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Advice to CCSD officials prompts complaint against attorney

Two local school officials who acknowledged illegally spending taxpayer dollars on a bond campaign survived a state investigation with no penalty, but the Clark County School District’s head attorney is now under review by the State Bar of Nevada for advising them they could do so.

“The law was broken. Someone needs to be held accountable,” said Joe Spencer, the parent of a Clark County elementary school student who filed the complaint Dec. 12.

Who is responsible, he asked, if not the school officials? “The person who gave them the advice.”

That person is Carlos McDade, general counsel for the School District since 2011. He advised Clark County School Board President Carolyn Edwards and Associate Superintendent Joyce Haldeman during the 2012 election that their bond campaigning actions were legal, according to both their Nov. 20 settlements with the Nevada Commission on Ethics admitting guilt. That put an end to one state investigation while providing fuel for another against McDade.

“We (the Clark County School District) look forward to fully cooperating with the Nevada State Bar throughout the process,” district spokeswoman Kirsten Searer said last week.

The state bar confirmed the investigation of McDade. However, cases are confidential and only the outcome will be announced, which won’t be until 2014, according to Assistant Bar Counsel Phil Pattee. Such investigations could result in a range of outcomes, including no discipline, a letter of reprimand, a public reprimand in the local newspaper, a $1,000 maximum fine, suspension of a lawyer’s license, or disbarment.

In Edwards’ and Haldeman’s settlements with the Nevada Commission on Ethics, they conceded to breaking state law by using taxpayer resources to campaign for the district’s ballot question. The district was seeking to increase property taxes by 21 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, generating an estimated $669 million over six years for school improvements and construction. It failed after 66 percent of voters rejected it.

The commission agreed to not punish Edwards and Haldeman because, in good faith, they had sought advice from McDade, who advised them that their actions were legal.

In October 2012, Edwards directed a district employee to send an email blast seeking volunteers to “distribute door hangers and yard signs to registered voters encouraging them to support Question 2.” McDade approved the email’s contents and that it could be forwarded to constituents, according to Edwards’ settlement.

Haldeman authorized transporting, storing and dispersing pro-Question 2 campaign materials to volunteers using district vehicles, manpower and buildings. McDade told her that such actions were legal as long as the political action committee supporting Question 2 reimbursed the district for the $648 cost it incurred. However, state law prohibits public employees from “requesting” or causing a governmental entity “to incur expense or make expenditure to support or oppose a ballot question.”

Spencer noted in his complaint McDade’s advice may be responsible for School Board members breaking the law.

Spencer also has filed complaints – currently under investigation by the Ethics Commission – against two other School Board members, Deanna Wright and Erin Cranor, for emails they sent in support of Question 2 using district staff.

Spencer also may file similar complaints against other School Board members if they did the same. He has requested from the district email records for additional School Board members and their assistants.

Spencer has reason to believe all School Board members sent similar campaigning emails using district resources because of a sentence in Edwards’ settlement. It says district Chief of Staff Kirsten Searer prepared the email and distributed it to School board members to send to their contacts.

“The only way to make change is to get rid of poor decision making,” Spencer said. “Sweeping it under the rug won’t make things right.”

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279.

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