Ill will inevitable in Brown’s Water District brushoff

Larry Brown wasn’t sure Friday whether he had four votes from his fellow Clark County commissioners to become the new general manager of the Las Vegas Valley Water District. By Monday, he knew he did not.

Chairman Steve Sisolak was in his corner, but apparently no one else was.

When Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani declined to support him and supported the district’s Deputy General Manager John Entsminger instead, Brown knew it was over. At lunchtime Monday, Brown pulled out.

Not many job applicants have the ability to poll the people doing the hiring, but as a commissioner, all Brown had to do with walk through the commissioners’ office and ask. Commissioners Tom Collins and Susan Brager already had declared their choice was Entsminger.

Mary Beth Scow, who chairs both the Las Vegas Valley Water District and its sister agency, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, didn’t declare in advance publicly, but when starting the agenda item Tuesday, she read a statement explaining why Entsminger was her choice.

Brown blamed others for distorting his intentions, yet he was the one who made claims he later backed away from. He said consultants Billy Vassiliadis and Sig Rogich had offered him the deputy’s job Entsminger has until Feb. 6, when Pat Mulroy steps down as general manager of both water agencies. Brown also said Mulroy offered him the No. 2 job. Ultimately, he had to back down from those claims, which he used to deflect any claims that he wanted the water job merely because he wanted a higher salary than he makes as a commissioner and a Las Vegas 51s community relations manager.

Brown wouldn’t have had the technical expertise that Entsminger has or the in-depth knowledge of water policy or negotiations. His seven years at the district involved public information, conservation and consumer relations. If he had been hired, he would have had to hire experts like Entsminger.

Readers who contacted me were supportive of Brown. One said I was mean. Others agreed with Brown that there were too many employees at the district and authority making too much money.

The two water agencies employ about 1,300 people. Spokesman Scott Huntley said there are 426 who have base salaries of more than $100,000.

I checked a tip that some secretaries were paid more than $100,000 in salaries, but a perusal of Transparent Nevada didn’t find any.

Several readers wanted the county to consider no-growth steps. But that hasn’t been popular with county commissioners who encourage growth.

Others were upset with the cost of the $250 million Springs Preserve, which opened in 2007. Huntley said the two water agencies underwrote the park by $5 million a year, which is down from $10 million a year five years ago.

The preserve, which was supposed to be a tourist attraction, had instead become a locals attraction. The 2013 fiscal year saw an attendance of 251,828, up from five years ago when it was 157,547.

The original attendance estimates were vastly larger, between 486,000 to 767,000 and higher, but Huntley said those estimates were made in the 1990s before the recession, before it was clear that tourists were not going to flock to the preserve near Meadows mall.

Entsminger told the Review-Journal his goal was to make the Springs Preserve “as self-sustaining as possible.”

If the $5 million underwriting can be cut to $3 million, which goes mainly for the demonstration gardens, that goal will be met.

For those of us who like to eat at the Springs Preserve Cafe and look at the skyline, the cafe closed the first of the year and won’t be open for a few months. A food truck and a grab-and-go operation will provide basics until a new restaurant operator is found.

Watching Tuesday’s meeting, I wondered whether there would be a national search because Entsminger was the last man standing.

The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, which loves national searches for local positions, came out for Entsminger and against a national search. When Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani came out against a national search, I knew there would be no national search that some readers had urged.

The vote was unanimous for Entsminger, and the commissioners broke into applause after the vote. Even Brown voted for him but understandably couldn’t quite bring himself to applaud.

Brown had to still be smarting from the realization that five of the people who know him best didn’t think he was qualified for the job and only one strongly supported him. That had to hurt.

This behind-the-scenes nose-counting, which made Brown pull out to avoid the humiliation of being rejected by the commissioners, is bound to leave more bad feelings among commissioners who already have public spats.

Remember a year ago when Brown publicly said he no longer wanted to sit between Collins and Giunchigliani so seats were shuffled to accommodate him?

Look for the public and private hostilities to grow worse in 2014 in Clark County’s version of “Game of Thrones.”

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at (702) 383-0275.