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Top five headlines from today’s Board of County Commissioners meeting
Settlement statement issued, Swan Lake receives more funding, NNAMHS construction contract and more

Media Release
For Immediate Release
www.washoecounty.us

Contact: Amy Ventetuolo
aventetuolo@washoecounty.us
775.328.2070

Reno, Nev. August 27, 2019. The following report highlights several important agenda items from the Washoe County Board of Commissioners meeting:

1. Statement from Washoe County regarding lawsuit settlement for Ms. Cathy Woods: Washoe County officials endeavor to act in the best interests of our community, including through the administration of justice. Washoe County and Ms. Cathy Woods have reached a settlement of Woods’s lawsuit, which was brought in 2016 in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada.  Washoe County will compensate Woods in the amount of $3 million for her conviction and subsequent incarceration for 35 years for the 1976 murder of Ms. Michelle Mitchell.

While money can rarely compensate an individual for loss of freedom, Washoe County sincerely hopes that this monetary settlement will be utilized for the best possible care of Woods.

The conviction and subsequent incarceration of Woods for murder is a tragic situation that Washoe County hopes is never repeated. Woods was convicted for the 1976 murder of Mitchell by two juries, in 1980 and again in 1985, based on the best evidence available at the time, including Woods’s own confessions.  In 2014, DNA testing, which was unavailable at the time of Woods’s trials, implicated an individual who it was later discovered to have been in Reno at the time of the murder and is now known to be a serial killer.  Based on this newly-discovered evidence, Woods’s conviction was vacated and the charges against her were dismissed by the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office. 

In 2016, Woods brought suit in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada seeking compensation for alleged wrongdoing that led to her conviction.  After a thorough review of the evidence in this case, Washoe County is confident that there was no wrongdoing by any of its employees during the investigation or prosecution of Woods. Nevertheless, this settlement allows fiscal certainty and resolution to this costly litigation and provides compensation for Woods for the over three decades of incarceration that she served. 

Through increased awareness and understanding of mental health issues, greater public resources, and the advent of DNA technology in law enforcement, we believe a situation like this is unlikely to be repeated.

Commissioners unanimously approved the settlement agreement. For more, click here.

2. Commissioners hear a presentation on North Valleys Closed Hyrdobasins and provide direction regarding flood mitigation and lowering water levels in Swan Lake. Commissioners heard a presentation from staff which included options to reduce the volume as a proactive step to make room for future flood and stormwater, and appropriate $2.5 million for those options. The options include:

  • Land application has been identified as a short-term project to enhance the natural evaporative process. Staff is collaboratively working with the owners of private properties located on the east side of Swan Lake to allow for the placement of pumps, piping and traditional irrigation sprinkler heads for land application over the next two to three years. This is a separate effort from the City of Reno’s “American Flat” project that Washoe County is supporting.
  • Enhanced mechanical aeration of the treated effluent at Washoe County’s Lemmon Valley Water Reclamation Facility is also being developed. This will be done by further treating the effluent produced at the plant to the same irrigation water standards that are currently in place and in practice in the area. All appropriate permits will be in place prior to implementation of this project.
  • Alternative pumping and barrier systems in specific areas around the lake. Based on an action plan that was developed in 2017 and updated in 2019, work around the lake will be done to improve protections when needed. An example would be installation of a barrier system outside the Lemmon Valley School playground.
  • Long-term mitigation planning efforts are also in progress. To prevent future flooding, ongoing planning and studies are currently being developed specific to closed basins. A matrix of solutions is under review and will be narrowed down to a few options. These options will undergo a review and will include input from the community and stakeholders.

“We’re planning for the winter season now and have identified these projects that need to be done and that we want to move forward with, while continuing the long-term planning and feasibility efforts,” said Interim County Manager, Dave Solaro.

After discussion, Commissioners unanimously authorized $2.5 million in additional funding to manage lake waters, initiate water removal, and understand feasibility of long-term options. 

For the total amount Washoe County has spent on Lemmon Valley flood mitigation efforts and more, click here.

3. Commissioners award construction contract to prepare to revamp new homeless campus in Sparks.

Commissioners awarded a contract to Q&D Construction to begin revamping the Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services (NNAMHS) campus this September.

The NNAMHS Homeless Housing Project will enhance Washoe County’s CrossRoads program and increase care management services for homeless women, children and families. The separation of the populations will provide a child-friendly space for children, which is required to support a learning environment as well as allow families to remain together. The new campus will also create additional space for social and recreational opportunities for children and adults by having two campuses.

“The Human Services Agency is excited to begin this extremely important project to offer services to enhance quality of life and provide support to our residents who need assistance during difficult times,” said Human Services Agency (HSA) Director Amber Howell.  “NNAMHS is part of new vision for our region in how we help those in need. We know this campus will be an important step in changing lives and creating a more safe, secure and healthy community for us all to live.”

The Nevada Department of Health and Human Services is leasing the buildings to HSA to significantly expand County programs at the NNAMHS campus, located at 480 Galletti Way in Sparks. Homeless women, children, and families that are currently staying at the Community Assistance Center in downtown Reno will move to the new NNAMHS campus when the campus is complete in spring of 2020.

What Will NNAMHS Campus Offer?

  • Homeless shelter for families and maternity
  • Homeless shelter for women
  • Senior Adult Daycare building (Daybreak)
  • Transition Age Youth Crossroads building
  • Case managers from Human Services Agency

“Thank you for all the work you’ve done on this fabulous project,” said Commissioner Marsha Berkbigler. “I am convinced this project is going to be a national model. I am looking forward to getting it in place and we as a Commission are committed to doing whatever we can to support it.”

4. Update on County Manager recruitment process. After the retirement announcement in April 2019 of the previous County Manager, John Slaughter, Ralph Andersen & Associates was contracted to conduct the national recruitment for the new Washoe County Manager. Project Director for the search, Ms. Heather Renschler, provided an update to Commissioners that included:

  • A panel assessment with the candidates to be conducted the week of September 16. The panel will be comprised of external regional stakeholders. This panel assessment is an internal function conducted by Ralph Andersen & Associates.
  • Renschler will return to the Board on Tuesday, September 24 with a list of the top candidates who will advance to public interviews with the Board.
  • A special session to hold public interviews with the Board will be scheduled for Monday, September 30.

5. Great Reno Balloon Races receives sponsorship agreement from Washoe County for the next three years. The Great Reno Balloon Race is preparing to head into its 38th year in the region, Sept.6-8, each year being hosted at Washoe County’s Rancho San Rafael Regional Park. Washoe County has been a proud Major Sponsor of the race for the last seven years. Commissioners continued their support by approving a three-year sponsorship agreement to continue to waive park facility rental and use, valued at $6,000 each year of the event.

“The Great Reno Balloon Race is a signature event that really does put Washoe County on the map,” said Chair Vaughn Hartung.

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