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Ethics complaint ‘credible’ against ex-Las Vegas planning official

Former Las Vegas Planning Commissioner Christina Roush voted several times on short-term rental applications presented by a City Hall lobbyist, but failed to disclose that lobbyist had also reportedly been hired by her husband to secure a similar permit.

Now Roush will have to attend ethics training if she returns to the public sector within two years under a proposed agreement with a state ethics panel.

The panel, consisting of three members of the Nevada Commission on Ethics, recently said there was “credible evidence” for the full commission to weigh in on the accusations that Roush violated two conflict-of-interest laws by voting on short-term rental applications presented by lobbyist Nathan Taylor through much of 2018.

Taylor said he was hired by Roush’s husband, real estate agent Greg Clemens, in April 2018 to try to secure a short-term rental license for a home owned by Roush in the Medical District. That license was never issued.

But Roush did not disclose any relationship until January 2019, when she withdrew from voting on an item Taylor was seeking to have approved for another client.

“I have had past business dealings with this representative, and I don’t feel that I can be objective, so I’m going to excuse myself from the meeting,” she said during that planning commission session.

Between the period when Taylor and Clemens entered into a consulting agreement and Roush recused herself, she voted frequently and favorably on applications presented by Taylor for other clients, according to a Review-Journal analysis of archived meetings.

Taylor, who lodged the complaint with the ethics commission two days after Roush’s recusal, said she also participated in public hearings related to city regulations on short-term rentals without making a disclosure.

‘Deferral agreement’

But while the state panel found the evidence sufficient enough for the full ethics commission to give an opinion, it said it believed the issue could be appropriately handled through a so-called deferral agreement, according to its April 16 written determination.

It is not unlike the decision against Henderson Mayor Debra March in 2018 after a panel determined she did not disclose ties with the Henderson Community Foundation during votes related to the nonprofit in front of the City Council.

If Roush complies with the agreement, the complaint will be dismissed. An agreement does not constitute an admission of a violation of ethics law.

Under the deal, the panel would issue a written statement disapproving of her alleged conduct, and Roush would need to undergo ethics training within 45 days if she is offered or accepts a job as a public official or employee over the next two years.

If she gets a public-sector position, Roush could not be the subject of another ethics complaint deemed credible by the ethics commission for a period of time to be negotiated.

The deferral agreement, negotiated between the ethics commission’s executive director and Roush, is expected to be presented to the panel by no later than May 20. If the panel does not approve the agreement, if Roush doesn’t agree or if Roush violates it, the panel will refer the complaint to the full ethics commission for further proceedings, according to the panel’s written determination.

‘Can’t get away with this type of behavior’

Messages left for Roush and her attorney this week were not immediately returned. She has previously denied having any business ties with Taylor but said she could not comment further.

“I’m glad that the ethics commission did a thorough investigation and found that her actions were deemed inappropriate,” Taylor said, although he believed she should have faced harsher penalties (the commission can issue fines). “I hope that this shows public officials that they can’t get away with this type of behavior.”

A former Las Vegas City Council candidate, Roush resigned a year ago from the planning commission, citing struggles balancing the job with her career as a real estate executive. She was appointed in August 2017 by one-time opponent, ex-Councilman Steve Seroka, who stepped down in March 2019 as he was being accused of sexual harassment by an aide.

Taylor said the business relationship with Clemens ended in August 2018. An application for the property in the Medical District, where short-term rentals are not allowed, did not ultimately come before the planning commission.

Two months later, Roush joined a majority of her colleagues to ban new vacation rentals outright. The Las Vegas City Council later stopped short of an explicit ban but significantly restricted the growth of new rentals.

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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