Las Vegas Sun

December 8, 2023

2020 Vision:

Thom Reilly: With less growth, decisions must be more selective, efficient

Thom Reilly

Thom Reilly, outside the Clark County Government Center, in December 2009. The chancellor at the Nevada System of Higher Education previously served as the county manager for five years.

My concern is that a lot of people still think we’re just going to rebound and do it all over again in the next 10 years. But we’re going to have to adjust because population growth is going to be flat or negative.

That means weaning ourselves off this growth, off this need for mass-production suburban homes and big-box stores. We have to be more selective about how we grow.

That could mean a boost for something that many have struggled to achieve, especially Las Vegas, for years — the rebirth of the urban core.

I wouldn’t have said that five years ago, but the dynamic has changed. What we had is not sustainable. What’s coming I see as healthy, or could be a healthy transformation.

Economic diversification — making sure the bread basket is large and varied enough that when one industry fails, others keep chugging away — is my mantra for the long-term health of Clark County.

But that means bringing Fortune 500 companies here. And to do that, we have got to make the valley more livable.

Many people have made the argument for years that the great tax climate of Nevada is the best way to attract new businesses.

Well, we may have the best climate. We’re in a position to be at the center of the information technology age. But we’ll miss the boat because those companies won’t move here if it’s not livable.

No. 1, that means concerted and trumpeted state support for education, both K-12 and at the university level. It also means freeing local government from the reins of a patriarchal state government that won’t let municipalities tie their shoe without passing a new state law.

We’re definitely going to see less home rule, at least for structural, functional home rule. But fiscal home rule — letting local governments raise or lower property taxes, for instance, to meet needs — that isn’t going to happen anytime soon, despite Nevada being only one of five states that doesn’t allow that freedom to local government.

I envision a quicker change in how government is set up, however. Instead of the massive top-down bureaucracies in place, larger pools of money will be doled to nongovernmental service providers. Accountability will be based largely on outcomes.

I resist the idea that one big government works to deliver services well. The power of government is going to be more diffuse, but it’s going to be much more responsive.

That transformation is already taking place through the contracting of various governmental services to the private sector.

The problem you’re seeing, though, is that it’s happening but local government still doesn’t have the expertise on how to manage contracts. We’re being outsmarted. The problem isn’t whether to do it, it’s how to create good, legal contracts.

Thom Reilly is a former Clark County manager, who is now executive director of Harrah’s Foundation and is a social work professor.

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