It’s time users get transparent water chief


An intriguing email crossed my desk this past week from the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance.

Flying under the impressive banner, “Your Business Connection to the World,” it’s a well-connected group. At its inaugural dinner in November, Gov. Brian Sandoval was a featured speaker and MGM Resorts International President Bill Hornbuckle gave the keynote address.

The latest missive trumpeted, “John Entsminger of the Southern Nevada Water Authority to Speak at January Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance Board of Trustees’ Breakfast.” Its subtitle offered, “Entsminger is Considered a Leading Candidate to Replace Retiring Water Chief Pat Mulroy.” The breakfast is set for the 14th.

What followed was a list of Entsminger’s bona fides as Mulroy’s senior deputy general manager. It’s hard to imagine Entsminger desiring a more laudatory introduction to local business leaders.

It almost makes it sound as if his selection as Mulroy’s successor is a foregone conclusion, and maybe it is. But before we strike up a band and complete the coronation, there are still a few matters worth discussing.

Entsminger, a natural resources attorney and the SNWA’s lead negotiator on issues concerning the Colorado River, is an experienced insider. Longtime water czar Mulroy has made no secret her desire to see Entsminger as her replacement. And anyone who has watched Mulroy in action over the past two decades knows she isn’t shy about stating her considered opinion.

The challenge for the community generally, and the Clark County Commission sitting as the Las Vegas Valley Water District board, is that the elected officials are scheduled to meet Jan. 7 to discuss and determine Mulroy’s successor. Although Mulroy enthusiastically prefers Entsminger, she doesn’t get to vote.

Commissioners, sure to feel varying degrees of political pressure as the vote draws closer, won’t have a simple decision to make. That’s because their longtime colleague, veteran County Commissioner Larry Brown, is also seeking the general manager’s position. Collecting the four votes needed to win the recommendation won’t be easy.

Although Brown is best known as a commissioner and former Las Vegas City Council member, he also served Mulroy seven years in senior management at the water district. His last title was director of public services. He has been publicly vetted through several elections. Although he lacks Entsminger’s legal expertise and endorsement from the boss, Brown is keenly familiar with the budget process and the business, casino and development communities.

Whoever is named the new general manager, one thing is clear: The SNWA and Las Vegas Valley Water District can no longer be operated under autocratic rule.

Southern Nevada’s water works traditionally receives relatively little scrutiny from the media and a rubber stamp from most elected officials. At some point, that general lack of inquiry and perceived openness needs to end.

The overused word is transparency. The upper ranks of the SNWA and district management are larded with high-salaried positions and the scent of political patronage. The water bureaucracy has grown along with the community and then some.

Although Mulroy has earned her accolades, decisions made on her watch have not been without controversy. The Springs Preserve, for instance, is a truly handsome facility, but in recession’s wake it’s reasonable to ask whether spending all those millions was prudent.

That’s nothing compared to the unknown billions the planned water pipeline project from rural Nevada will cost. That rural proposal is riddled with legal and political questions.

The future use of the Colorado River is another important issue. It would be interesting and instructive to hear what expert Entsminger and outsider Brown have to say on the topic.

Just how efficient is our water works? Will the new general manager promise to improve transparency and increase the authority’s credibility in the community?

It doesn’t sound like there will be much time for questions, or answers. The decision on Mulroy’s replacement will be made in less than a month. And the lobbying continues.

Southern Nevada’s lowly and largely voiceless water users, still dizzy from recession, deserve answers before their next surprise rate hike.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.