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CCSD board member scrutinized by ethics commission

A state commission is investigating Clark County School Board President Erin Cranor for actions that led to a lawsuit against her and the district, resulting in a $100,100 settlement paid without the approval of her fellow School Board members that got Cranor dropped from the lawsuit.

The Nevada Commission on Ethics concluded Dec. 18 that it has jurisdiction and reason to investigate a complaint against Cranor received in October, according to confidential commission documents obtained by the Review-Journal. The commission holds elected officials and public employees accountable for following Nevada’s ethics in government laws.

Cranor’s lawyer contended in a November appeal that ethics laws don’t apply in this instance, and the commission therefore has no jurisdiction to investigate, according to commission documents.

“It must be beyond dispute that Trustee Cranor acted within the scope of her official duties …” wrote Mary-Anne Miller of the Clark County district attorney’s civil division who represented the School Board at the time. “Furthermore, there has been no evidence submitted which could support a conclusion that Trustee Cranor improperly used her position to have a lawsuit settled to her personal benefit.”

The commission’s Dec. 18 finding denied Cranor’s appeal.

Cranor declined to comment when contacted Friday by the Review-Journal, noting that the commission’s work is confidential.

While the commission’s deliberations and investigation are confidential, its determination as to whether Cranor broke ethics laws will be reported in a public meeting.

The investigation started with a complaint lodged by Cranor’s unsuccessful opponent in the November election, Joe Spencer. He alleged that Cranor broke state law for “failing to hold public office as a public trust; failing to avoid conflicts between public and private interests.”

Spencer’s complaint points to two actions involving Cranor, both of which directly relate to an ongoing lawsuit.

Business Benefits, the district’s former health insurance negotiator, filed its lawsuit against the district and Cranor as an individual in May 2014, claiming its contract was cut short and Cranor stepped outside her duties as a board member by writing that the district should kill the agreement “as soon as possible,” as shown in an October 2013 email from Cranor to Clark County School District Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky.

Spencer’s complaint similarly contends that Cranor acted “outside the scope of her authority by sending this directive email to Pat Skorkowsky without the input and without the direction of her fellow trustees.”

Although Cranor and her personal assets are no longer targeted by the lawsuit because of the $100,100 settlement, the district still is embroiled in the case.

That September settlement, however, is the reason for Spencer’s second allegation, lodged with the commission days after the Review-Journal revealed in October that the district wrote and signed Cranor’s name to a $100,000 settlement check freeing her from a lawsuit without School Board approval.

District spokeswoman Kirsten Searer said at the time that district officials didn’t inform board members about the payout — written a month earlier — or seek their approval because the district’s settlement check didn’t exceed $100,000. District regulation states that board approval is required if the “claimant’s award, total settlement or collective payments” exceeds $100,000.

Cranor’s appeal to the commission stuck to the same argument, contending “guidelines of the district” allow the settlement to be approved by the district’s head lawyer, Carlos McDade, since it doesn’t exceed $100,000.

But the total settlement of $100,100 — offered by the district in August — did exceed that regulation requirement by $100. The district simply issued a check for $100,000 and then had its outside legal counsel, Kolesar and Leatham, pay the remaining $100 to Business Benefits Inc.

Cranor’s appeal asserted that she was unaware the settlement was being paid until days later when Business Benefits accepted it, and she “did not request or authorize it.”

Searer has said that district officials didn’t show Cranor the $100,000 settlement check or ask permission to stamp her signature on it. District officials also didn’t discuss the conflict of interest in having Cranor’s settlement check bear her own signature, Searer said.

Cranor and district officials, however, never informed board members of the settlement. A month later, the other board members still were waiting for the proposed settlement to come to them for approval, according to board member Linda Young, who learned of the payment from the Review-Journal.

That’s clearly an unethical conflict of interest for Cranor that broke the public trust, Spencer said Friday.

“There’s no question that the commission has jurisdiction,”said Spencer, who hopes the commission will investigate thoroughly this time, referencing a previous investigation into Cranor and other board members less than a year ago.

In that instance, the commission canceled its investigation into Cranor and the board members suspected of spending taxpayer resources on campaigning for a Clark County property tax increase to benefit schools. The commission quickly settled with board members and district Associate Superintendent and lobbyist Joyce Haldeman, agreeing to no punishment if they acknowledged breaking the law.

Contact Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279. Find him on Twitter: @TrevonMilliard.

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