Sheriff angered by allegations of collusion during contract deal

Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie on Friday vehemently and angrily denied County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak’s suggestions that the sheriff, police union and an arbitrator colluded to reach a contract agreement with raises before the arbitration hearings even occurred.

Sisolak, in an editorial board meeting with the Review-Journal the day before, raised concerns about “red flags” that suggest the parties reached an agreement and used the arbitrator’s decision as cover for the sheriff to avoid heat for giving raises to officers. The arbitration hearings and decision came as commissioners are considering a More Cops sales tax increase to pay for hiring police officers.

“None of those allegations are true, or even close to being true,” Gillespie said Friday. “In fact, it concerns me greatly that he would take it upon himself to go publicly with comments such as this without at least calling me personally to find out if in fact I know anything about these particular allegations that he is making.”

Sisolak has questioned how the Metropolitan Police Department handled the arbitration case based on a variety of documented factors. They include the arbitrator’s lack of legally required information in the decision, such as the projected fiscal impact and reasoning for the award. Sisolak also has questioned why the Police Department and the police union, the Las Vegas Police Protective Association, didn’t pick an arbitrator off a list of seven candidates, a process outlined in state arbitration law. The department’s Chicago area attorney, Robert Smith, recommended the arbitrator. The union and department approved the pick. The union has denied participating in any improper deal-making outside of arbitration.

Sisolak’s questions also come in large part because Gillespie was trying to shepherd a More Cops sales tax increase through the County Commission to pay for police officers in his department and other police agencies in the county. Commissioners rejected two tax proposals last week. Another proposal is expected to be introduced Tuesday by Commissioner Tom Collins that seeks to incrementally raise the rate by 0.15-percentage points by July 2014.

“I question openly today, at the County Commission chairman level, what level of leadership is being demonstrated there,” Gillespie said Friday, flanked by solemn-faced officers outside the Police Department’s headquarters.

Sisolak says the Police Department’s verbal final offer of a 13.46 percent increase in medical contributions, which was in the arbitrator’s award, exceeded the amount authorized by the joint city-county Fiscal Affairs Committee. Sisolak is a member of the committee, which oversees the department’s finances.

But Gillespie said he didn’t overstep any boundaries.

“I, as the sheriff of Clark County, was given direction, as well as flexibility from the Fiscal Affairs Committee in regards to what would be our last, best, final offer,” Gillespie said. “I feel I stayed within those guidelines. I did not stray. I was very focused. I understood the ramifications of this arbitration and the impact upon my organization. Many people within my organization worked very hard on this process as well. And for anyone to insinuate that they as well had been inappropriate in how they handled themselves in this particular matter anger me, frustrate me, and bring me to a level that, quite frankly, I haven’t been at it in quite some time.”

Gillespie left without taking questions.

In an interview after the news conference Friday, Sisolak said his concerns stem from the arbitration process not following state law.

“The arbitration award does not comply with Nevada Revised Statutes and he (Gillespie) refuses to answer why it does not comply,” Sisolak said. “I’m asking him to be transparent and he just refuses to do that and I’m saying, ‘Why don’t you follow the statute?’”

Sisolak added: “He should know the rules and follow them.”

After Sisolak raised similar questions at the Oct. 1 commission meeting, Chicago arbitrator Robert Perkovich wrote a supplemental opinion and award this week. His initial decision came Sept. 23.

“I awarded the Association’s modified final offer in this proceeding, based upon my finding that it was more closely aligned with the change in the cost of living, in the interest and welfare of the public to do so, and the financial ability of the Department to meet the total costs associated with such Final Offer,” Perkovich wrote Wednesday in the document.

He also included cost estimates of the salary increases granted, which consist of two consecutive 0.75 percent cost-of-living increases. One is retroactive to July 1, and the second starts on Jan. 1, 2014. The employer contributions to health insurance plans increase by 13.46 percent, an increase of $3.3 million, he estimated.

That brings the award’s total estimated cost to $6.9 million.

Mark Ricciardi, a private Las Vegas labor attorney who has handled arbitration matters for the city and county, said in an interview that the initial decision’s contents didn’t meet what the law requires.

“When I read the decision, I was very surprised because it did not contain the important points that it was supposed to contain under our law,” said Ricciardi, who wasn’t involved in this case. “I don’t know what happened behind the scenes, but I have never seen anything like this before.”

Ricciardi said: “When there’s a lot of public money at stake, I believe everyone should follow the statutory procedures exactly to the letter.”

County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said she’s still waiting for information about the last, best offers, and also would like to see what was offered initially in the process.

“My goal is actually not to make an accusation,” she said. “I just would like to get the information that was negotiated.”

Contact reporter Mike Blasky at mblasky@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @blasky. Contact reporter Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenBotkin1.

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