Dealing with the pricks - Las Vegas CityLife

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              <h1>Dealing with the pricks</h1>
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             <h4></h4>
             <h5></h5>
             <div class="timestamp" style="margin: 0px 0px
15px;">Published: Thursday, April 21, 2005 at 12:59 pm</div>
             <div id="storytext"><span>With his new ethics watchdog
group, Craig Walton tells Nevada politicians to do the right thing<BR
/><BR /><B>BY MATT O'BRIEN AND STEVE SEBELIUS<BR /><BR />PHOTOS BY BILL
HUGHES</B><BR /><BR />In 1981, Craig Walton started building a house in
the desert. From scratch.</span><br />
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             <span>The four-bedrooms, three-bathroom house took shape on
1-1/4 acres in northwest Las Vegas.<BR /><BR />Walton, his sons and some
dedicated friends and neighbors did the grading, poured concrete, wired
the place for electricity and installed the plumbing. The city laid down
gravel for a road, and Nevada Power installed a power pole.<BR /><BR
/>What was the hardest part?<BR /><BR />"Despair." Walton said. "Despair
was the toughest part. In other words, the times when you're tired as
heck and you got a problem and you don't know what the hell you're going
to do about it. You get pooped and your hands are beat.<BR /><BR />"I
called it the Purple Thumb Construction Company," he added, lifting his
left hand, "because this poor sucker was really funny looking."<BR /><BR
/>Now, Walton is building something even more challenging: a sense of
community ethics he hopes will keep Nevada's notoriously wayward public
officials from sin.</span><br /><br />

             <span>A house looks easy by comparison.<BR /><BR />This
time, instead of concrete and drywall, Walton is building with ideas,
ideas taking shape inside the house he built by hand more than two
decades ago. It's called the Nevada Center for Public Ethics, a
nonprofit, nonpartisan clearinghouse of information about public
morality.<BR /><BR />"To start from the beginning, wherever it may be,
and to try to dream up something and make it come into being, you are
going to have a lot of defeats and time involved," said Walton. "But
there are people here all over the valley, and up north, who want to have
a responsive government that is honest -- and they want to have standards
of our shared life that will be perceived by other people, so that
they'll limit themselves to do things rightly instead of wrongly.<BR
/><BR />"We're tumultuous [in Nevada] because we have predatory people,"
he continued. "We have a lot of unrestrained individuals who don't accept
responsibility for anything, except for their own desires and goals. They
come here because they see this as a boomtown and a boom-state. It's a
place where there is supposedly a great deal of freedom and liberty,
which for some people translates into no restraint at all -- just four to
the floor, go until you get rich or get stopped.<BR /><BR />"But for
other people, it means that they want to have neighborhoods. They want to
raise their children safely. They care about others beside themselves.
They want to have some community values, as well as a vigorous life.
