Council race focuses on Ross’ roles

A recent dust-up in the Ward 6 Las Vegas City Council race drew attention to what might be one of the main issues — whether the incumbent, Steve Ross, has crossed an ethical line while serving as both a councilman and as an officer in an organization that represents construction unions.

Ross is up against Jennifer L. Taylor, an attorney who co-founded a group called Northwest Residents for Responsible Growth, which has pushed against some projects in northwest Las Vegas that Ross has supported. The primary is April 7.

There was another candidate in the race, real estate agent Scott Anderson, but he withdrew, he said, because one of Taylor’s associates was planning to file an ethics complaint alleging Ross’ roles conflicted.

Whether Anderson quit for that reason or because of Taylor’s last-minute entrance to the race is disputed.

What’s not in dispute is that Ross probably will face scrutiny for votes such as the one in favor of a new city hall, a huge project that could employ unionized construction workers.

“I was planning on exposing that in direct mail,” said Marc Newman, Anderson’s campaign director. “Allow the voters just to look at the facts.”

An ethics compliant was a nonstarter, Newman said, because Ross has already sought guidance from the Nevada Ethics Commission.

“I didn’t think there would be any teeth behind it,” Newman said.

Lisa Mayo-DeRiso, who founded the Northwest Residents group with Taylor, thinks a complaint would carry some bite and said an ethics complaint would be forthcoming.

Originally she said she wouldn’t be the one filing it, but she has since changed her mind.

“I’m not the only person who will be involved in it,” Mayo-DeRiso said. “In all fairness, if it comes out and I’m not part of it, I would look disingenuous.”

Taylor said there’s a lot to talk about in the Ward 6 race, with the quality of Ross’ representation being just one topic.

“A lot of the citizens are concerned about how business is done at city hall,” she said. “Will the issue of Steve Ross’ conflict come up? I think there are serious questions.”

But there are other questions as well — about growth and development, economic diversification, and making sure “we’re not just doing business as usual” at city hall. She has previously said her campaign would not be part of an ethics complaint.

“This is about me and my qualifications, and Steve Ross,” Taylor said.

Ross said he expects to hear more about it.

“I think others will try to make it part of the campaign,” Ross said, adding that the discussion should be focused on issues such as home foreclosures, which have hit Ward 6 particularly hard. “If they’ve got it, let’s get it out here.

“I’ve been consistent with my voting — if the project is good for the city, the project is good for the city, whether it’s union or not. That’s never affected my vote, nor will it ever.”

On the most recent vote on the proposed Las Vegas city hall, at a meeting packed with union construction workers hungry for jobs, Ross went through a public discussion with City Attorney Brad Jerbic to establish why it was OK for him to vote on the matter.

The project doesn’t have final approval, nor is it a guaranteed union job. And everyone has an equal chance to work on it, they said.

“I’m just one vote of seven,” Ross said in a later interview.

“All he had to do on every other vote is abstain,” countered Mayo-DeRiso, who called the discussion a “sham.” “It still would’ve been a 6-0 vote.”

Abstaining carries its own pitfalls, however, according to the Nevada Ethics Commission.

Ross sought the commission’s input when he went after the position of secretary-treasurer with the Southern Nevada Building and Construction Trades Council.

The commission said having that position while being a city councilman was not automatically a problem, but that Ross potentially faced “myriad” conflicts and would have to work hard to keep his efforts on behalf of labor separate from his decisions on projects before the council.

He also has responsibilities as a councilman, the commission said.

“Although abstention may be a safe harbor, the commission cautions Ross that frequent abstention deprives his constituents of a voice in matters which come before the council,” it said.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

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