By Kayla Anderson
Geno Martini’s name is synonymous with the city he loves and helped guide for nearly two decades.
A lot of Sparks’ success is due to Geno’s dedication and heartfelt love for this city, something many people have noticed and appreciated throughout the years. The Sparks native grew up in the city and ended up serving it well.
After 13 years as the face of the city, Sparks’ longest serving mayor will be delivering his farewell speech on Thursday.
Geno has been on the council for the last 19 years, originally appointed to Ward 3 in July 1999. Sworn in as mayor in 2005 after his best friend Tony Armstrong died while in office, Geno continued serving the city and was reelected to full terms in 2006, 2010, and 2014.
Geno learned how to drive when he was just 10 years old on the 680 acres of property bound between what is running (north to south) the “S” on the hill to Prater Boulevard and (east to west) I-80 to Sparks Boulevard. There were three Martini families on the property and he worked with his cousins and brother to help keep the ranch functioning. It was busy on the farm, especially around harvest season, but he says that growing up in that kind of atmosphere taught him the value of money and good work ethic.
The Sparks Tribune recently sat down with Geno to learn more about where he came from, his commitment to the city, and how he’s kept it functioning so well for so long:
How did you end up in Sparks?
Geno: I was born here- well, born at St. Mary’s in Reno but I only stayed there for four days before I got sick of it and came to Sparks. My grandpa was from Italy and him and my grandmother both had relatives here. My mom’s side of the family came here with the railroad and my dad’s side was into agriculture and started a ranch. There were a lot of Italians out here in the early 20s. We raised cattle, hay, onions, potatoes, milk cows. I worked on the ranch- at the time I didn’t think it was a lot of fun, but I learned how to work hard, show up on time, and respect my elders. We always had a huge garden, chickens and eggs, we bought pigs and made salami and prosciutto out of them- we never lacked for food,” he says. Fortunately most of his remaining family still lives in Sparks and they still get together once in a while. My mom is 97 and still walking, that’s amazing isn’t it?
What have been your biggest accomplishments as mayor?
Geno: Looking back I think that I’ve kept the city family-oriented. This is a great place to bring up kids. We have a lot of beautiful parks- one within every half-mile of all of our residential areas, which is pretty amazing to have as the city grows and grows. All of our events are family-centric, too.
As mayor: Coming out of the recession and getting stronger every year. Growing Victorian Square.
I lived through six floods, and so the North Truckee Drain Realignment Project was huge. It would flood the industrial area like a bathtub, just fill up with water. Two feet high of water is a lot and 20,000 people work in that area- that’s putting a lot of people out of work. Our citizens paid for it- that’s a $50 million project. I’m proud of that.
What have been your 3 biggest challenges?
Geno: The recession- laying off 35 percent of our employees was gut-wrenching. It was ugly and difficult, but we were fortunate in the projects that we did- we were conservative and our financial team did a terrific job in watching our revenues. I’m proud of that, we have a great team.
What is the 1 piece of advice you would give your successor?
Geno: It will be difficult for the next mayor to keep that small hometown feel and the biggest challenges will be handling the growth, public safety, and traffic. But there will always be something to do, a new challenge because once you stop growing and remain complacent, then you won’t have a city much longer. Ron has been on the Council for 12 years so he’s heard all of my advice but I would have to say, don’t jump to conclusions, always listen to both sides of the story. A lot of times the employees did exactly what they were supposed to do in any given situation. We have such great people, it’s the team that does everything. It’s like they say, it takes a village to do good things.
What has been the City’s key to success?
Geno: Since July 1999, I’ve served with only 14 people- that’s how stable we’ve been.
Are you still going to attend City Council meetings after your term ends?
Geno: No, I might watch them on TV sometimes. I’m not going to go away, I’m looking at doing some volunteer work. I just hope that I’ll be somewhere where someone will ask my opinion once in a while.
What do you like so much about working in City Hall?
Geno: The people, that’s what I’ll miss the most. This is a great environment, I love these people and coming here every day. They’re just awesome.
What are your 3 most memorable moments/issues that you remember during your time serving the City of Sparks?
Geno: So many…opening some projects or when we finally started to develop downtown Sparks. This isn’t a good memory but it is memorable- when the recession hit. That was not good, but it sticks in my mind. And the people I worked with and met, there have been so many great people. One time I went to Costco and a lady came up to me and she said, “I know who you are and I know you’re struggling. Do you mind if I pray for you?” That’s happened a couple of times and those moments make it all worth it. It hits me right here (pats his heart). There’s a lot of kind people out there and you find them or they find you.
Either you sit on your butt and do nothing or you get up and do something. You’re not going to do everything right, but you have to make some decisions.
Where is your favorite place to go in Sparks?
Geno: Scheels- what’s not to like? It’s a family-owned corporation with a Ferris wheel and anything you could ever need, it’s the biggest sporting goods store in the world and it’s right here in little Sparks. Legends opened up during the recession, in worst economic times since the 1920s. Many stores backed out, but Legends turned out pretty good.
How do you want to be remembered as mayor?
Geno: It doesn’t matter if people remember me. Some will and some won’t. A year from now, people are going to ask, Geno who? I guess I would like to be known as a good leader, a good person, sympathetic, and someone who really loved this city. If someone can remember me as that, then I will be happy.
This has been absolutely the best job I’ve ever had in my life. At 72 years old, what can be better than being mayor of the city that I grew up in? I just have a passion for this city, everything I have or could ever want is here.
It’s hard to look back and realize it’s been 19 years- it feels like it’s gone by in a minute.