As a member of the Board of Regents, Steve Sisolak was used to being a lone voice of common sense and fiscal restraint. While his peers rushed to dump tax money by the truckload on a revolving door of already-overpaid higher education administrators, he always stopped to ask whether taxpayers and students were getting anything of comparable benefit in return. For his efforts, he routinely found himself on the wrong side of 11-2 and 12-1 votes.
Last year, voters elevated Mr. Sisolak to the Clark County Commission, a body in desperate need of his perspective. On Tuesday, he dumped a bucket of cold reality on colleagues too eager to lavish hundreds of thousands of dollars on a Washington, D.C., lobbyist.
"There's no transparency or openness in this process," Mr. Sisolak said, putting fellow commissioners on the spot to defend their largess amid revenue shortfalls and continued whimpering over the Legislature's $125 million money grab. "It's offensive that we're spending that much money and there's no accountability. I don't know how we address this."
The commission was prepared to renew contracts with federal lobbyist Thomas Faust totaling $350,000 without comment before Mr. Sisolak interrupted, pointing out that the county spends about $2 million per year on lobbying, public relations, marketing and "community outreach."
The recipients of these contracts, Mr. Sisolak said, keep collecting tax money without having to bid, without having to report their performance and without submitting expense receipts. He noted that most county agencies have their own paid lobbyists and that he couldn't get public information upon request about the nature of contracts that appeared to offer little value to county government or taxpayers.
Commissioners stumbled over one another to appear as vigilant as Mr. Sisolak.
"How do we properly make sure taxpayers' dollars are accounted for?" Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani asked.
They can start by not wasting them on lobbying, public relations, marketing and "community outreach."
Suffice it to say, none of these entities are lobbying for lower taxes, reduced government spending and transparency. Their job is to make sure more and more tax dollars flow into the accounts that support their respective clients -- and you pay them to argue for increased government spending, whether you agree with the position or not.
We elect representatives to oversee government bodies to serve as stewards and advocates for the public interest. We pay them salaries to carry out these duties. Yet all across Nevada, our elected officials defer their advocacy duties to hired guns through contracts ripe for abuse. It is a wasteful, shameful approach to governing.
Nonetheless, the commission voted 6-1 to give Mr. Faust a one-year, $200,000 contract lobbying on behalf of McCarran International Airport.
Guess who cast the only vote against the deal?