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Henderson constable’s salary a mystery

Henderson Township Constable Earl Mitchell’s salary is something of a mystery, even though he is an elected official.

His annual salary for 2013, for example, has two vastly different figures based on public statements and records from the constable himself.

There is Mitchell’s disclosure form filed with the Nevada secretary of state in March, when he reported earning $80,000.

Then there’s the answer he gave Clark County commissioners June 3 when they grilled him about his salary. He said he made “about $120,000 for last year.”

For Mitchell and the North Las Vegas Township constable, the days of fluctuating salaries and conflicting sets of numbers might be nearing an end. The commission is scheduled Tuesday to discuss a proposal to set salaries of the two constables at $103,456 a year. The county’s proposal also would establish an enterprise fund for each office, which would require the constables to submit vouchers to the county for approval of various expenditures.

Mitchell also told commissioners that he made “about $100,000” in 2012. He reported on his state disclosure for 2012 that he made $80,000.

Mitchell said Friday the discrepancy might be because he misunderstood the commission’s question, and it might be what he is anticipating this year. Mitchell is paid $2,050 by the county, then he pays himself out of fees collected by the office.

“The income fluctuates up and down,” Mitchell said. “That’s the simple answer. It’s based on the fluctuation, and every year it’s different up and down.”

Mitchell’s claim of mis­understanding the commission’s question is not supported by the recording of the June 3 meeting, where he used the term “last year” after disclosing the amount.

Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said Friday he was concerned about the discrepancy between the $80,000 reported to the state and the $120,000 figure Mitchell told commissioners.

“How is he going to explain that?” Sisolak said. “Is he wrong on the document or is he wrong on what he told us?”

Catherine Lu, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Ross Miller, said the office was unaware of the discrepancy. She added the state would only pursue action if Mitchell was asked to explain or fix the discrepancy and refused. The office had not contacted Mitchell by Friday.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said Friday that setting an annual salary and creating an enterprise fund are good steps toward professionalizing the constable offices. Setting the salary helps ensure that constables are compensated appropriately without turning money into an incentive, she said.

If approved, the change would take place Jan. 5, 2015, when the current elected terms for both offices expire. Mitchell, who was a Henderson police officer for 20 years before retiring in 2008, is seeking re-election, while Herb Brown of North Las Vegas is retiring.

As for the difference between the two salaries Mitchell reported, Giunchigliani said the proposal would help avoid situations like the one at hand, with two different sets of numbers and questions.

“By us setting the salary, that’s more fair,” she said. “Everybody wins in the long run.”

Mitchell’s salary reporting has been questioned before. The Nevada Ethics Commission ruled in 2007 that he failed to properly list his constable post as a source of income on financial disclosure forms seven times, but he did not do it intentionally and does not deserve punishment.

At the time, Mitchell would list his salary from the county but not the fees collected. In 2007, he listed the county salary, which was $2,460, and added the phrase “plus net fees after expense.” It was not until 2010 that Mitchell reported a number beyond the county salary, reporting $67,000.

The complaint was filed by Ron Hilford, a challenger in the 2006 election.

The constable offices are currently a hybrid — both county-supported and a sole proprietorship — with most of the offices’ operations paid for through fees generated through serving legal papers.

The county budgeted $236,000 from its general fund for some clerical and budgetary support for the Henderson office. The rest of the office is operated through a percentage of fees collected for services it offers.

According to a quarterly financial report filed with the county, the Henderson office generated $811,960 in fees off $6.7 million in revenue last year. There is no report that shows how that money is spent, which concerns some commissioners.

According to state law, the county can budget how the taxpayer contribution is used. However, it cannot oversee how the collected fees are spent, and relies on the constable’s office to report its total fees.

The office has its own CPA it hires to audit its side of the books, according to Stave Kilgore, deputy director for the Henderson office.

Kilgore said Friday the fees collected pay for the salaries of Mitchell, himself, six deputies, depending on business demand, vehicle maintenance, workers’ compensation and other out-of-pocket expenses. He added that last year’s collection of $811,960 was the most the office has collected.

According to the office’s financial reports filed with the county, it collected $539,678 in fees in 2012, $373,354 in 2011, and $282,999 in 2010.

Sisolak said he has asked county staff to do an analysis and presentation about the salaries of the North Las Vegas and Henderson constable offices. It’s unclear what salary information the county will have on hand Tuesday after analyzing data from the offices.

While Mitchell is preparing to discuss the possibility of having a set salary with the County Commission, he is dealing with two federal tax liens from the IRS.

Mitchell said Friday that the liens, which cover nine years of tax returns, are a personal matter unrelated to his position as constable. The first lien was filed in July 2010, and the second July 2 this year.

“It’s personal debt that (has) no negative impact on the office,” said Mitchell of the $218,600 in IRS liens on file at the county recorder’s office. “I’m not immune to having issues. It’s no different than what’s happened the last few years with bankruptcies and foreclosures.”

There are 11 constable offices spread throughout Clark County.

Commissioners in March 2013 abolished the Las Vegas Township constable’s office, effective in January 2015, after Constable John Bonaventura had a variety of conflicts and controversies.

Contact Arnold M. Knightly at aknightly@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3882. Find him on Twitter: @KnightlyGrind. Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-405-9781. Find him on Twitter @BenBotkin1.

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