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July 29, 2014

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SIX QUESTIONS:

Sabra Smith-Newby, Clark County Director Of Administrative Services

The county’s chief in-house lobbyist on the state’s brutal legislative session

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Steve Marcus

Sabra Smith-Newby says she helped get a bill passed in Carson City this year allowing for civil penalties for business license infractions.

A soft-spoken Clark County employee was in the middle of the no-holds-barred brawl between Clark County and the state Legislature this year, when the state was trying to take the county’s money and the county was trying to keep it.

Sabra Smith-Newby is director of administrative services, overseeing animal control, park police, code enforcement, emergency management policy and analytic services.

She also is the county’s chief in-house lobbyist.

Lately, the 32-year-old who holds a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard has also been the county’s point person on “home rule,” addressing a large contingent of Nevada city representatives about the meaning and broad reach of state control over local government during a meeting in Henderson.

Do you think home rule will ever become a reality? Will local governments come together and demand it?

It’s a really complex issue and I don’t think it lends itself to a simple answer. There’s a lot more knowledge about the issue these days and the public is much more educated on the various aspects, but I don’t know if there is uniformity among local governments. I think some would ask for complete home rule, and some wouldn’t.

You lobbied for Las Vegas at the 2005 Legislature, then the county in 2007. What was different about doing it this year?

The state was starting with so few dollars this time around. In 2007, the economy was just starting to head downward and people were still focused on growth and transportation. This year was all about the budget.

Were legislators nastier this time around? I hear you got screamed at a lot.

They were relatively civil. I have come to expect yelling at some point.

Is that hard to deal with, on a personal level?

It always is. I got into government because I wanted to make a difference. So I tend to take things more personally than a lot of other lobbyists do. If you look at private sector lobbyists, they don’t, or it doesn’t seem like they take these things personally. But it’s hard not to get personally involved when talking about things like child welfare and juvenile justice and things … that can make the difference between life and death sometimes.

How would you gauge your performance as a lobbyist this year?

I think I did well under the circumstances. I’m fairly hard on myself, so I think I could always improve. I’m really happy that we got our bill through that allows civil penalties for business license infractions. The county had been trying to pass that for at least four sessions. I’m really disappointed by the cuts made to the child welfare system. Child welfare has made a lot of progress in the last three years. It was really disheartening to see those cuts.

What did you learn from this year that will make you do things differently in the next session, 2011, or during the interim?

We’ve done a lot already, in the short time since the last session ended. We have monthly informational sessions and put together a newsletter sent to legislators. We had the information sessions before, but now instead of sending out e-mails here and there, we’re trying to make it more formal and regular. And we’re having sessions after hours to accommodate legislators.

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