Vote adds mortuary to weekly rotation

A mortuary that is co-owned by a Clark County firefighter received the go-ahead Tuesday to transport bodies from the coroner's office.

Commissioners voted 5-2 to let La Paloma Funeral and Cremation Services join a weekly rotation of mortuaries that take bodies from the coroner when family members are still deciding where the corpse should go.

Commissioners Tom Collins and Steve Sisolak questioned whether it was improper for a mortuary co-owned by firefighter Christopher Blackburn to do business with the county. They cast the two dissenting votes.

The state Ethics Commission ruled there was no conflict of interest. But Coroner Michael Murphy said he was bringing the matter to the county board to ensure that everything was OK.

"This ruling was made by the Ethics Commission without our input," he said.

Seven or eight mortuaries rotate weekly in picking up corpses. If a mortuary takes a body, there's no guarantee that the family will choose that mortuary, county officials said.

La Paloma opened four years ago and has six full-time workers and eight part-time employees, said Ryan Bowen, who co-owns the mortuary with Blackburn.

He said his partner is an investor who is barely involved in daily operations.

"I have to the best of my knowledge followed all the rules," Bowen said.

Sisolak, however, said it was disingenuous to call a 50 percent owner an investor. That's much different from a shareholder in a corporation, he said.

Collins said he didn't want to discourage county employees from having ventures on the side. But he agreed with Sisolak that Blackburn would be too directly involved in doing business with his employer.