At first, Neoma Jardon probably looks like a big fish in the small barrel of city politics. That’s because she’s running for City Council in Ward 5, where she and fellow newcomer Kirby Lampley will be up against a familiar name—Kitty Jung, for five years a county commissioner. The seat is currently held by Dave Aiazzi.
Looking back on 20-plus years as a human resources manager has helped to buoy Jardon’s confidence. “I was what my son calls a ‘lawyer babysitter,’ ” Jardon said, “I’ve learned that things only get done through personal relationships and that’s what I can bring to the consensus-building process.”
Jardon emphasizes her business experience as a contract negotiator supporting the governmental affairs division of her former firm. With regard to economic development, she said that the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada and the Northern Nevada Development Authority are “doing a great job,” but that the city needs to think more about brain drain and less about branding.
“There’s a lot of discussion about blight downtown and I think the way Reno gets out of that situation is through the students right up the street.” Jardon said. “We have some of the best minds coming out of our system and it seems to me that they get this fabulous education and then they leave.”
Jardon considers the city’s tax structure a bright spot. Reno has long offered full corporate, franchise and inventory tax exemptions and has implemented sales and use tax incentives. Yet, Washoe County unemployment remains stuck between 12 and 13 percent. This leaves conservative, adamantly pro-business candidates like Jardon with a tough question: What else can possibly be done to lure investment?
“My thought is that we need ongoing incentives for businesses not just to come here but to stay here,” Jardon said. “With Midtown and West Street and some of the other things organically growing, we need to make sure that our business licensing fees and our ability to open doors are competitive.”
The city recently looked into reinstating nonprofit business application fees, an exemption that’s currently enjoyed by a few of the city’s biggest employers, including both major hospitals and the regional ambulance service. That wouldn’t go over well with Jardon, who said that while the city’s tax structure is “already very competitive,” it might need some streamlining when it comes to a “cumbersome” business application and licensing process.
Aware that she faced a name recognition problem, and that pastures would probably be greener in the at-large race, she stayed in the Ward 5 race.
“While Kitty Jung may have some name recognition, I have my own support and my own contacts here,” Jardon said. “This is where I live, where my family is, where I can have the most impact.”
“[Kitty Jung] actually contacted me, through Dave Aiazzi, and said ‘If you run for the at-large seat I’ll support you.’ I didn’t make much of it. My thought was, why doesn’t she run for the at-large seat herself?”
Aiazzi is sticking to the sidelines. “I don’t endorse anyone in this race,” he said. “I don’t plan on doing that right now. It’s tough because I know Kitty better than I know Neoma, so I don’t want to be seen as bashing one or supporting the other one, but I am trying very hard to stay neutral in this race so that the public can wade through what the issues are.”
All three Ward 5 candidates are running for City Council for the first time, meaning that whoever’s elected in November will be just one more on a roster full of rookies replacing term-limited veterans down at City Hall.
Jardon isn’t worried about the learning curve. After the county ended consolidated fire services—and in the face of a persistently stale economy—she thinks now is the moment for local politics to redeem itself: “We only get one bite at this apple. We have to make sure that we take this opportunity to clean the slate and start anew.”