Henderson Police Chief Richard Perkins, the former speaker of the state Assembly, has formed a consulting company, using his knowledge of the legislative process to aid an undisclosed list of clients.
Perkins was named chief of the Henderson Police Department last year after he aborted his run for governor and did not seek re-election to the Assembly.
He says his side business does not pose a conflict with his city duties. He says his work for the companies that employ him, which he declined to name, is purely advisory and that he has not engaged in lobbying in his multiple recent trips to Carson City, some of them at city expense.
“I don’t do any noncity work on city time. I don’t do any noncity work on city facilities. I don’t do any noncity work with city equipment,” Perkins said. “It’s such a flourishing business, I’m spending less than 10 hours a month on it.”
Perkins said he advises clients on “all levels of government, not just the Nevada Legislature,” saying he has relationships with “about two dozen” members of Congress, including Brad Ellsworth, D-Ind., who was his roommate at the FBI National Academy, a training center for law enforcement.
There is one level of government that is off-limits for Perkins’ side business, however. “I do not and would not advise anybody on an issue before the city of Henderson,” he said.
Perkins said his clients are three companies, but he wouldn’t provide any details beyond that. “Like any professional, I owe my clients discretion and confidentiality,” he said.
His company, RDP Strategies, is a limited liability company filed with the secretary of state’s office on Dec. 12. Its resident agent is Jones Vargas lawyer, lobbyist and Democratic activist Tony Sanchez.
The company had been in default for not filing its list of officers by the beginning of February, according to the secretary of state’s office. After Perkins was asked about this, he filed the necessary papers and the company’s status was returned to “active” on Monday.
A Democratic Assemblyman for 14 years, Perkins said he consults with companies to “provide strategic advice and counsel” on their dealings with government, from how to craft a message that appeals to legislators to how the 120-day legislative session works. Perkins described it as “positioning, messages, understanding public officials and government bureaucracy.”
Perkins is also an officer in another corporation, RPMS, which he said was formed to pursue a gaming device for which he owns the patent. He said the patent was for a variation on video poker. His partner in the venture, lobbyist and consultant Mike Sullivan, continues to pursue it, Perkins said.
Henderson city policy requires employees to have any outside employment approved by the city manager. Perkins requested permission for outside employment on March 15 and was approved by Assistant City Manager Mark Calhoun and City Manager Phil Speight on April 3.
The city requires those requesting approval for outside employment to sign a form promising that the work will not interfere with their city duties or “involve interests which may conflict with my position as a City employee.”
“If the type of outside employment I am requesting has the potential for conflict of interest for myself as a City employee or for the City of Henderson, then I agree that I will not work, perform, or participate in this type of outside employment within the City limits of Henderson,” the statement continues.
City Manager Phil Speight said Perkins’ word was all he required to be convinced there was no conflict between the police chief’s business and his day job. He said he wasn’t aware RDP Strategies was a political strategy and not a law enforcement consulting company.
“I didn’t ask him that,” he said. “He just basically said on the form that he was forming this company. To a great extent these individuals (city department heads) know what the administration policy is and know not to place themselves in a position of conflict of interest.”
Speight said there is no oversight of city workers’ outside employment because there is no staff available to do it. He said conflicts of interest have been discovered in the past as a result of complaints, such as the case of a building inspector who was discovered to be consulting with contractors on the side and then inspecting his own work.
Speight also said it is not unique for a city department head to have a business on the side. For example, he said, Assistant City Manager Mary Kay Peck, a former president of the American Planning Association, periodically acts as an expert witness on planning issues in trials. Peck takes leave from her city position in those instances, he said.
Craig Walton, president of the Nevada Center for Public Ethics, said Perkins’ situation holds rich potential for conflict of interest.
“As long as you’re the chief of police and nothing else, except a husband and father and friend or whatever you are in your private life, there’s no problem,” he said. “But if you add to that a second hat, a business capacity, then you’re in conflict-of-interest country.”
Walton said there should be some amount of disclosure of a public servant’s secondary activities, enough to identify potential conflicts; a policy for recusal if a conflict arises; and an oversight mechanism to monitor the situation.
“One never knows in advance what might come up on the agenda of the police department,” he said.
Perkins acknowledges it is unusual for a police chief to be a political strategy consultant on the side, but said he is in a unique position as a police chief who also a good amount of time serving in the Legislature.
He said his unique background is an asset to his city and his department. “Clearly, in 14 years, I developed very strong relationships in the Legislature, in both houses and with both parties,” he said. “As the city tries to promote its legislative agenda, that’s very helpful.”
Perkins has traveled to Carson City at city expense six times this year at a cost of $1,915. Because he owns a residence in Carson City, Henderson did not pay for his lodging. He also traveled to Washington, D.C., last month for the National League of Cities meeting at a cost of $1,983.
In Carson City, he has testified on legislation such as a bill on public employee benefits and a proposal to build a police academy. He has attended the state Sheriffs and Chiefs Association reception and Henderson Day festivities. He also on separate occasions attended the state of the state address, was honored with other former speakers of the Assembly at the opening of the legislative session, and had a resolution passed in his honor by the Assembly.
“It is my job as police chief to have been to Carson City for the reasons I was there,” he said. “The city has a big stake in the outcome of a lot of things in the Legislature.”
Perkins is not a registered lobbyist and says the work he is doing is not lobbying. “I’m an adviser. I’m a consultant,” he said. “I’m happy to suggest someone they (a client) should meet and set up that meeting, but I do not advocate and I’m not a lobbyist.”
Under state law, to be considered a lobbyist who is required to register, a person must appear in the legislative building and communicate with legislators on behalf of someone else and with the goal of influencing legislation.
Perkins said he does not attempt to influence legislation on behalf of his clients. He merely helps them understand the process.
Perkins, 45, has not ruled out running for office in the future. However, he said he currently doesn’t have a political race in mind and probably will not run for the 3rd Congressional District seat held by Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., who is seen as vulnerable in the divided suburban Las Vegas district.
“Right now, I’m just happy to be chief of police,” he said.