Tarkanian to lead governor's petition drive for public collective bargaining

CARSON CITY -- Defeated U.S. Senate candidate Danny Tarkanian will lead Gov. Jim Gibbons' petition drive in Southern Nevada to require that collective bargaining negotiations for schools and local governments be conducted in public.

Tarkanian said he met with Gibbons after both Republicans were defeated in the June 8 primary election and told him, "I have five months open." The signed petitions are due Nov. 9.

He agreed to take over the petition signature collection drive in Clark County and to have some of his volunteers work in other counties.

Under the petition, local governments, school districts and unions bargaining on behalf of public employees would be required to follow the open meeting law. That means they would have to post notices of meetings and allow members of the public to meet and speak.

Tarkanian said he has 35 volunteers prepared to collect signatures. He has time for the petition drive because he won't be campaigning as he had planned.

At this time, Tarkanian said he does not know whether he will seek political office again. He also was defeated in bids for the state Senate and the secretary of state.

He expressed confidence that the petition drive will be successful just using unpaid volunteers.

Robin Reedy, Gibbons' chief of staff, said Monday that the governor will oversee the collection effort and work to find additional volunteers.

"People completely underestimate him," she added. "The governor has been quite successful on other petitions."

In the past, Gibbons led the drives that culminated in the constitutional amendment requiring at least a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature to increase taxes and to require that education budgets be approved by the Legislature before all other budgets.

The governor and Tarkanian must collect 97,002 valid signatures by the deadline . If they do, the matter will be placed before the Legislature in February. If legislators reject the petition, then voters would decide whether to enact it as a state law in the November 2012 election.

Unlike most other petitions, Gibbons' Open Government Initiative was not legally challenged in the weeks after Gibbons filed it with the secretary of state's office in May.

Danny Thompson, secretary-treasurer of the state AFL-CIO, on Monday questioned whether a serious attempt will be made to collect signatures, and why the petition is needed.

"I tried to do a petition with volunteers and failed," he said. "It doesn't work. It costs a lot of money (to qualify a petition). We viewed this as an election ploy by the governor. Now if Mr. Tarkanian is involved, I don't understand why."

Reedy, however, pointed out that as a lame duck governor, Gibbons can do little or nothing until his term ends, but has chosen to work on the petition effort.

"What does he have to gain?" she asked. "We could skate for six months. He believes in this."

She expects that as the drive gains momentum, people will donate to the effort and ultimately paid volunteers will be used to collect some signatures.

As an example of why the petition is unnecessary, Thompson said public employee unions across the state have been voluntarily agreeing to salary concessions because of how the poor economy has affected tax revenue.

He said a law passed last year now requires a public meeting and a public vote before any contracts are approved by public bodies that lead local governments and schools.

If public employee unions and governments were required to follow the open meeting law during contract negotiations, he said, "you never would resolve anything."

In earlier prepared statements, Gibbons noted he tried twice during the special session of the Legislature in February to persuade legislators to make collective bargaining negotiations public, but the Democrat leadership did not consider his proposals.

Because salaries make up 70 percent to 80 percent of local government and school district spending, agreements on most spending are made in secret, he said.

"By the time these sweetheart salaries are voted on, the secret backroom deals have been cut and the perks and dollars keep adding up to higher taxes," Gibbons said.

On his petition website, Gibbons posts links to TransparentNevada, which lists salaries paid to most local government employees by name and salary. The site belongs to the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank based in Las Vegas.

In Clark County, 103 public employees, mostly firefighters, earned more than $233,500 in 2009. In contrast, the governor in Nevada by law earns $141,000 a year.

"What argument can anybody make against this?" Tarkanian asked. "It's public dollars that are being spent."

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.