EDITORIAL: Two cases show public sector needs reality check

Clark County taxpayers got two lessons over the past two weeks about a huge benefit of public-sector employment: It’s almost impossible to get fired. Poor performance that would almost surely lead to termination in the private sector is dealt with through transfers or demotions, and even those actions can be overturned.

On Feb. 22, the Review-Journal’s Trevon Milliard reported that Kimberly Bass-Davis was transferred from her position of principal at Lied Middle School to a post in the Clark County School District’s purchasing department. The move comes in the wake of two teachers being charged with sex crimes against children, though district officials — citing personnel privacy laws — wouldn’t reveal whether Bass-Davis’ transfer was connected to the district’s investigation of Lied or the cases against the teachers.

Mr. Milliard’s report came three days after the Review-Journal’s Mike Blasky revealed that an arbitrator partially reinstated a Metropolitan Police Department lieutenant who was demoted for the poor leadership that led to the 2011 fatal shooting of mentally ill veteran Stanley Gibson. Former Lt. Dave Dockendorf was demoted two ranks to officer by Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie last year, but the arbitrator reinstated him to sergeant. Lt. John Faulis, head of the Las Vegas Police Managers and Supervisors Association, said the union is still hoping for full reinstatement.

These are the kinds of maneuvers that frustrate taxpayers. People who have obviously failed on the job or made egregious mistakes worthy of termination are consistently allowed to remain on the public payroll.

With regard to Sgt. Dockendorf, at least we have an idea of what he did — he oversaw the plan that needlessly escalated a confrontation with Mr. Gibson. However, in Ms. Bass-Davis’ case, the school district has provided no information regarding her demotion, other than a salary reduction from $96,030 to $87,087 and the $20,000 she collected while on 2½ months of paid suspension. The school district doesn’t typically transfer or suspend school leaders in the wake of staff members being charged with sex charges involving students, Mr. Milliard reported. Whatever the reason for the school district’s move, it was serious enough to warrant keeping Ms. Bass-Davis away from students — but not firing her.

Las Vegas police, the school district and every other government entity in this state want more money. Taxpayers will be a lot less inclined to support pouring more money into any of these entities if they believe these systems are inherently unaccountable. What’s especially depressing about the inability of government administrators to fire or punish problem employees: They know that doing so will trigger the rigged appeals that overturn such discipline, provide back pay and end up costing the public more than simply leaving the workers on the job.

The benefits of government employment are completely disconnected from the realities of the battered private sector, from above-market salaries to rich retirement benefits to iron-clad job security. If elected officials are serious about restoring public confidence and trust in government institutions, they’ll do something about it. They can start by getting rid of binding arbitration as the final step in dispute resolution.

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