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Commission ethics tit for tat not personal, it’s just business

Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins unintentionally waived the confidentiality provisions of the Nevada Ethics Commission when he mentioned at a commission meeting recently that he has had two long hearings with the ethics panel.

It was a clue to ask for the transcripts.

Collins had asked the Ethics Commission for a confidential opinion about whether he could lobby county boards that he did not serve on, including the Regional Transportation Commission and the Southern Nevada Health District. He said he wouldn’t lobby fellow county commissioners but would lobby other elected officials on behalf of private clients.

He wanted a written opinion from the ethics panel giving him its blessing.

He didn’t get it.

At the Sept. 13 meeting, commissioners said his hand-scribbled request was so generic, they needed more information. He complained he might lose a client and urged them to advise him, but they refused. He wanted them to say he could lobby in front of any board and entity that is not controlled by the Clark County Commission, as long as he didn’t serve on that board.

He took the Oct. 19 hearing more seriously. Of course, by then, I had criticized his lobbying for Veolia Transit, then in tight competition for a $600 million bus contract.

To me, it was a no-brainer: He had a clear conflict, especially after interviewing three members of the Regional Transportation Commission whom Collins called to lobby to switch their vote. The tentacles of the Clark County Commission are wide-reaching.

Also, elected officials from Henderson, Boulder City and Mesquite all said the calls from “consultant Collins” made them uncomfortable.

What was obvious to me was also obvious to two members of the ethics panel who are retired Northern Nevada lawmakers themselves.

Former state Sen. Erik Beyer and former Assemblyman John Marvel argued against Collins lobbying any municipalities in Clark County or any boards where county commissioners serve.

Beyer said, “I don’t believe Mr. Collins can separate himself … as the consultant from his responsibility as the county commissioner. It’s just not possible. And I have lived that life for a number of years.” He warned that “Mr. Collins is walking a tightrope in a pond full of alligators, and he is exposing himself to a number of complaints from the public out there, who see this as a conflict of interest and a violation of the statutes.”

Although the seven members of the Ethics Commission tried various diverse motions, the one that ultimately passed 4-3 said Collins cannot lobby the Southern Nevada Health District, the Regional Transportation Commission or the cities or local government of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson, Boulder City and Mesquite. Beyer, Marvel, Paul Lamboley and Keith Weaver approved the motion.

Less restrictive measures were sought by Commissioners Gregory Gale, Magdalena Groover and Tim Cory, who opposed it.

Based on the vote, Collins said, “I’ll avoid lobbying any local entity.”

He sees no problem with lobbying outside Clark County. “I still have a consulting business. There are things I could do. I’ve been working over a year trying to produce a rodeo in China. That has nothing to do with being county commissioner. That has to do with being a cowboy.”

Monday’s column delves into the subsequent tit for tat after Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani sought to tighten the ethics policy so that Clark County commissioners cannot be paid to lobby or consult government entities anywhere in Nevada.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Collins and Commissioner Steve Sisolak will seek to change the ethics policy’s cooling-off provisions to prohibit Giunchigliani from going back to work as a public school teacher for a year

The men also want to limit lobbying and consulting by commissioner’s spouses, an action aimed directly at political consultant Gary Gray, Giunchigliani’s husband.

Believe it or not, everyone says none of this is personal.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Morrison

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