EDITORIAL: Ethics whitewash for school officials

Pretend you’re a prosecutor. A half-dozen people approach you and admit to breaking the law, but request that you skip the police investigation and allow them to immediately begin plea bargain negotiations to minimize potential embarrassment and punishment, because they really, really want to put the whole mess behind them.

They might as well wave red flags in your face. If someone’s in a hurry to admit breaking the law and cut a favorable deal, what, exactly, are they trying to hide? Such a ridiculous scenario screams for further inquiry.

The members of the Nevada Commission on Ethics think otherwise. Late last year, the commission entered settlements with Clark County School Board Trustee Carolyn Edwards and Associate Superintendent Joyce Haldeman in which they admitted to illegally using district resources to campaign for a 2012 property tax increase. Their excuse: The violations were “unwillful” and resulted from exceptionally bad advice from a school district attorney. In return, the women received no punishment, the commission’s investigation was halted, and the public had the privilege of paying their legal bills.

There were no public hearings on email messages sent from district accounts on district computers seeking volunteers for the campaign. Those emails directed volunteers to register through the district’s website and call a district office for coordination. Exactly how much public money was spent trying to convince the public to pay higher taxes wasn’t revealed.

So when ethics complaints were filed against other trustees by Clark County resident Joe Spencer, the elected officials couldn’t wait to cut the same deal. In fact, two trustees who had left office after the ballot question’s defeat decided to head off potential complaints against them by joining their former colleagues in negotiating a consequence-free settlement. On Wednesday, Trustees Chris Garvey, Linda Young, Deanna Wright and Erin Cranor and ex-Trustees Lorraine Alderman and Rene Cantu were allowed to move on by unanimous decision. No inquiry, no hearings, no accountability.

“It’s in the best interest of everybody to bring the matter to a full and ultimate conclusion,” said commission Chairman Paul Lamboley. Maybe for everybody with the school district, but not for the public. These are elected officials, some of whom are up for re-election this year. Since when is refusing to investigate admitted misconduct “in the best interest of everybody”?

“Your own mission statement claims that the Ethics Commission ‘strives to enhance the public’s faith and confidence in government,’” Mr. Spencer said Wednesday, calling for a full investigation. “By once again sweeping this under the carpet you are in no way enhancing the public’s faith and confidence.

“There are many issues at hand here that the public deserves for you to look into, completely.”

This entire case has made a mockery of the state’s ethics laws and the commission’s role in enforcing them. To call the commission toothless is an insult to gums. If this nonfeasance is the best the public can expect from the Ethics Commission, then lawmakers should strengthen ethics laws or abolish the panel.

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