January 13, 2010 - 10:00 pm
A federal judge has decided the Clark County Commission is so hopelessly corrupt and subservient to organized labor that it can’t be trusted to fairly and lawfully award a contract to improve part of the Las Vegas Beltway.
It’s one thing for a cynical, taxpaying voter to hold such an opinion of the elected board. It’s entirely another when a court includes such an outlook in a formal ruling. In doing so, U.S. District Judge Robert Jones squashed the commission’s attempts to direct more than $100 million to unionized Las Vegas Paving even though a nonunion contractor submitted a bid that would have cost taxpayers $4.6 million less.
“You know it, and it’s in the back of your head, and that is illegally they were denying this bid because they (Fisher Sand and Gravel) are not a union shop,” Judge Jones said, according to a transcript of last week’s hearing. “We all know that’s what was unspoken. … And corruptly they did it.”
The logical next step would be to forward the ruling and supporting evidence to the FBI and recommend a criminal investigation. This was a civil case, after all. And the FBI is no stranger to the commission’s politics. Less than a decade ago, the bureau uncovered a corruption scandal that landed four former commissioners in federal prison.
Instead, Judge Jones decided to simply order the contract be awarded to Fisher. He was particularly upset that the commission voted to vacate the project altogether and ignore his order for a new hearing.
It’s highly questionable, however, whether the judge — given the Constitution’s separation of powers doctrine — has the authority to take such action.
And it’s not the first time Judge Jones has stretched constitutional boundaries. Last year, he ordered Commissioners Tom Collins and Steve Sisolak to recuse themselves from the matter after Fisher’s attorney alleged they were especially biased in favor of Las Vegas Paving.
Las Vegas Paving intends to appeal Judge Jones’ order. “His decision is a little off track, legally,” said attorney Wade Gochnour. “He forced an opinion on Clark County and the taxpayers.”
Yes, the commission’s undying loyalty to unions is unsavory (not to mention expensive to the public). But if the judge believes a criminal act has occurred, he should turn the matter over to the authorities for investigation rather than take over the commission’s duty by fiat.