Boxing buffs like to call Las Vegas the fight capital of the world, but one of the bigger main events in recent years is taking place outside the Thomas & Mack Center or a major Strip resort.
It’s the contentious and arguably unprecedented battle pitting Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak against Sheriff Doug Gillespie. To the winner goes the fate of the More Cops tax prize.
Forgive me if I’ve lost count of what round we’re in. Although I was once a regular at boxing events, I’ve never seen a brawl quite like this one.
Traditionally, political prognosticators would call a sheriff battling it out with a commissioner a classic mismatch. The sheriff of Clark County has long been comfortably ranked near the top of Nevada’s heavyweight politicians.
Elected officials might grumble and grouse about the effectiveness of one sheriff or another, but they would rarely, if ever, raise a voice of public protest. It would not only be considered poor form, but in a previous era it also would be a good way to invite increased police presence in the offending official’s rearview mirror.
Whether out of professional courtesy or political self-interest, sheriffs and members of local government have rarely exchanged so much as an arched eyebrow in a public meeting. But that unwritten rule has officially passed into antiquity.
Sisolak has made his stance against the need for increased taxes to hire more police officers at a time the economy is still recovering and Metro has about $139 million in a reserve account.
Gillespie, who declared his lame-duck status a few weeks ago, has energetically tried to counter that the tax increase is essential because the department’s best math indicates the reserve will steadily be used up without it.
But what happened at the Oct. 1 commission meeting was something this peanut-crunching political tout couldn’t have handicapped. Not only was Gillespie rebuffed in his request for full funding, but Commissioner Susan Brager’s reasonable compromise was strangled by Metro’s loyal cowboy Commissioner Tom Collins before it drew a breath.
The sheriff and a commission chamber full of cops exited without landing a blow. Collins quickly returned a slightly altered More Cops proposal to the commission agenda, and during Tuesday morning’s meeting, a hearing on the issue was scheduled for 10 a.m. Nov. 19. (Ticketmaster, take note.)
From my bleacher seat, a disagreement between elected officials is generally a healthy thing for Southern Nevada’s generally too-cozy local government structure. But on Thursday, Sisolak again fired on Gillespie, this time essentially accusing him of collusion in not fighting harder in the public interest during a recent Metro negotiation with the Police Protective Association, the officers’ union.
With an armload of documents that raised pertinent issues but provided more suspicion than smoking-gun evidence, Sisolak put the sheriff on the spot. He also made the case that the arbitration process lacked transparency and was far less than professional, resulting in material produced that amounted to “a piece of paper with scratch marks on it.”
The end result hurt taxpayers.
Sisolak’s public condemnation of the process clearly infuriated Gillespie, who countered Friday with a statement at Metro headquarters with a lineup of senior officers behind him.
“I was elected by the entire county to be the sheriff of Clark County. Not a district. Not a small segment. The entire county. … I will work with any elected official. I will work with any community member. But make no mistake, I work for the citizens of Clark County. I do not work for Steve Sisolak. And as long as I am sheriff of Clark County, that will continue to be the way I approach this job.”
The round ended without the sheriff taking questions.
At the rate this bout is going, each corner would be wise to hire a good cut man.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (702) 383-0295.