North Las Vegas unions zero in on Cherchio


It's a safe bet that North Las Vegas' police and fire unions won't be endorsing City Councilman Richard Cherchio in the city's upcoming municipal elections.

Union leaders have made no secret of their displeasure with Cherchio, who has voted in favor of laying off corrections officers and butted heads with union leaders during contentious contract concession talks.

Now the unions appear to be actively campaigning against the councilman, who was appointed to the Ward 4 seat in 2009 after his predecessor, Shari Buck, was elected mayor.

The two unions announced in a Thursday news release they will team up and go door-to-door on Saturday "to inform residents" about Cherchio's "serious ethics complaint."

The complaint, filed with Nevada's Commission on Ethics, involves Cherchio's failure to disclose several properties he owns as required by law.

Jeff Hurley, president of the North Las Vegas firefighters union, said the action has nothing to do with Cherchio's support of layoffs and cuts to public safety.

"We are concerned about the ethics complaint," Hurley said Thursday. "We are concerned that he wasn't elected to that position and now he's making bad decisions and forgetting to claim real estate."

But Mike Yarter, president of the Police Officers Association, admitted the campaign is more about payback than about the complaint itself.

"We committed a few months back that if any of these City Council people were to lay off our employees or threaten to lay them off, we need to make sure the citizens are aware public safety isn't priority number one with these people," Yarter said.

When asked why the unions weren't targeting the three other council members who voted in favor of the layoffs, Yarter said Cherchio "is the one coming up for election."

Cherchio admitted he did not list on disclosure forms he filed in January 2010 three of the four homes he owned at the time, including an $800,000 condominium in Turnberry Towers. He listed only his primary residence as his address, he said.

Cherchio said the omission was an oversight brought about by confusion over what was necessary to disclose as an appointed, rather than elected, council member. He asked for help from the City Clerk's office at the time, he said, and the office told him he did not need to list the properties as an appointee.

Cherchio had listed all of the properties except the condominium, which he had not yet purchased, on a disclosure form when he ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2007.

The omission this time around was a "stupid and boneheaded mistake on my part," Cherchio said. "I made a rookie mistake. I should have asked my wife. She would have told me to fill that out."

The councilman has since sold the Turnberry condominium, which he had planned to eventually move into, at a considerable loss when he was unable to rent it out and couldn't afford the monthly mortgage payments, he said. He purchased two of the other properties, next to his own North Las Vegas home in The Parks gated community, as rental properties in 2004, hoping his granddaughter and sister-in-law eventually would live in them.

Cherchio, a retired letter carrier, said he financed down payments on the homes and the condo in part by refinancing his primary residence and taking out a loan from his 401(k) retirement fund.

He took offense to a question from Hurley that appeared in the unions' press release: "How does a retired postal worker forget to list $1.2 million in real estate holdings?"

Cherchio said he resented the insinuation that a postal worker couldn't afford the properties.

"It makes letter carriers sound like second-class citizens," he said. "I worked 35 years and I saved and invested. When I retired in 1998 my top salary was $32,000 a year."

Cherchio, 64, previously worked in Florida, where he was president of his local letter carriers union.

After he learned about the ethics complaint from a reporter last month, Cherchio filed an amended disclosure form with the state that included all the properties.

Hurley said it's hard to believe Cherchio simply misunderstood the disclosure forms.

"It's not rocket science," he said. "It's very apparent you have to list your properties on there."

The ethics commission does not confirm that a complaint has been filed until it has been investigated and a panel has determined whether there is sufficient cause to hold a hearing, said Caren Jenkins, the commission's executive director. The process can take 60 or 70 days, she said.

In a case such as Cherchio's, the commission would look at whether there was a violation of law and, secondly, whether that violation was willful.

"No sanction would be imposed unless it was found to be willful, intentional and knowing," Jenkins said.

While she wouldn't comment specifically about Cherchio's case, Jenkins said the commission typically receives a "flood of 'strategic' complaints right around election time" that can then be used for "mudslinging and political purposes."

"When allegations are made, the public assumes they are correct well before the ethics commission takes a look at them," she said. "It's distressing."

North Las Vegas' municipal primary election is April 5, with the general election scheduled for June 7.

The ethics complaint was filed by a North Las Vegas resident who could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Cherchio said his priority since being appointed to the council has been to balance the budget, while "understanding we have a salary structure that is difficult to sustain."

"My goal has always been to work with the unions and not have anybody lose their jobs," he said. "But the only way to accomplish a balanced budget is to either lay people off or have the unions give something back to save their jobs. It doesn't make you very popular."

North Las Vegas is dealing with a $35 million shortfall through fiscal year 2011-12. The city laid off 188 workers in June. An additional 44, all detention center workers, were let go in October after the detention center lost about a third of its inmates to a facility for federal inmates in Pahrump.

Mayor Shari Buck was the only council member to vote against the detention center layoffs, saying public safety is her top priority.

On Wednesday the council unanimously approved a concessions agreement with the city's police union that will save the jobs of 11 police officers. City officials in November approved contract concessions with the city's largest union, the Teamsters, that saved 144 jobs.

The city's firefighters union is still in concession talks. If an agreement is not reached, 33 firefighters could lose their jobs later this year.

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285.

 

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