When Bonaventura leaves, his deputies are out too

The 19 deputies who work under Las Vegas Constable John Bonaventura will be out of a job when their boss’ term of office ends in January 2015, but the Clark County sheriff elected in November could rehire them when he takes over the duties of the abolished office.

Regardless of who oversees those duties, officials say that a smooth transition with uninterrupted services is the goal.

County commissioners on Tuesday will vote on a memorandum of understanding with the sheriff that outlines the terms for that office to take over the constable’s operation in January. By Jan. 4, 2015, the day Bonaventura’s term ends, the sheriff will need to establish a bureau for handling the terminated officers’ duties, which include performing evictions and serving legal papers. These deputies are sworn law enforcement officers with a badge and a gun.

Commissioners voted in March 2013 to eliminate the office, saying that the elected constable’s job was no longer necessary. Their decision came after a host of controversies following Bonaventura’s election in 2010. The county and Bonaventura had disputes over financial matters, former employees sued Bonaventura, and a proposed reality television pilot with foul-mouthed deputies raised concerns among commissioners.

Under the proposed memorandum of understanding, the sheriff, through the Metropolitan Police Department, would establish a bureau — dubbed the Sheriff’s Ex Officio Constable Bureau — to handle what used to be the constable’s office. The agreement would give the sheriff the discretion to put the operation under the command of a Metro police officer, commissioned corrections employees, or qualified contract employees.

The signature of Sheriff Doug Gillespie, who isn’t running for re-election, is already on the proposed agreement.

Under the proposal, the sheriff would be responsible for appointing deputies. They would be paid through the office’s fees — not the Metro budget — and wouldn’t be Las Vegas police officers.

The contracts of all current constable’s deputies under Bonaventura automatically would be terminated on Jan. 4.

However, the sheriff would have the discretion to rehire those employees.

The constable’s office also has 13 support staffers who are Clark County employees. The staffers, primarily clerical workers, would keep their jobs and continue to be county employees.

Sheriff’s candidate Assistant Sheriff Joe Lombardo said he hasn’t made any decisions about constable’s office personnel.

The constable’s office has supported itself through fees collected, though the enterprise fund that handles expenses and collects fees has dwindled under Bonaventura’s watch.

“I think it’s got enough cash flow for us to absorb it and make it a successful program,” Lombardo said.

Lombardo said Deputy Police Chief Todd Fasulo, who oversees the sheriff’s civil bureau and the Clark County Detention Center, would also be responsible for the constable operation. A captain would directly manage the constable’s operation.

Fasulo said he’ll start reviewing the details of the office and making plans once commissioners approve the memorandum of understanding.

Sheriff’s candidate Larry Burns, a retired Metro captain, said he visited the constable’s office and met with employees.

Burns said it’s important that the transition not increase the costs of providing services.

“What we do not want to do is add another tax burden for the services that once provided a small profit,” Burns said.

He said qualified deputies would be retained, noting that some have worked in the office more than a decade.

He noted that they would still need to go through routine background checks.

“I don’t see that there would be a huge turnover or a change in personnel who are carrying out those duties,” Burns said.

Bonaventura didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Assistant County Manager Jeff Wells, who worked on the agreement, was unavailable for comment.

County spokesman Erik Pappa said the county’s equipment will remain at the existing office when Metro takes over the operation.

Under the agreement, a new enterprise fund will be started for the transition.

“We will almost definitely need to provide seed money,” Pappa said. “It’s premature to say how much will be needed.”

Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said it’s important for the office to have a smooth transition. After the election in November, the incoming sheriff will have time to plan the transition, he said.

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2904. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1.

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