That's the kind of thing we're working for. That's what we want to
see."<BR /><BR />By the time he turned 15, Walton had read the Bible and
"Dialogues of Plato." These texts helped instill in him an early interest
in ethics.<BR /><BR />"With Plato's dialogues, one of the things you
discover is that the search for inside understanding is a public
activity," explained Walton, a native of Southern California. "It takes
questioning and listening and responding to develop an idea and to probe
for the truth. ... And so the idea of a community approach, a shared
approach, to problem solving and forming standards, for example, is one
of the things we're working on here [in Las Vegas]. We lack a sense of
community. We don't have a shared common morality, but we want one and
need one."<BR /><BR />After a few years at Pomona College in Claremont,
Calif., and a string of odd jobs, Walton joined the Air Force in 1955. As
a navigator, he had plenty of time to read in between "positioning" (or
plotting the location of the airplanes). He devoured -- among other books
-- Will Durant's "The Story of Philosophy," Erich Fromm's "The Art of
Loving" and Eric Hoffer's "The True Believer."<BR /><BR />After he was
discharged from the Air Force, Walton re-enrolled in Pomona College. He
earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy and religion in 1961, and then
went on to get a doctorate in philosophy from Claremont Graduate
University. He taught at the University of Southern California and
Northern Illinois University. In 1972, he joined the philosophy
department at UNLV, and was chairman from 1986 to 1989. During that time,
he helped found the university's Institute for Ethics and Policy Studies
-- and became regarded as an expert in public ethics.<BR /><BR />Once
more, Walton was building in the desert. But in June, he retired.<BR
/><BR />"I was getting to almost 70 [years old]," said Walton, who
retains the title emeritus professor of ethics and policy studies. "And I
was thinking that while there's time I'd like to do more writing, and I
already had the idea for the Nevada Center for Public Ethics. Those are
the two things I really wanted to work on."<BR /><BR />The nascent center
already has a Web site (www.nevada-ethics.org), although its offices are
located in Walton's house. Ultimately, the center wants to publish
studies on public ethics, as well as bring together educators, scholars,
former public officials, ethics experts and concerned citizens to share
ideas and provide information on public ethics.<BR /><BR />The center
won't compete with journalists, blowing the whistle on corruption, but
will follow up on their work by looking into issues or cases that require
more extensive research and comparison with other places.<BR /><BR />Why
spend his retirement toiling in the intellectual equivalent of the Purple
Thumb Construction Co.?<BR /><BR />"The quick answer is we need to give
time to this kind of work that we haven't been giving. I have been
invited to professional associations and business meetings, so there is
real interest in professional ethics all over the valley, real interest
in business ethics and other types of things. But we haven't really
gotten very far with political ethics.<BR /><BR />"I just think this
needs to be done."<BR /><BR />The center isn't just an intellectual
pursuit, either. Walton said it will get citizens involved, try to change
laws and offer education to elected and appointed government officials.
The center will also someday offer scholarships for young, Plato-toting
students like Walton who want to study government, public administration,
law and ethics.<BR /><BR />Nevada Center for Public Ethics board member
Carole Vilardo, who is president of the Nevada Taxpayers Association,
said there's definitely a need. "The state is growing. The issues coming
before the government become more complicated, for the most part," said
Vilardo, who is a constant presence during biennial legislative sessions
in Carson City. "The governments in Nevada are part-time; they're not
full-time. And so, understandably, sometimes there are issues or
conflicts that come up."<BR /><BR />Stacy Jennings, executive director of
the Nevada Commission on Ethics, agreed. "I know he intends to do some
research, and I think that could be valuable," she said. "The academic-
or research-based ethics training he would provide would be a lot
different from what we provide. Our training is specifically, 'Here are
your requirements under state law. Here's what you can and can't do.' But
there can be a real need also to provide training in other kinds of
ethics, like for people in the private sector. And that could be
something that Craig's group might be able to do."<BR /><BR />The
center's board will include academics, lawyers, former elected and
appointed officials, clergy and media. The board will debate policy
before coming out publicly on issues.<BR /><BR />"I think there is a need
to create a shared voice on these questions about the quality of our
common life," said Walton, becoming animated. "We have to have a voice --
and it shouldn't be a special-interest voice. Do we want to have some
kind of decency, some kind of fairness, some kind of honesty and some
kind of belief that we can trust people? Just ask yourself what it is
like when there's no trust."<BR /><BR />That's what the state Ethics
Commission is for: to ensure there is trust. Created in 1975, the
commission enforces ethics and campaign practice statutes in Nevada law,
and provides advisory opinions to politicians and government officials.
