‘Green’ patronage, wasted greenbacks

Juice jobs just ain’t what they used to be.

There was a time in Las Vegas when an elected official had his pick of lucrative “consulting” gigs with, shall we say, flexible schedules and work-from-home opportunities. Wink, wink.

Strip clubs provided ample supplementary income for Michael McDonald and Michael Mack when they served on the Las Vegas City Council. Dario Herrera’s “public relations” advice to the Las Vegas Housing Authority was worth five figures — when he was on the County Commission. (He had to reduce his fees when he landed in prison on corruption charges.)

Times are indeed tough when a juice job actually requires an elected official to — gasp! — do some work.

Not that County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly would have had to punch a time card as the state’s “green initiatives” outreach coordinator for Southern Nevada. When he was awarded the position last month, he said he planned on putting in about 12 hours per week for his $48,000 annual salary — $77 an hour is chump change for county employees, after all.

And it’s not like Weekly needed any expertise in “green initiatives” at all. The job entailed telling people in his downtown district how to save energy by weather-stripping their homes. He didn’t even have to do the weather-stripping himself!

Alas, Weekly had a fit of conscience — at the same time reporters started asking questions about the job — and quit to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

He had no problem with the fact that he stood to be grossly overpaid for an utterly worthless government job when the state unemployment rate is above 10 percent and elected officials are rattling tin cups from Washington to Winnemucca.

Worse, the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation has no problem handing this job to someone else, then filling an identical position for the Reno area.

And legislative Democrats still bristle when anyone dares suggest that they didn’t cut state spending enough, or that layers of public-sector fat still jiggle from the “essential services” they spared in their supposedly bare-bones budget for 2009-11, or that $1 billion in tax hikes could have been avoided if anyone took a magnifying glass to state operations.

We’re supposed to believe these are the kinds of “green jobs” that will invigorate our economy, provide decades of employment opportunities to Americans and lead to energy independence? It’s all feel-good, make-work, subsidized baloney.

Apparently, we’re also supposed to believe Weekly’s real job — county commissioner — had nothing to do with him getting this fake job.

Here’s the official version of how the boondoggle played out: The state employment department happened to have $120,000 in federal funds lying around for the better part of a year. Officials thought so little of the sum that they decided it could only support two part-time positions.

But rather than advertise the $60,000-a-year, part-time positions to the public — and watch the unemployed form a queue that stretched into California — they decided to hand the money and the task of hiring to the Manpower temporary job agency. Manpower would get a healthy cut of the dough in exchange for making the hire and cutting the position’s paychecks. Manpower tapped Weekly.

Employment department officials said the job pays exceptionally well because it requires an individual with community connections and recognition — in other words, a politician.

Someone from the state’s Division of Environmental Protection should inspect the employment department’s offices. The trail of slime left by all the greased palms could be considered hazardous waste.

Fortunately for Weekly, all this came to light during the final days of a draining legislative session and just before municipal elections. The attention of the political establishment — and the pundit class — was directed elsewhere. Couple that with the fact that corruption fatigue has left Southern Nevadans with low expectations of their elected representatives, and Weekly has what amounts to a free pass.

But the story doesn’t end with Weekly’s resignation. Taxpayers should be screaming to their exhausted lawmakers that if the state has truly suffered an untold number of Draconian cuts to public schools, higher education and social services, if teachers’ paychecks have to take a hit and college students are going to have to pay 10 percent more for tuition, Nevada sure as heck can’t afford to pay $120,000 for two part-time weather-stripping pitchmen.

And if the state can’t find an urgent, productive, efficient purpose for the federal funding in this recession, then the money should be thrown back into the congressional sinkhole — and send Nevada’s fraudulent “green initiatives” with it.

Glenn Cook (gcook@reviewjournal.com) is a Review-Journal editorial writer.

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