Constable's follies offer lesson for voters


John Bonaventura served two years in the Nevada Assembly, back in the '90s. In 2010, he decided to run for Las Vegas township constable, a post his father had held in the 1980s.

Local law enforcement officers were surprised when Mr. Bonaventura upset 12-year incumbent Robert "Bobby G" Gronauer in the Democratic primary, then went on to win the general election over former deputy constable Peter Gariano, a Henderson city marshal with 21 years of law enforcement experience.

Conventional wisdom held that Mr. Bonaventura had won election on nothing more than his name. He's a cousin of Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Joe Bonaventure, whose father of the same name was a high-profile District Court judge.

Few voters pay much attention to down-ballot races. But some local organizations go through the laborious interview process necessary to offer thoughtful endorsements. Review-Journal editors, for example, spoke to both Mr. Bonaventura and Mr. Gariano in the constable's race two years ago. Mr. Bonaventura offered odd answers to a number of questions, betraying a casual attitude about necessary qualifications. In the context of discussing how many people he would supervise if elected, he was asked, "How large is the constable's office?" He responded with an estimate of the building's square footage.

On Oct. 19, 2010, the Review-Journal advised voters "Peter Gariano is by far the better choice" for constable.

Not content to leave it at that, editorial writer Glenn Cook penned a follow-up column published on Oct. 31, naming Mr. Bonaventura to a list of "the five worst candidates you might not have heard of," and further warning that he was "completely unqualified."

Mr. Bonaventura was elected anyway. Since then, it's been quite a ride.

In campaign materials, Mr. Bonaventura said he attended the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga., becoming a certified peace officer in 1986. But Mr. Bonaventura won't sign forms that would allow the Review-Journal to access those records.

Although he has not attended a Nevada police academy, Mr. Bonaventura's election to the $100,000 post automatically made him a certified peace officer - and gave him the power to hire deputies, hand them guns and make them peace officers, too.

Space does not allow a complete two-year summary of the misadventures of those hired deputies. For that, see the catalog compiled by Review-Journal staff writers Kristi Jourdan and Lawrence Mower, published in Sunday's edition and available online at www.lvrj.com/bonaventura.

Suffice it to say Mr. Bonaventura, 50, participated in a pilot for a proposed reality TV series that depicted his employees waving guns and using profanity during traffic stops. The County Commission was not amused.

There have been allegations of sexual harassment, threats of legal action against constables in neighboring jurisdictions for "trespassing" on Mr. Bonaventura's lucrative territory (constables receive fees for serving court papers), and a series of hires that make the crowd at Andy Taylor's Mayberry jail look like the Texas Rangers.

Mr. Bonaventura's chief deputy, fellow former legislator Lou Toomin, 77, turned out to have a felony grand theft auto conviction from Los Angeles on his record. (He has since had it reduced to a misdemeanor, 45 years after the fact.)

Another member of Mr. Bonaventura's elite unit has had landlords file papers more than 20 times since 1999 to evict him from commercial and residential properties. The papers are supposed to be served by ... oh, you know.

But it would be hard to beat Jesse Cantero, the Bonaventura hire who was arrested by Las Vegas police on suspicion of driving under the influence - his second in three years - and driving with a suspended license. The most recent arrest took place Sept. 21, the night he was supposed to attend graduation ceremonies at a law enforcement academy.

It's gotten bad enough that Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, now proposes a bill that "revises provisions governing constables" - curtailing the power and independence of all 14 Nevada constables - to be introduced when the Legislature convenes in February.

So can we dispense, finally, with the notion that races at the bottom of the ballot aren't really important? Some of these folks carry badges and guns. Some are given gavels. Most have authority to spend public money.

So read the voter materials mailed by your local registrar. Consult - and carry with you - the Review-Journal's annual election tabloid, complete with candidate profiles, to be published Oct. 21. Do whatever further research you like, on the Internet, by attending local candidate forums, even telephoning the candidates in person.

And at that point, if there are still races in which you cannot confidently make an informed decision, don't cast a vote in that race, please.

Or we'll send John Bonaventura to see you.

 

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