No declaration of innocence

Solidifying its reputation as a toothless, bumbling bureaucracy, the state Ethics Commission on Thursday concluded four days of hearings on improper pay raises within the Nuclear Projects office by declaring the charges against former chief Bob Loux weren’t worded properly — and letting him walk.

Last week’s inquiry was dedicated to determining whether Mr. Loux, who had led the state’s opposition to the federal Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, had violated ethics laws by giving himself and others pay raises not specifically authorized by the Legislature. Testimony led a majority of the five-member commission to conclude that although the Legislature sets aside funding for the Nuclear Projects office, the governor has direct control over office salaries.

“What the charges ought to have said is Loux game himself pay raises above the governor’s approved salary amounts,” Commissioner George Keele said.

Mr. Loux previously admitted that he had converted the $74,000 salary of a retired employee into 16 percent pay raises for himself and his staff. Representatives of the administrations of former Gov. Kenny Guinn and Gov. Jim Gibbons testified before the Ethics Commission that Mr. Loux did not have approval to grant those raises. State Budget Director Andrew Clinger said payroll records since 2006 indicate Mr. Loux received about $55,000 in improper compensation.

Mr. Loux touted the decision, which amounts to an acquittal on a technicality, as a proclamation of his innocence.

“I am relieved. I don’t believe I ever did anything wrong,” Mr. Loux said. “I don’t believe I ever violated any law.”

That’s an astonishing statement from someone who logged more than three decades of state employment. No one in government has the power to unilaterally set their own salary, not even elected officials. It is an essential check on the power of any one person to have their pay controlled by someone else, for there to be some measure of oversight and accountability.

This case never should have gone before the Ethics Commission, with its ridiculously weak standards of enforcement, in the first place. The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, which would have arrested any private-sector worker caught pilfering company resources, should launch its own investigation forthwith to bring some measure of justice to beleaguered Nevada taxpayers.

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