Sunday, November 23, 2003

A big week for Las Vegas ... or not

Tuesday, the Las Vegas City Council will consider the fates of Wendell Williams, his former supervisor at the Department of Neighborhood Services Sharon Segerblom and potentially City Manager Doug Selby and Deputy Manager Betsy Fretwell. Mayor Oscar Goodman told my colleague Steve Sebelius (link forthcoming): "I want Tuesday to be the day Las Vegas acquits itself." Good luck, your honor.

Williams has become the Neutron Bomb of Nevada: He kills careers but leaves institutions standing. Barely. Friday, he claimed that, in exchange for getting a promotion from the city, he shepherded a bill through the 2001 Legislature which annexed territory into Las Vegas, increasing its tax base. No one else agrees with that accounting, because if it's true, this is tantamount to extortion, which could ensnare Goodman, former City Manager Virginia Valentine, and a host of other current and former city employees in the dragnet. The threat here from Williams is none too subtle: If I'm going down, I plan to cause as much collateral damage as possible.

Earlier, in a marathon closed-door session of the university system regents (a meeting that almost certainly violated the state's open meeting law ... not that the attorney general would actually enforce the law), Community College of Southern Nevada President Ron Remington was fired and college lobbyist John Cummings was demoted to an undetermined faculty position for their role in the hiring/supervision or lack of either for Topazia "Briget" Jones, Wendell's "special friend" who also served as a part-time lobbyist in the most recent legislative session. Briget kept her job with the college -- even though she lied on her resume, internal personnel records showed she was frequently insubordinate to superiors, and -- like her mentor, Wendell Williams -- no one can actually state what she did when she was on the clock at the college. Neither Remington nor Cummings was presented with the "evidence" that led to the demotions before each got the ax.

That said, university system Chancellor Jane Nichols was allowed to be present during the entire closed session -- to review any evidence of her complicity in the matter (she halted Jones's termination when Briget mouthed off to a superior) -- and will presumably face no disciplinary actions. This would be as juicy as Peyton Place if it weren't so pathetic.

So now Wendell Williams pulls the strings of the university regents and the system's chancellor. Maybe he'll make Briget the next president of the Community College. (Does she have a GED?) He also presumably supervises the day-to-day operations of city government in Las Vegas, since Selby has negotiated a "last chance" agreement with Williams which forgives the assemblyman of any previous indiscretions. In other words, he can't be fired. He's just about the Supreme Leader of Southern Nevada.

Goodman could fire Selby and insist that his replacement's first order of business is getting rid of Williams. But that's about all the mayor can immediately accomplish. This story suggests that Goodman will use the meeting to launch a discussion over modifying the city charter from a strong city manager system to a strong mayor system. But even if Goodman convinced the council to go along (a far-from-certain proposition), nothing official could happen unless the 2005 Legislature went along. And there's little doubt the council meeting will be a circus, as Williams rounds up every race-baiting charlatan and demogogue within a one-day's drive to claim this is all an attempt by Whitey to lynch a hard-working public servant.

BTW, a link to the RJ's reportage on all things Wendell is here.

To be sure, the longer this nightmare lasts, the better the prospects are for the initiative barring public employees from the Legislature to pass.

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