Brown bows out but not without raising the bar

In the end, Larry Brown appeared to make it easy for everyone.

In shelving his attempt to become the general manager of Southern Nevada’s water works before Tuesday morning’s meeting, County Commissioner Brown removed the drama and potential for fireworks from a highly politicized process. He even managed to keep a straight face when commission colleague Mary Beth Scow read what sounded like a lengthy love letter to Las Vegas Valley Water District and Southern Nevada Water Authority underboss John Entsminger, the inside favorite to fill the position being vacated by longtime General Manager Pat Mulroy.

By the time Scow finished gushing, Entsminger must have been blushing.

In her capacity as chairwoman of the Clark County Water District Board of Trustees, Scow read a lengthy prepared statement that extolled the top candidate’s qualifications so highly that I was tempted to ask him to end the drought by simply willing the heavens to bring forth the rain.

Scow made it seem our spigots would immediately run dry without his uncanny insight. When Commissioner Steve Sisolak suggested the possibility of a national search for a new general manager, you could almost feel the room’s collective blood pressure rise. There was no appetite for such a thing, of course, and Scow made it clear that the authority had found the right man for the job. Boy, did she ever.

“I believe it is in everyone’s best interests that this organization move forward immediately with a seasoned and defined leader,” Scow said. “And there are several reasons why. Number one, we think there are serious operational and strategic issues in the water district and the water authority that cannot be postponed even for a day. We cannot be without a manager while we wait months to do a search.”

If Sisolak is the water board’s watchdog, Scow is its unabashed lapdog.

She then outlined several ongoing issues at the water district that would crash and burn without the expert Entsminger behind the big desk.

Whether Scow’s breathless testimonial came directly from Mulroy’s office or was dreamed up all on her own, Entsminger already had the job in the bag. It’s a duty for which he’s qualified, and Tuesday’s unanimous appointment is expected to be ratified in February. (Brown voted for him and joined in the generous acclamation.)

Before we get too far down the Entsminger Day Parade route and let loose the white doves, let us see how the new general manager addresses such issues as the district’s top-heavy management structure burgeoning with bureaucrats receiving six-figure salaries. The new manager also will be responsible for managing the district’s more than $3 billion debt.

And it’s a good thing Entsminger is a legal expert. The water authority faces the likelihood of many years of litigation over its multibillion-dollar decision to pump and pipe water from rural counties.

Brown’s interest in the job was sincere, but it was clear from the outset he faced stiff political opposition from Mulroy, a qualified insider candidate in Entsminger and the odd dynamic of attempting to win votes from his fellow commissioners.

Brown bowed out but only after expressing compelling concerns about the lack of transparency inside the water works.

“I think I raised some issues that needed to be raised, that people have been silent about for too long,” Brown said after the meeting. “The focus of the agency needs to start moving back to our customers and our citizens.

“I think one of the priorities now is to define the direction of the district and the authority over the next decade, and that starts with the internal aspect. We have to take a long look inside and start building a far more stable financial plan. People can’t ignore a $3.4 billion debt. That’s saddled on the ratepayers. As we define that direction, it has to start from within and demonstrate that we are stewards of the dollar, and that we’re as efficient as possible internally.”

Now it will be incumbent upon the insider Entsminger to address those politically volatile issues.

Come to think of it, maybe Brown didn’t make it easy on everyone, after all.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at jsmith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295.