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Las Vegas City Council members use events for self-promotion

At the end of each Las Vegas City Council meeting, each member announces mostly free events in their ward. Free movies in parks are particularly popular.

I wondered how much these freebies cost, particularly after a reader complained that Councilman Stavros Anthony, who announced he is running for Congress in 2018 just 10 weeks after he won re-election to his Ward 4 seat, sponsored a Movie in the Park in Desert Shores in July.

A Desert Shores resident wrote in an email, “I got an uneasy feeling that Mr. Anthony might be using City equipment and personnel at taxpayer expense to promote himself within the Desert Shores community. I could even let that pass but now that he’s a candidate for U.S. Congress, the perception and possibility that he is promoting himself on the public dollar doesn’t sit well with me.”

Well folks, they all do it. Except for the mayor. She could host free events, but she doesn’t.

Turns out each council member has a discretionary fund of $30,000 per fiscal year and $40,000 for the mayor for a total of $220,000.

It’s a tiny fraction of the city budget, but it’s obvious the money is used to promote the individual politician and create goodwill by providing free movies, free school supplies and free special events to residents in their individual wards.

Mayor Carolyn Goodman was thrifty. In the past fiscal year ending June 30, she was allotted $40,000 and spent only $19,699 for operating and outreach expenses, which include graphics, mailers, mileage reimbursements, office supplies, phone charges, printing charges, postage, subscriptions and travel.

Councilman Ricki Barlow had the highest outreach and operating costs at $26,603, and Councilman Bob Coffin’s operating costs were the lowest at $3,650.

Every council member used money for school events, school supplies and movies in the park. There are no written policies about how the funds can be spent.

All accepted donations to expand their discretionary fund, except for Goodman, who held no special events.

Barlow funded 12 events, the most of anyone, spending $21,225. He also collected the highest donations at $26,546. His most expensive event was $7,910 for a community field trip for students to Zion National Park.

Barlow said he spends the most because Ward 5 has the greatest need. “Everything I’ve done since I started in 2007 have been for the sake of the community.”

Ward 4’s Anthony hosted 12 events for his $16,091, stretching out the number of events, but spending smaller amounts on each. Movies in the parks, school events and school supplies were his largest expenditures.

Anthony defended the events as a productive way for him to meet constituents and for neighbors to meet neighbors. He said that once he files for Congress next spring, he will attend the events, but per city policy “my name won’t be on any materials.”

City records show Coffin spent the most — $29,281 on seven events. His biggest expense for Ward 3’s largely Hispanic district was for school events and supplies — $11,150.

Former Councilman Bob Beers spent the least — $14,896 on seven events and had the lowest donations at $1,530. He’s been replaced by Steve Seroka in Ward 2.

Former Councilman Steve Ross spent $22,714 sponsoring five events — a Cowboy Christmas event, a senior fishing derby, spring fling, and of course, back-to-school events and movies in the parks. Ward 6 is now represented by Michele Fiore.

Ward 1 Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian spent $16,724 to host nine events. Her biggest expense was $6,710 for back-to-school events and school supplies.

I asked my reader if allocating $30,000 to each council member to spend the way each wanted was excessive. He said yes.

The Desert Shores resident didn’t want his name used but said he was “very uncomfortable with the City of Las Vegas subsidizing movies and food and beverage for folks in a community whose median household income is over $60,000 annually. I’m sure there are more urgent needs for the money.”

The council spent almost $121,000 on events in the past fiscal year and nearly $92,000 on outreach and operating expenses for a total of $213,000. Combined, they accepted $47,500 in donations.

Discretionary funds of $220,000 a year over five years total nearly $1 million.

The city is exploring starting a crisis fund. Perhaps this could be seed money.

Or perhaps some of the council members’ own campaign cash could be used for what is clearly self-promotion.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column runs Thursdays in the Nevada section. Contact her at jane@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0275. Follow @janeannmorrison on Twitter.

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