Loux has another chance to explain disturbing raises; then he must go

For once, Gov. Jim Gibbons and I are in complete agreement. Robert Loux must go.

If Loux were to keep his job as executive director of the Nevada Nuclear Projects Agency after misappropriating money to give himself and his staff higher salaries, it sends a strong message to other state bureaucrats that, if they make themselves indispensable, they can get away with what amounts to stealing.

I like Bob Loux. Over the years, he’s always responded to questions efficiently and clearly — which isn’t always easy when you’re talking about nuclear waste storage. As executive director of the Nevada Projects Agency, he’s been the face of Nevada’s opposition to the Yucca Mountain Project since the agency was created in 1984.

Let’s call what he did the Loux Largesse Legislative Dodge.

He took a $72,000 salary from a vacant position and parceled it out among his staff for raises. State law doesn’t allow agency heads to move money around like that. State employees know that. Loux is no rookie. This was no accident. He must go.

Former Sen. Richard Bryan, chairman of the Nevada Commission on Nuclear Projects, wouldn’t say Wednesday whether he’ll vote Monday to fire Loux. “I’ve been supportive of him over the years, but what he did was an egregious lapse of judgment on his part.”

No negotiations are under way for Loux to resign, Bryan said. “I don’t know that will occur. He’ll want to tell the commission how he got into this mess, and I hope at the end of the meeting there’s a resolution.”

Monday’s meeting has only one agenda item: “to consider character, alleged misconduct, professional competence of Robert Loux, an appointed officer serving at the pleasure of the Nevada Commission on Nuclear Projects.”

Loux will have to publicly explain once again to seven commissioners how he hiked his salary from $114,088 to $151,542, nearly 33 percent more than he was authorized to receive, and how his generosity meant everyone on his staff got salary increases 16 percent higher than the Legislature approved. So state workers get 2 percent raises, but Loux and his staff get 16 percent raises?

His rationale to the Interim Finance Committee on Sept. 9 was Loux at his lamest. He and his staff were working harder because one staffer retired and the position wasn’t filled. So he took that salary and gave everyone raises.

Loux also was overspending in other areas. He wanted legislative approval for $500,000 from this year’s budget to cover his overspending on last year’s budget.

Before Loux’s largesse was discovered and the salaries rolled back, staff members Joseph Strolin and Susan Lynch were drawing $125,253 a year, Paul Maser was paid $99,263 and Cathy Sack was making $79,857 — all 33 percent more than authorized. Trudy Sanford was paid $113,627 — 52 percent in excess.

In a new twist, Bryan said Loux told him that, under Gov. Kenny Guinn’s administration, Loux said he was told to request a lump sum appropriation and set the salaries himself. Loux thought he had either explicit or tacit approval to do that, according to Bryan.

Guinn could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.

Even if Loux thought he had tacit approval to do what he did under a Guinn administration, that’s no excuse for what he did under a Gibbons administration, where no such approval was granted.

Monday’s meeting will be Loux’s chance to explain it all again. But the claim he thought he could do this is one he failed to mention to legislators aghast at his actions.

Gibbons, discussing the issue himself for the first time in an interview with me Tuesday (rather than through a spokesman), said, “I don’t know a lot of what his motivations were or why he did it, and I think that has to be explored and developed, and it has to be shown why he did it. I don’t buy the fact the workload increased when they didn’t fill one of the positions so everybody else assumed the additional workload. The bottom line is he acted illegally. It’s a disturbing precedent if a state executive director can disregard the law for their own benefit.”

I agreed with every word.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275.

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