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Not by the book?: Super Bowl tix for library officials may have violated district policy

Updated May 20, 2024 - 9:56 am

Two top Las Vegas-Clark County Library District employees accepted free Super Bowl tickets worth thousands of dollars each and requested a third ticket, potentially violating the district’s conflict of interest policy.

Kelvin Watson, executive director of the library district, and Leo Segura, library operations director, received the tickets from the National Football League after they worked together on a program to provide books to barbershops as part of the lead-up to Super Bowl 58 in Las Vegas, according to emails obtained through a records request by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The value of the tickets far exceeded the library district’s policy prohibiting district staffers from accepting gifts worth more than $40.

Watson did not return requests for comment, although he told library board trustees that accepting the tickets was approved by the board’s attorney. Segura declined to comment.

Watson posted pictures on social media of himself and Segura wearing Chiefs attire at Allegiant Stadium on Feb. 11.

(Kelvin Watson Facebook)
(Kelvin Watson Facebook)

Clare Graff, with the NFL, told Segura in a Dec. 21 email that she had spoken to Watson and that they wanted one of the tickets to go to him.

“You’ve been so wonderful to work with every step of the way,” she wrote. “So you’re going to the Super Bowl. It’ll be you and Kelvin.”

(Kelvin Watson Facebook)
(Kelvin Watson Facebook)

In a December email to an NFL employee, Segura called the gift “unexpected but much appreciated.” He said he was excited to hear the news from Watson.

“Looking forward to seeing the big game but even more excited to seeing our event leading up to the game! Thanks again for thinking of me,” Segura wrote.

In another email dated Feb. 5, six days before the Super Bowl, Segura asked the NFL for an additional ticket on behalf of Watson, who was looking for another ticket.

“We were not wanting to be greedy but were wondering if there was an extra ticket still available what we would need to be considered?” Segura asked in an email obtained by the Review-Journal.

An NFL employee replied to the email that it could not grant anymore due to limited availability.

In an email to the Review-Journal, the NFL said the tickets were given as part of a ticket giveaway program meant to thank the league’s dedicated fans and community partners. It did not say whether other government organizations also received free tickets.

Violating conflict of interest declaration?

According to a conflict of interest declaration form obtained by the Review-Journal, all directors, officers, employees and members of the staff of the library district are subject to the district’s conflict of interest and outside employment policies.

The policy prohibits employees from accepting a gift from a private source for the performance of their duties as a district employee. An employee cannot accept gifts, except for a promotional item with a value of up to $40.

“District employees may not use their positions to secure or grant unwarranted privileges, preferences, exceptions, or advantages for themselves or for others,” the declaration states.

The administrative team of the library district is required to sign a separate conflict of interest form annually as part of their review, according to Lisa Jacob, branding and marketing manager for the library district. Watson and Segura both signed the form, Jacob said in an email.

The library district’s conflict of interest policy states that the employee is responsible for notifying human resources of any potential conflicts of interest, according to Jacob. The definition of “conflicts of interest” aligns with Nevada’s code of ethical standards that says a public officer or employee shall not seek or accept any gift, and a public officer shall not use their position in government to secure or grant unwarranted privileges.

The average ticket price for the Super Bowl was at one point around $9,800. Segura’s seat was section 416, row 14, seat 6, according to ticket information included in an email. It was reported at one point the cost for a ticket in that section was $5,415.

After the Review-Journal sent a public records request to the library district seeking emails about the Super Bowl tickets, Watson sent a letter to the board of trustees titled “URGENT: Public Records Request — Response Guidelines.”

In the email, dated March 28, Watson explained how he came to receive the Super Bowl tickets. He explained the library district’s partnership with the NFL Foundation and Barbershop Books, and he said he contacted Board Counsel Gerald Welt for guidance. He said Welt reviewed Nevada Revised Statutes and gave the clearance for both Watson and Segura to attend the Super Bowl. Welt also told Watson to contact chair Nathaniel Waugh about the tickets, which he did, he said in the letter.

Welt did not return requests for comment and questions about which specific statute applies and how that might relate to the district’s policies on gifts and conflicts of interest.

Board members react

The Review-Journal requested comments from members of the library’s Board of Trustees, which appoints the library’s executive director and oversees the district. Waugh, the chair, directed the members to refrain from commenting, according to a copy of an email obtained by the newspaper.

Still, some members gave their thoughts in their individual capacity.

Elaine Sanchez, a board member, said she was not aware the employees accepted the NFL tickets. She said she found out through the Review-Journal’s records request.

“The library is supported by taxpayers and as a governmental entity, processes must be transparent,” Sanchez said in an email. “I have more questions than answers at the moment. Transparency is critical. It’s of utmost importance to know who makes these types of decisions, why are they made and most importantly, do they have the authority to do so.”

Sanchez said she plans on asking Waugh to place an item on the next board meeting’s agenda to discuss its policies on the acceptance of gifts.

Board member Felipe Ortiz said he was also unaware that tickets had been given to Watson and Segura, and was made aware by the Review-Journal’s records request.

Ortiz said a records request is “not a very good way” for a board member to find out such information, and said he takes his fiduciary duty and commitment to public trust seriously.

“I am responding so that the public makes no inference that I knew, and therefore I kept silent and made no comment in respect to your request for information,” Ortiz said in an email. “I have a lot of questions and concerns that I hope the board and legal counsel will address.”

Waugh, and other board members, did not return requests for comment.

Ethical concerns

Jayce Farmer, a public policy and leadership professor at UNLV who focuses on local public finance and county government administration, thinks the employees’ actions potentially violated the law.

Nevada’s Commission on Ethics has laws that talk about public sector employees and how they are essentially prohibited from seeking or accepting any gift or economic opportunity that would influence their impartial discharge of public duties, Farmer said.

“As public sector employees, it’s generally not a good thing to accept gifts, especially gifts of that financial magnitude,” Farmer said.

It harms the public trust, because a public sector employee’s job is to be a steward of the public’s interest, and an employee doesn’t want to give the perception they are being influenced by outside or external forces, he said.

At the very least, the employees may have needed to ask the Nevada Commission on Ethics about whether accepting the tickets was appropriate, Farmer said.

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on X. Contact Taylor R. Avery at tavery@reviewjournal.com. Follow @travery98 on X.

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