Ricki Barlow’s portrait has become the latest addition to the rogues’ gallery of disgraced local politicians who sacrificed their honor and integrity at the altar of greed and temptation.
The Las Vegas city councilman on Monday announced he will plead guilty to a felony fraud charge involving the misuse of campaign funds in 2015. He resigned his Ward 5 seat.
His abrupt departure comes amid an FBI probe into allegations that Barlow, first elected in 2007, illegally diverted campaign cash to consultants in return for kickbacks.
“That shame is as dark and abiding for me as my gladness for my City Council service is bright and enduring,” Barlow said in a prepared statement at a City Hall news conference. “I accept full personal responsibility for my conduct violating the federal criminal law.”
Perhaps Barlow’s downfall will finally shock local officials into respecting the high legal and personal risks of recklessly elevating their own enrichment above the public trust. And perhaps the tooth fairy really exists.
Indeed, history scoffs at such naiveté. The Barlow travesty is yet another in a long line of Southern Nevada government corruption cases dating back decades. The most high-profile example in recent times was the 2003 G-Sting investigation, which led to the downfall of 17 defendants, including five Clark County commissioners.
It’s a sorry and embarrassing legacy. The gallery may eventually need to open another wing.
Barlow leaves amid talk of a potential recall election and with about a year and a half left on his term. The City Council will now determine whether to appoint a replacement or hold a special election. The latter is far preferable.
The voters of Ward 5 should enjoy the ultimate say on their council representation, particularly given the length remaining in Barlow’s term. A juiced-in appointee would unfairly gain the immense advantage of quasi-incumbency. Even a so-called placeholder carries risks, given that there is no guarantee any such fill-in wouldn’t have a change of heart and decide to run for the seat.
Those who object to a special election on fiscal grounds ignore that the cost of balloting is a legitimate government expense and reflects the price of representative democracy.
There will be no shortage of candidates jockeying to replace Barlow — at least two men have already announced their interest. The City Council, taking into account the time necessary to allow potential candidates to conduct a viable campaign, should act as soon as possible to schedule an election for the Ward 5 vacancy.