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Money pipeline

The real question about former Clark County Commissioner Chip Maxfield’s recently ended job at the defunct Clean Water Coalition is not why he was paid a salary or consulting fees for years after the agency lost its reason to exist.

The real question is why he was ever paid at all. Why did the Las Vegas Valley need a Clean Water Coalition in the first place?

The agency was supposed to collect fees to build an $860 million pipeline to carry treated wastewater to the bottom of Lake Mead. Of course, when one thinks of transporting water between Lake Mead and the rest of Las Vegas, one naturally thinks of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

And even if the technical expertise of that agency wasn’t the right fit for the job, there was the Clark County Water Reclamation District, which is responsible for treating, disinfecting and reclaiming wastewater and returning it to Lake Mead.

But the reclamation district in 2002 joined with local cities to form the redundant Clean Water Coalition instead, a municipal fiefdom if ever there was one.

Maxfield joined the coalition as general manager in early 2009, just as the former engineer left the Clark County Commission to face a tough job market. Luckily for him, a $161,000-per-year job was there to help just two months after he left office.

Sadly for him, the train derailed not long thereafter: Local agencies made improvements in treating wastewater, and the recession made the pipeline project impractical. By December 2009, local governments decided to scrap it.

But it wasn’t until Thursday — that’s right, this past Thursday — that Maxfield finally stopped getting paid at least a consulting fee, as the Clean Water Coalition’s board officially dissolved the Agency That Should Never Have Existed. And while his pay toward the end had dropped considerably, the fact that he was getting paid at all in the three years since the project was declared defunct is well north of outrageous.

Oh, and let’s not forget that Maxfield tried to negotiate a generous pay-and-benefits package for Clean Water Coalition employees in 2010 — the year after the project was spiked.

Some of the blame for the over-long death of the coalition can be placed on North Las Vegas, which was engaged in a dispute with Clark County over where the city could discharge water from its treatment plant. North Las Vegas’ representative refused to vote to dissolve the coalition until that legal fight was settled.

But there’s no justification for paying somebody to, as Maxfield repeatedly told the 8NewsNow I-Team’s Nathan Baca in 2011, “follow the direction of the board and work toward the termination of the agency.”

Linda Hamilton didn’t take this long to terminate the actual Terminator. Maxfield himself acknowledged to the Review-Journal’s Henry Brean in June 2011 that “the majority of work has been done.”

It was in 2011, in fact, that the only good thing that can be traced to the coalition’s existence took place.

The coalition sued the state, which had diverted millions of dollars from the coalition’s coffers into the general fund. This dishonorable tactic allowed no-new-taxes governors and taxaphobic lawmakers to add badly needed revenue to the general fund without actually raising taxes.

But the Nevada Supreme Court ruled in the coalition’s favor, holding that the theft was an unconstitutional local or special tax. That ruling will protect local governments from future state money grabs well into the future.

The coalition’s only other major accomplishment was to provide jobs. From July 2011 through Feb. 6, Maxfield earned $77,157, either as an employee of the coalition or a consultant, according to figures provided by Clark County.

That’s more than most working people make. And when you consider the coalition should never have existed at all, it’s far more than it ever should have been.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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