There are four full-time staffers, and eight appointed commissioners.<BR
/><BR />"We're very small," admitted Jennings. "We have a lot of caseload
insofar as complaints, and very little human resources to push those
through the system, so that tends to slow things down a bit. But I'm
hoping with the new person we just added and the one I think the
Legislature is going to give us for the fall, that will allow us to do
all of this in a more timely process."<BR /><BR />The commission issues
10 to 20 ethics-related opinions a year to inquiring public officials. In
2001 and 2002, the commission got 66 ethics complaints. In 2003 and 2004,
it got 160, a 142 percent increase. So far this year, there have been
19.<BR /><BR />Any citizen can file a complaint for a violation on a form
available on the commission's Web site, (<A TARGET="_blank"
HREF="http://ethics.nv.gov)">http://ethics.nv.gov)</A>.<BR /><BR />"Right
now, two-thirds of our cases are coming out of Southern Nevada," said
Jennings. "I think if you look at some of the high-profile political
scandals that have happened down there in the last couple of years,
people are taking more of an interest in what their government is doing.
I think that would explain it.<BR /><BR />"I mean, look at Operation G-
sting," she continued. "Look at some of the things that have happened
with the [Las Vegas] City Council. Michael Mack was up on ethics charges,
and Michael McDonald lost an election over that stuff. Yvonne Atkinson
Gates and the [McCarran] airport concession stuff. And this latest stuff
[controversial land trading] at the airport. And I'm sure there's
more."<BR /><BR />But not all wrongdoing is just unethical. Sometimes,
it's criminal.<BR /><BR />Former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, now a partner
at law giant Lionel, Sawyer &amp; Collins, was chairman of the Senate
Ethics Committee during its high-profile investigation of former U.S.
Sen. Bob Packwood.<BR /><BR />"There have been a number of instances that
go far beyond ethical considerations, when you have individuals who are
former officeholders having been indicted," Bryan says. "That goes well
beyond ethics. Ethical transgressions do not necessarily rise to the
level of alleged criminal activity, so the standard is totally
different.<BR /><BR />"But I would simply say that clearly, with the
series of indictments that have been handed down and the charge that was
brought against a councilwoman in Las Vegas [Janet Moncrief], that tends
to place people that are elected into public life in a very negative way.
It rubs off on everyone, even those who have never had an [ethics] issue.
It, in effect, besmirches those who choose elective service -- and
unfairly with respect to those who have never had any issue or
problem."<BR /><BR />Or in the words of Assemblywoman Ellen Koivisto (D-
Las Vegas), co-chairwoman of the Elections, Procedures, Ethics and
Constitutional Amendments committee: "When somebody falls down in the
mud, it splashes on everybody."<BR /><BR />Indeed, the list of current
and former public officials who have been subject to ethics charges -- or
worse -- seems endless: Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, Clark County
Commissioner Lynette Boggs McDonald, former Clark County Commissioners
Dario Herrera, Lance Malone and Mary Kincaid-Chauncey, state Sens.
Barbara Cegavske and Sandra Tiffany, State Controller Kathy Augustine and
many, many more. When asked to describe the current ethics climate in
Nevada, Jennings laughed and replied: "Well, like, do you mean that there
isn't any?"<BR /><BR />As a result of the ethical missteps and brash
corruption, the 2005 Legislature is inundated with ethics-related bills.
