Greg Smith's transformation

Not only has Greg Smith become one of those people he used to criticize, he's proud of it.

A dozen years ago, Smith won a seat on the Carson Board of Supervisors by promising to bring a businesslike approach to government. And he admits a large element of that attitude was his relentless criticism of what he saw as wasteful, inefficient practices tangled in red tape and controlled by uninspired, often lazy public workers.

Now, as a supervisor with the state Purchasing Division, he says he's had a good look at the other side of the coin.

"I was as bad as anybody at the chamber mixers standing around kibitzing about the people feeding at the public trough," he said. "The most unfortunate comment I ever made was the dinosaur comment."

At one point, he managed to offend the most veteran workers by referring to them as "dinosaurs -- lazy long-term public employees who no longer had any new ideas, no longer had any passion for the job, no longer had anything new to offer but just came to work every day with a pulse."

He says he didn't mean to accuse all veteran workers of fitting that description, but "that's the way it got spun."

Thereafter, every time the supervisors honored a retiring Carson City worker with 30 years or more service, staff put a little plastic dinosaur next to Smith's name plate. At first he thought it was funny but, after a while, he got the message.

He says even before he lost his race for a third term as a supervisor, he was beginning to see that a large percentage of public workers didn't deserve the criticism.

But the major change for Smith came after his pizza business was forced into bankruptcy and he got a job with the state Purchasing Division about five years ago.

Suddenly, after years of publicly saying bureaucrats were less efficient than their business counterparts, he was one of them.

"It's been an eye opener," he said.

Especially since Purchasing Director Bill Moell hired him to get a handle on all the services for which the state contracts.

"For years, an agency had to go through a whole process even to buy staples, and yet a director could go out and sign a half-million dollar consulting contract basically on the back of a bar napkin," said Smith. "He (Moell) said something's wrong with that."

As Services Purchasing supervisor, Smith makes sure the state gets the best deal from vendors when it contracts for services.

"And it's not just the lowest price," he said. "Price is always a concern in government, but we're trying to get to the best value."

In that position, Smith says he deals with a long list of state agencies and, for the most part, is impressed with the professionalism and commitment of those workers as well as their willingness to look at new and better ways of doing things.

"I still believe we have some dinosaurs," he said. "But not very many. There are a lot of really good people who work at the state."

He said the same is true of Carson City's professional staff.

Smith said the picture isn't nearly as black and white as he thought when first elected more than 12 years ago, but that having been on both sides helps him do a better job.

Smith says eight years as an elected member of the Board of Supervisors give him a solid feel for the difficulties, choices and compromises involved in making policy decisions.

"The elected officials are the ones that were selected by the people to make policy," he said. "That's their role."

And he said he knows well now where the line between staff and policy makers is.

"When I first went on the board, (then-Mayor) Marv Teixeira and (Supervisor) Tom Fettic were the ones who said don't ever let the bureaucracy take control," said Smith. "Staff who understand the elected person's role seem to do the best in the system. It's also important that elected officials have a certain respect for their staff."

"In a perfect government, every elected official would have been a staff member and I'd like to see every staff member have to be an elected official and make those decisions," he said.

As for his job: "I would never have thought so (years ago), but I love it," he said. "Every day it's a different agency, a different problem and a different solution."

He said many of the deals are pretty straightforward but that, "by the time it gets to me, it's usually the more politically sensitive issues, the high dollars issues that don't fit into A, B or C."

That means the contracts worth more than $100,000 for such jobs as research and professional consulting contracts and advertising -- everything that can be defined as "services" instead of equipment, supplies and other tangible goods.

"We don't tell the agency who to hire, say, for a consultant," he said. "What we do is select the evaluation criteria and weights. We make sure its done based on cost, competence, experience and factors that make sure we get the best value."

"We're kind of the custodians of fair play both for the agencies and the vendors," he said. "We make sure it's done fairly, legally and in the state's best interest."

"This is a great job," he said. "I like to feel like I'm making a difference. Here, we all feel like that at the end of the day, things are better than they would be if we hadn't been here."


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