Nye County official faces discipline over biased emails

Shirley Matson, the Nye County assessor who came under fire last week for making derogatory comments about Mexicans, Latinos and people whose looks make them suspected illegal immigrants, could face discipline by the Nye County Commission.

According to the agenda for a special meeting Friday, the rural county's five-person board will discuss and possibly decide "appropriate discipline" regarding Matson's use of the county computer network and county seal "to disseminate personal political views to the discredit of Nye County regarding the race, color and national origin of persons employed for the construction of the new county jail facilities."

Nye County Commission Chairman Gary Hollis deferred to District Attorney Brian Kunzi for comment. Kunzi did not respond to several calls to his office.

Matson on March 11 sent emails asking Nye County Sheriff Tony DeMeo to verify the construction workers are U.S. citizens or otherwise in the country legally, but other emails sent months earlier also helped to put Matson in the hot seat.

In those emails, ostensibly sent to a large number of recipients that included local media, Matson calls illegal immigrants locusts that devour the nation's resources, says pregnant Latinas are the nation's "greatest enemies" and says "other things the dirty filthy Mexican/Latino illegals do is steal Social Security numbers."

Matson last week acknowledged writing and sending the emails but now says someone altered at least one to change the send-date.

"The email was very obviously doctored," said Pahrump attorney Nancy Lord, whom Matson has retained for this fight. "The statements are not exactly what she said, and in any event, the comments were made several years ago, not in October. This is a fraudulent email. The real email was a response to questions about Hispanics working at job sites in Pahrump."

But neither Matson nor Lord dispute that the words were essentially hers, or that they were presented in context. Only the recent email to DeMeo, in which Matson asked the sheriff to conduct background checks on the workers, was sent in Matson's official capacity and it isn't deserving of discipline, Lord said.

Lord believes the most the commissioners could do is file a complaint with the Nevada Commission on Ethics.

"Voters put her in that office, and only voters can take her out,'' Lord said. "Look at what happened with Governor (Jim) Gibbons. He stayed in office until he did not get re-elected."

Lord called Matson's email to DeMeo "perfectly courteous and appropriate, and it was a perfectly legitimate request."

DeMeo disagrees, saying he considers Matson's comments blatantly racist and her call for background checks a request that he violate the worker's civil rights.

The jail contractor, Utah-based Layton Construction, this week provided evidence to Matson that all of its employees and those of its subcontractors are either U.S. citizens or have legal work visas.

"We assure our employees can work in the U.S. and we work with our subcontractors to assure their employees are properly credentialed and verified," Layton spokesman Alan Rindlisbacher said. "It's standard routine and has been for six decades."

Layton, a contractor with a nationwide footprint, is building the $16 million, 224-bed jail in Pahrump, 60 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Rindlisbacher said 80 percent of the crew was hired locally.

Lord, a longtime Pahrump resident who was one of five candidates for District Attorney on the November ballot, said Matson was targeted because she is a relative newcomer.

"Shirley was not a member of the clique in charge here," she said. "She ran on her own ticket and was not blessed by the clique. In this county, if you're not a member of their club, they come after you."

DeMeo again disagrees.

"This is about an elected official making racist comments," said the sheriff, who was uncertain what punishment options are available to the county.

"She can be sanctioned," he said. "You can't discredit the county. That's in the rules.

"Just because you are an elected official doesn't mean you don't have to follow a code of conduct."

Contact Doug McMurdo at dmcmurdo@ reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5512.