State Sen. Terry Care (D-Las Vegas) alone sponsored three in the Senate -
- all of which died in committee.<BR /><BR />"I think there have been
more [ethics-related bills] than usual, not only because of the Augustine
matter, but because of other matters as well," he said. "I mean, look at
what has happened in the last couple of years. We had three Clark County
commissioners, now former Clark County commissioners, who came under
federal indictment. You've had a North Las Vegas councilman [John Rhodes]
convicted of insurance fraud. As I recall, the airport land deals
probably came to light just before the session. But any number of matters
gave rise to the subject of ethics and how those [who are] elected
conduct themselves."<BR /><BR />Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani (D-Las
Vegas) also sponsored a handful of ethics-related bills -- some of which
actually made it to the floor. Giunchigliani seemed most concerned with
the statutes, which many people characterized as weak and vague, and the
way they are interpreted.<BR /><BR />"I'm just trying to close loopholes
that I think exist within state law in the area of campaign financing as
well as ethics," she explained. "I do still believe that most politicians
try to do the best job that they can, but sometimes there are those that
are absolutely willful."<BR /><BR />Assembly Bill 530, supported by
Giunchigliani and the Nevada Center for Public Ethics, made it out of
committee. It would essentially remove the word "willful" from NRS
281.551 -- making it easier to punish politicians who violate the law. In
many high-profile cases in the past, including those involving Goodman,
McDonald and Gates, fines were not imposed because the commission found
the violations weren't "willful." In fact, the only willful violations
recorded in recent memory belong to Augustine, who confessed to willful
misbehavior.<BR /><BR />"What kind of people are we that we have to be
told to be ethical?" wondered Koivisto. "I personally feel that you can't
legislate common sense. I just think it said a lot about our society that
we have to legislate ethical behavior. I guess maybe it's my age [62] or
something, and I was brought up in a time where you were brought up to be
ethical. Maybe times have changed. Or maybe people get into a position
and they are tempted by things. But you still have to go back to your
regular life and live with the things that you do.<BR /><BR />"I think
what we're doing [drafting and considering legislation] is what we have
to do. I just think it's too bad that we have to do it."<BR /><BR />All
elected officials in Nevada are required to sign a statement saying
they've read the state's ethics statutes. And the Nevada Commission on
Ethics offers training in ethics law, Jennings explained. But the agency
is simply too small to monitor and train officials in the entire 110,561-
square-mile state.<BR /><BR />"We, mostly, are a reactive body," said
Jennings. "The attorney general's office can investigate criminal acts
committed by public officers, but I believe that's mostly reactive as
well. I don't think any of us go out and initiate investigations without
somebody coming to us first. I don't think anybody has the resources to
go out there and say, 'Hey, are you doing your job?' I mean, we have
thousands of people under our jurisdiction, so it's hard for us to go
look at everything.<BR /><BR />"The other thing that is difficult to do
sometimes when you have a small staff is something I think Craig's group
intends to do -- which is go out and look at what other states are doing.
How do their ethic laws compare to Nevada's? Could ours be stronger or
better somehow? We just don't have the staff to go out and perform the
type of theoretical analysis and research that can really bring good and
positive changes to the laws. At this point, we don't have the bodies to
go out and do those type of things -- which I think is one place that
Craig's group can be really beneficial."<BR /><BR />Craig's group, as
Jennings put it, is probably two or three years away from making a
significant impact. Politicians, many of them presently occupied with the
Legislature, know little or nothing about it. And those who do seem
uncertain of its prospects.<BR /><BR />"Maybe it can [make a difference],
especially if it doesn't concern itself with just elected officials but
also public employees," said Care, who believes voters and the media
should serve as an ethics commission. "But we have to remember that
legislation doesn't alter the human heart and it doesn't make for better
people. It's supposed to simply say this is what you may and may not do -
- although you would like to believe that people, by and large, could
operate without those [laws]."<BR /><BR />Initially, staffing and funding
will inhibit the center. There are no full-time workers, just Walton,
Treasurer Bruce Bloch and Secretary Joseph Tangredi working part-time on
a voluntary basis. Money is so scarce, Walton and his cohorts dipped into
their own pockets to fund the website and to file nonprofit papers with
the Internal Revenue Service. Walton estimates the organization's first-
year operating cost at &#036;10,000. He hopes to raise that money through
membership dues, donations and grants.<BR /><BR />But Walton remains
optimistic about the center. He hopes to have several hundred members in
Southern Nevada and a hundred in Northern Nevada by next summer. And next
year, he wants to hold public meetings on ethics issues and prepare for
the 2007 Legislature.<BR /><BR />"I think it [the response] has been
encouraging, very encouraging -- from the media, from people who want to
join, and from other people who have just said: 'Good luck. This is a
really good idea.' I've gotten e-mails from people I've known over the
years. One said: 'Solicitations, you're going to need them.'"<BR /><BR
/>Heeding the advice, Walton added: "If any famous fundraisers read
CityLife, have them call me."<BR /><BR />The center has other believers,
too.<BR /><BR />"I think it has the potential of being very effective,"
said Bryan. "Craig himself is a very credible person. Depending upon how
the center handles issues, I think it could be a source, an important
reference, an authority that as issues come up they will be consulted.
