Saturday, September 27, 2003

Wendell's woes

Nevada's most embarrassing political year in recent memory just gets more seamy. No local indictments have been issued in the Operation G-Sting, the strip club scandal that has roiled the political establishment in San Diego -- three members of the city council have been indicted, and former Clark County Commissioner Lance Malone, now a strip club lobbyist, has dragged Las Vegas on stage, as it were. Not yet, anyway. But if Knappster is right, a host of prominent Vegsa business and political leaders may soon have reservations at Club Fed.

Then we have Wendell Williams. The nine-term assemblyman from North Las Vegas has constantly been at odds with the Review-Journal's editorial board on philosophical grounds; Williams is cut from the cloth of the Jesse Jackson/Al Sharpton civil rights establishment, promulgating racial preferences and other policies that expand the welfare state -- an agenda which rejects educational choice, genuine neighborhood-level decision-making, and true individual empowerment. Unlike Jackson and Sharpton, however, Williams has actual power. He's chairman of the Assembly's education committee, which controls funding of K-12 schools and the college system AND has the authority to micromanage the operations of school districts statewide. In addition, he's speaker pro tem of that body, so he can influence the legislative agenda.

In recent years, he has not only been an impediment to any reforms which would help his own constituents escape government dependency; he has begun to use his position as an elected official and a public employee (stay tuned) as a way to abuse power for his own personal gain.

Statements and documents establish that Williams:
• Drove with a suspended license during the past two years.
• Faced an arrest warrant for failing to appear in a Reno court in connection with a traffic citation.
• Failed to make this month's payment on a $15,000 fine he incurred for failing to submit required campaign contribution and expenditure reports during the 2000 election.
• Made an undetermined number of personal calls on the cellular phone issued by his employer, the city of Las Vegas. On Wednesday, the city put him on a payment plan to repay $1,844 for those calls.

And there's more. The married Williams personally intervened with college officials on several occasions to ensure a part-time job for his 28-year-old girlfriend, Topazia "Briget" Jones, who was then elevated to the position of lobbyist for the college system so that she could visit Williams at the Legislature at taxpayer expense. The details here:

• Jones made unauthorized trips to the recent legislative session in Carson City and was on the Assembly floor with Williams, wearing an embroidered jacket identifying her as a special assistant to Williams.
• Jones was picked up at the Reno airport by legislative police on those trips, then driven to Carson City.
• Williams and Jones tried to induce university system Chancellor Jane Nichols to lease West Las Vegas property for use by Nevada State College. In exchange for her work on the lease, Jones was expected to receive an administrative job with Nevada State College.

Williams and Jones both lied to college officials about her academic credentials and her previous salaries -- offenses which would, according to university policy, get anyone else fired.

And there's more. Williams continued to receive pay from his $86,000-a-year "job" with the Neighborhood Services Department of the City of Las Vegas while the Legislature was in session in Carson City, 400 miles from Sin City.

And there's even more. This week, Williams lost his job as chairman of the "interim" education commitee -- the lawmakers who formulate policy when the Legislature is not in session. But he has paid no other penalty for any of these transgressions, other than being allowed to make installment payments of $70 per paycheck for 15 months to cover $1,800 in personal cell phone usage (even though he ran up more than $5,000 in charges over the past year). City officials haven't asked him to return his salary. Nor do they expect him to take unpaid leave when he attends to future legislative business, as is typical of public-employee lawmakers who work for other agencies. (If there's any good news here, Mayor Oscar Goodman believes city employees should not also serve in the Legislature; if he's serious, I can't see why the council couldn't pass an ordinance prohibiting the practice prospectively.) Nope, Wendell's bulletproof because -- let's not mince words here -- he's black, and the Democrats in this state would let him get away with just about anything short of murder rather than express any sort of public disapproval. For now, anyway. (It's also shameful that, to this point, there have been no public expressions of outrage by other leaders in the local African-American community about Williams.)

You can't make this stuff up.

While Williams is appears to be a particularly gross offender, he may eventually face some consequences because he got caught and he left a paper trail. The sad news is, I hear anecdotally that, at a more petty level, this sort of abuse by lawmakers and other public officials goes on all the time -- from minor traffic offenses and other violations of the law being overlooked by the cops to sweetheart deals and off-the-books "gifts" being offered by campaign contributors, lobbyists, contractors and other vendors. It's Tammany Hall for the 21st century, baby, and it's rampant in this state. Want to move to Nevada?

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