Las Vegas Sun

May 26, 2024

Where I Stand — Guest Columnist Thom Reilly: Building citizen trust

Editor's note: In August the Where I Stand column is turned over to guest writers. Today's columnist is Clark County Manager Thom Reilly.

TOO OFTEN I hear, "What is government going to do to fix this problem in our community?" The problems vary depending on the community issue and whom they affect.

Like many communities around the country, we have complex problems with affordable housing, child abuse, homelessness and air quality, to name a few, as well as relatively mundane issues, such as having to pick up debris in neighborhood parks.

While government should be held accountable for spending citizens' money efficiently and producing good outcomes, there are some issues government probably should not be involved in and others that are far too complex for government to solve alone. Nonetheless, we have evolved to the expectation that government is the solver of all problems. When this expectation is not met, both government and citizens are frustrated.

I would suggest that how we view government is pivotal. For example, I believe that the central role of government is not necessarily to deliver services, but to create opportunities that encourage collective action among individuals, groups and organizations. Government's ability to bring the appropriate people together in constructive ways with good information to address community problems is a powerful role and one that is often under-utilized.

Clark County has attempted to partner with groups of citizens to solve some of our more complex issues. As examples, the Clark County Growth Task Force resulted in several concrete recommendations for dealing with growth and shaping our future.

Following the University Medical Center Citizens' Task Force work, UMC saw an increase in commercially insured and government-insured (Medicare and Medicaid) patients using the facility, resulting in $9 million over projected patient revenue last year. Earlier this year, US News & World Report named UMC one of the nation's top-rated hospitals in the area of neurology and neurosurgery.

The Customer Participation Committee, comprised of industry representatives, reviewed our construction approval process, which had been cumbersome for years. It resulted in the merging of functions from three county departments into one Development Services Department and the streamlining of review processes.

After the county experienced a 40 percent increase in the number of children needing shelter due to abuse and neglect, we partnered with business, gaming, faith-based groups and labor to launch the Foster/Adoptive Parent Recruitment Campaign. We have received more than 650 inquiries from interested citizens.

The regional collaboration among county and city jurisdictions, police departments and nonprofits to address homelessness has resulted in the first-ever regional plan to address homelessness. This prompted (1) the state to award Southern Nevada $4 million for intervention and prevention services and (2) the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department this year to award $6 million for a Continuum of Care program, funding that provides permanent and transitional housing for homeless people.

These efforts result in successfully solving many of our problems and they help us reprioritize where our efforts and taxes should be targeted. Of course, this requires change in how both government and citizens behave.

Government needs to be more open as to how it conducts business; provide "good" information on issues of shared concern; be willing to share power with citizens by delegating more decision-making; and create authentic ways to involve citizens in community issues.

Symbolically, government needs to begin referring to residents as citizens, instead of "customers." While citizens deserve and should expect to be treated with dignity, competence and respect, referring to them as customers relegates them to a passive role or a "we complain and you deliver" type of governance.

On the other hand, citizens are not exempt from responsibility. They need to be more attentive, informed and engaged in community debates that go beyond their own special interests to include issues that affect the larger community and common good.

The complex nature of many issues facing our community requires the collective effort of government, businesses, civic groups, faith-based organizations and citizens. The emphasis on viewing government as a "convener" of others, instead of the solver of all problems, can have the added benefit of promoting constructive community decision-making and a necessary trust between citizens and government.