Their concept is to be nonpartisan, bipartisan if you will. ... So I
think it can be very effective."<BR /><BR />Sitting in the dining room of
his wood-paneled house, the Mojave wind pushing on the surrounding pines,
Walton is resolved. He glanced proudly at the floor, the walls, the
ceiling -- admiring the craftsmanship.<BR /><BR />"I don't think there is
any doubt we can make a difference," he said. "We've already been able to
make a little difference in a couple of weeks, because folks telephone
each other and share things, and then we can call reporters or
legislators or people in the government and float ideas or advocate
something. The whole thing has to do with becoming a trustworthy channel
for people's voices. That's it. That's how you have to do it.<BR /><BR
/>"I don't care if I get replaced [by another agency or organization]
tomorrow. That's fine. If somebody comes along who's ready, willing and
able, and they do a better job, then great. I'll back them. I'll give
them anything I can, because it isn't about any one person. It's about
our state and our people. That's the issue here."<BR /><BR /><I>Matt
O'Brien is </I>CityLif<I>e's news editor. He can be reached at 871-6780
ext. 350 or <A
HREF="mailto:obrien@lvpress.com">obrien@lvpress.com</A>.</I><BR /><BR
/><hr width=90%><BR /><BR /><b>Bad pol, no lap dance!</b><BR /><BR />A
greatist hits collection of unethical Nevada politicians<BR /><BR />When
it comes to ethics in Nevada, the people may change, but the most common
crime remains the same: conflict of interest. Whether it's politicians
using their offices for private gain or ignoring their public duties to
attend to their own interests, conflicts abound. Here's a look at some of
the biggest offenders over the past few years.<BR /><BR />* <B>Yvonne
Atkinson Gates/Lance Malone:</B> In 1998, the state Ethics Commission
found Clark County Commissioners Gates and Malone had broken the law by
working to get friends and political associates profitable concessions at
McCarran International Airport. (The concessions had been set aside for
minority businesses.) Although the commission didn't find the violations
were "willful," Gates appealed anyway and the findings were
overturned.<BR /><BR />* <B>Yvonne Atkinson Gates:</B> Gates was also hit
by the commission in 1998 for soliciting casino owners on behalf of a
daiquiri franchise she wanted to open in their hotels. (The commission
regulates casinos in Clark County.) Despite the publicity in both ethics
cases, a pair of recall attempts against Gates failed, and she was re-
elected to her commission seat in 2000 and again last year with only
token opposition.<BR /><BR />* <B>Dario Herrera:</B> In 1999, the former
Clark County Commissioner solicited the county's ambulance provider,
American Medical Response, to advertise on billboards in his part-time
job as a partner in the firm Massmedia Inc. Herrera sought and received a
letter from the Clark County District Attorney before making the pitch,
and was told it was legal so long as he abstained from future votes
involving the company. But after American Medical Response said no,
Herrera voted to approve the franchise application of a rival company,
Southwest Ambulance, saying "I absolutely know I can be completely
unbiased in my decision."<BR /><BR />* <B>Michael McDonald:</B> The
former Las Vegas City Councilman in 2000 worked behind the scenes at City
Hall to get his colleagues to approve a municipal buyout of the
financially troubled Sportspark, owned in part by printer Larry
Scheffler. McDonald worked for Scheffler part-time, bringing new clients
to Scheffler's company, Las Vegas Color Graphics. Although McDonald never
voted or publicly advocated for the move, the city and state ethics
boards found he'd behaved unethically anyway. The case was referred to
District Court by the city's now-defunct Ethics Review Board, where
McDonald could have been forced from office, but a judge declined to take
that step. He lost his bid for re-election in 2003.<BR /><BR />*
<B>Michael Mack:</B> The Las Vegas Councilman accepted a &#036;57,000
"bridge loan" in September 2000 from car dealer Joe Scala, who was
supposedly interested in buying Mack's failing pawn shop. But when a
rival car dealer, John Staluppi Jr., wanted to open a nearby dealership
