No doubt about it:We need ethical changes in Nevada

To the editor:

In response to the Friday story, “Gibbons’ reputation costing state business, candidate says”:

There’s no doubt GOP Gov. Jim Gibbons’ awful reputation has had an impact on the perception of our state. It’s not just his personal life, as the governor’s spokesman tried to say in the article.

And saying it’s “TMZ-style” stories that have given the governor and our state a bad name is absurd. Sure, the public philandering and public divorce aren’t helping, but it’s the series of ridiculous missteps that should raise eyebrows. He was even sworn in under the cover of darkness at midnight on New Year’s. Why? There doesn’t seem to be an essential reason.

And let’s not forget his bizarre series of appointments, including a Yucca supporter to the Nuclear Projects Commission, a Republican consultant to the state Ethics Commission, a lending industry lobbyist to the Mortgage Lending Division, a history teacher to the Office of Energy, a pharmaceutical company lobbyist to the Pharmacy Board, a sportscaster to the Nuclear Projects Agency and, most recently, a guy claiming 24 conflicts of interest to the Gaming Commission.

Those are just a few.

The Review-Journal doesn’t have the space to print all the strange ethical improprieties on Gibbons’ resume. He even tried to strong arm the poor Elko County Assessor into giving him a tax break last year.

Ethics changes are needed in this state. There seems to be little doubt about that. So Democrat Rory Reid took a nice step last week in pointing out the obvious. Maybe the governor will take the time to read his opponent’s plan.

Robert Cooper


Will it fit in?

To the editor:

Having been to the grand opening of Aria at CityCenter, I can say it is a photographer’s dream, and I hope it does attract beneficial attention to Las Vegas without cannibalizing the other properties on The Strip.

CityCenter provides an alternative to these other properties, but I am left wondering how it fits within Las Vegas’s fantasy structure. If you dream of Roman orgies, go to Caesars; if it is living in an Italian lake town, visit Bellagio. Visit CityCenter if your dream is to … visit a bank or office building.

Other cities provide a real urban mix, and the high-end clientele CityCenter hopes to attract can visit these places anytime they choose. Why should they come to Las Vegas to live out their metropolitan office space fantasies?

I was struck by two things during my visit: one, how impressive a facsimile of metropolitan urbanism it is; two, how much more fun the lights and flash of Planet Hollywood look across the street.

Patrick Wirtz


Assessed value

To the editor:

In a letter to the editor published Dec. 13, Clark County Assessor Mark Schofield took issue with a commentary I wrote that the Review-Journal had published two weeks earlier.

“I am writing to clear up some of the serious misrepresentation of facts,” asserted Mr. Schofield.

Unfortunately for the assessor, the allegations he was most anxious to deny — particularly the point that Nevada assessors “have no concise rules or regulations they must follow” in key areas of vital interest to property owners — have been amply documented over recent months by many observers. Eight different investigative reports by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, published at, illuminate the situation clearly, citing not only numerous state and national experts but also key findings of Nevada courts, including two decisions of the Nevada Supreme Court.

The high court’s State Board of Equalization v. Bakst decision is a pertinent example. It rejected the core argument county assessors, including Mr. Schofield, have been making — that their appraisals are lawful because they have blanket authority to do as they see fit under NRS 361.260(7). In the lawsuit brought against the Washoe County assessor, the court found that “NRS 361.260(7) did not permit the Assessor to adopt standards or methods of valuation not approved by the Nevada Tax Commission” and that therefore “the use of the disputed methodologies was improper under the Nevada Constitution’s requirement that property be taxed according to a uniform and equal rate of assessment.”

The statute in question had actually been passed during the 2001 Legislature at the request of assessors. It provided that county assessors “shall establish standards for appraising and reappraising land.” But, said the Supreme Court in an emphatic, underlined statement in the Bakst decision, contrary to what the state of Nevada, Washoe County and other assessors were arguing, “NRS 361.260(7) did not authorize county assessors to create their own valuation methodologies.”

Continued the court: “The legislative history shows that the Legislature passed NRS 361.260(7) for the limited purpose of allowing county assessors to adopt standards using more current sales comparables within the comparable sales methodology than was previously mandated. The Legislature did not intend that NRS 361.260(7) create a broad grant of authority in the county assessors to develop individualized valuation methodologies county by county.”

The Supreme Court acknowledged that — given the negligence of the Nevada Tax Commission in failing to provide uniform regulations for the assessment of property statewide — the Washoe assessor “understandably” created his own methodologies. Nevertheless, said the court, “Those methodologies are unconstitutional … because they are inconsistent with the methodologies used in other parts of Washoe County and the entire state.”

The situation of the Clark County assessor is similar: The Nevada Tax Commission has never approved the complex methodology Clark County developed for applying the land-valuation technique called abstraction. The state Department of Taxation, responsible for administering Nevada’s tax regulations, conceded recently that no consensus model exists for the application of abstraction. And a study begun last June to attempt to learn how abstraction is being applied by the different assessors was postponed.

In Nevada’s current assessment system, land beneath buildings is supposed to be appraised at full cash value. The buildings, however, are supposed to be valued at their estimated replacement cost, less depreciation of 1.5 percent per year depending on the age of the home. Land and improvement values, added together, thus determine a property’s taxable value.

However, under different abstraction methodologies available to county assessors, certain costs can be classified either as land costs or as improvement costs. And because only improvements get the depreciation tax-break, assessors can raise homeowners’ property-tax assessments by selecting formulae that move costs from the improvements side to the land side.

This land-versus-improvements dynamic is, partly, why the Nevada Supreme Court ruled in Bakst that assessors must use appraisal methodologies the state Tax Commission has approved. Absent uniform methods, no assurance exists that assessors are valuing similarly situated improvements and land the same way.

In other words, the Nevada Constitution’s mandate for “a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation” is being violated blatantly — and nothing in Mr. Schofield’s letter demonstrates otherwise.

Steven Miller



Racial scorecard

To the editor:

In response to your Thursday editorial, ” ‘Racial equity’ “:

The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada never called those who voted against the interests of black, Hispanic and Asian-Americans “racists” in its review of the 2009 legislative session. In fact, the only name-calling I saw came from the Review-Journal, which called PLAN “hyper-leftists.”

That little bit of McCarthyism is supposed to invalidate the fact that many legislators of both parties simply don’t consider the needs of communities of color. That is true today, and it was true in the 1960s when Las Vegas and Nevada were divided by discriminatory Jim Crow laws.

The fact that our current governor doesn’t carry a baseball bat to threaten minorities does not invalidate the fact that his crop of vetoes last spring would have had a huge impact on minority communities. And it is valuable to me and many others to know which members of the Assembly and Senate stepped up to override those vetoes.

I appreciate PLAN’s tracking of this information.



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