paperwork it would take to move the revenues over to the state. If the local courts charged the actual costs to the state, the state wouldn’t see the revenue stream it was hoping for,” Walker said. “And if the county courts weren’t allowed to pass on the costs, it would have been another unfunded mandate.”

n Job is to educate. It was a prime example of what Walker says her job is all about – educating legislators to the full range of consequences their actions could produce.

“The legislators were listening and we fared very well in our first battle,” she said. “We don’t expect to see this come back.”

But Walker, 44, doesn’t kid herself that challenges or the hours will diminish as the session progresses. She counts herself lucky her husband, Steve, a water planner for Washoe County, is tolerant of her hours during the session.

She said it also helps that they are “empty nesters.” The Walkers’ youngest son, Kenny, 18, is a student in the University of Montana, Missoula’s school of natural resources. Nathan, 23, a graduate of Emerson College in Boston, teaches performing arts at Lake Tahoe Community College in South Lake Tahoe.

“If the kids were still home, I wouldn’t be doing this,” she said. “The pace can be too hectic.”

Relief from the relentless pace usually comes on the weekends, when the Walkers, who met when both were students at the University of Nevada, Reno, take off on horseback to explore the trails in the hills near their Washoe Valley home.

“Getting outdoors on the weekends keeps me sane,” she said.

n In the loop. During the work week, she said, it helps that Carson City and Douglas County are taking leadership roles in the 1999 Legislature. That keeps their elected, appointed and paid representatives in the information loop.

“For example, we’re sponsoring a purchasing bill that will increase the amount the small counties have to put out to bid, from $10,000 to $25,000,” she said. “Washoe and Clark counties already have the higher cap, but the rurals don’t. So when Carson City needs $13,000-worth of new carpet (which it does), they currently have to add in another $1,100-expense to advertise and take formal bids, and spend six weeks going through the process. That’s opposed to the $90 or less they figure it takes to just have someone call around, get price quotes and present them to the city.”

Walker said the Nevada Press and Nevada Taxpayers associations had initially been opposed to the bill, fearing it would reduce government accountability.

“But when we explained the purchases would still have to be noticed and advertised (on agendas), they saw the value,” she said. “It goes back to working with people to resolve problems.”

n Douglas bills. Douglas County, she said, is also sponsoring a law to clarify the language in the residential construction tax statutes, and another to give local utilities an opportunity to get water right credits for residential wells which are retired when homeowners hook up to water systems.

“It could have an impact on the homeowners, too,” she said. “They might not have to pay so much to hook up if they could trade their homeowner’s water right to the utility. It could give them an option.”

Walker said Douglas County’s water rights bill is one of 1,500 bill draft requests that concern water – about 200 of which are already published.

“Some will be positive and some will be negative,” she said. “Water is so important, we have to be sure we’re up on them all.”

Walker said Douglas County residents who have issues they would like raised at the Legislature should contact county manager Dan Holler at 782-9821, town of Minden board member Ross Chichester at 782-5976, or Walker, herself, at 885-9393.

The county’s elected representatives, State Senator Lawrence Jacobsen and Assemblyman Lynn Hettrick may be reached at 782-2334 and 265-4473, respectively.

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