in 2001, Mack voted no, without disclosing the loan. The city's Ethics
Review Board found he'd violated the law and referred the matter to
Municipal Court, where he could have lost his seat. But a judge ruled in
2002 the prosecutor didn't prove the case against Mack. The councilman
opted not to run for re-election this year.<BR /><BR />* <B>Michael Mack:
</B>Mack accepted public relations and marketing work for Treasures, a
strip club operated by the Davari brothers of Houston. Although he
disclosed his relationship and abstained, his decision to accept the
part-time job prevented him from voting when Treasures liquor license was
imperiled by the conviction (since overturned) of a dancer on
prostitution charges. And, after NBA star Dennis Rodman was injured in a
motorcycle accident outside the club, police and city officials
investigated why club employees weren't more forthcoming about the
incident. Mack sat in during those interviews, not as a councilman, but
as the club's representative.<BR /><BR />* <B>Lynette Boggs McDonald:</B>
In a similar move, the former Las Vegas councilwoman (and now Clark
County Commissioner) agreed in July 2003 to serve on the board of
directors for Station Casinos, although she was responsible for
regulating casinos within city limits. She properly abstained on all
Station-related matters and quit the board in March 2004, when she was
named to the Clark County Commission by Gov. Kenny Guinn, to fill a
vacancy. She won election outright in November.<BR /><BR />* <B>Oscar
Goodman:</B> In January 2004, Goodman hosted a cocktail party in
Washington, D.C., during a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting. He invited
fellow mayors to the party, at which he pitched a business run by his
son, Ross, and Mack, called iPolitix. The ethics commission ruled the
mayor used his office to grant an unwarranted privilege to Ross Goodman,
but fell one vote short of finding the violation was willful. Although
Goodman said he'd accept the verdict "like a man," he later decided to
appeal on the advice of his wife. That appeal is pending.<BR /><BR />*
<B>Kathy Augustine:</B> The state controller, following an investigation
by the attorney general's office, admitted to the Ethics Commission that
she'd willfully caused employees on the state payroll to work on her 2002
re-election campaign. Since a willful ethics violation on the part of a
state constitutional officer triggers an impeachment, Augustine was
brought before the Assembly, which unanimously voted to impeach her. She
was acquitted in a trial before the state Senate on two charges in
December, but convicted on a third charge of misusing state property. She
has since declared her intention to run for higher office.<BR /><BR />*
<B>Barbara Cegavske:</B> The Las Vegas state senator accepted a position
as a consultant for the news division of KVBC Channel 3, ostensibly to
advise reporters on education and legislative issues, at &#036;3,000 per
month. But she got the job at the suggestion of station owner Jim Rogers,
owner of Channel 3, who is serving as interim chancellor of the
University and Community College System of Nevada. All the while,
Cegavske was vice-chairwoman of the Senate's Human Resources and
Education Committee, which oversees the university system. Cegavske quit
the arrangement once it became public. Both the Ethics Commission and the
Legislative Counsel Bureau ruled that the arrangement didn't appear to
violate rules for lawmakers.<BR /><BR />* <B>Sandra Tiffany:</B> Tiffany,
who represents Henderson, ran a business that got a contract with the
state to sell used Nevada Highway Patrol vehicles through e-Bay auctions,
despite a law that bans state officials from also doing business with the
state. Tiffany had sought and received legal review of her business by
both the Legislative Counsel Bureau and the attorney general's office.
When the matter became public, Tiffany said she would end her contract
and take no money from the sales, but a state official said the contract
had already been cancelled because not enough cars were sold to justify
it. Before the contract was cancelled, however, Tiffany introduced
legislation that would make it easier for people with e-Bay businesses to
do work for the state.</span><br /><br clear="all" />
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