John Barrette

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January 11, 2014
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Scene In Passing: City's form of government true to form

A friend who was once my boss died in a bizarre accident early this year.

Her name was Jennie Robak. She was a political and governmental news source in Nebraska’s Unicameral legislature before she became a friend and boss. The late state Sen. Robak, who was a decade older than me, died after she was run over in a vehicle-pedestrian accident while walking in a supermarket parking lot on Jan. 3. The vehicle was backing up when it hit her.

We kept in contact after she lost her unicameral seat, though that diminished some after I moved to Nevada. She will be missed.

News of her demise reached me not long after a note from Nevada’s U.S. Sen. Harry Reid dropped on my desk, and just before New Jersey Gov. Chris Christi fired some of his administration’s staff. The former note from Reid was congratulatory. The latter matter became a news story ballyhooed across America because Christie’s staff left an email trail about political retribution, and he’s eyeing the presidency.

The note from Reid congratulated me, belatedly, for winning a 2013 Nevada Press Association award for entertainment writing. It came in an envelope marked United States Senate and Office of the Majority Leader. Inside, under an official seal, were the same words and a typewritten message. After the congratulations, it recognized “your dedicated work as a city reporter at the Nevada Appeal.”

Thanks, senator, but my name was misspelled on the envelope and in the note. No criticism. Misspellings, avoidable but an occupational hazard in journalism, do happen.

My point is that Reid didn’t write the note, nor does he necessarily know me from chopped liver. His staff did the deed, schmoozing me by Postal Service in a bid to stroke my ego.

Nor did Christie necessarily know his female deputy chief of staff set things in motion to block traffic to a bridge in Fort Lee, N.J., as retribution because the mayor there hadn’t endorsed Christie for re-election. If Christie did know, and it comes out, he’s toast. If not, it’s just another government staffer playing politics. Same as Harry’s minion, although the New Jersey mess was much more egregious.

Because I worked for the late state senator and before that was a political operative for a congressman running for governor, I know the moral, which actually is an amoral message: politics and government are two sides of the same coin, and staff members often do whatever they think will please their boss without even asking if it will.

Remember it whenever you are told the city manager form of government, which we have in Carson City, separates politics and government. The difference here is city staff has five bosses, making things really dicey.

John Barrette covers Carson City government and business. He can be reached at

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The Nevada Appeal Updated Jan 11, 2014 10:47PM Published Jan 11, 2014 10:47PM Copyright 2014 The Nevada Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.