Thursday, November 27, 2003

Wha' happen?

Not a lot, actually, in Tuesday's City Council meeting on the Wendell Williams fiasco. City Manager Doug Selby kept his job, which means that that Williams' city position is probably safe now as well, since Selby devised Williams' "last chance" deal. (The deal clearly upset Mayor Oscar Goodman, but not enough for him to recommend that Selby get the ax.) Goodman did an OK job as the prosecuting attorney, if you will, interrogating Williams, the city auditor and other employees who reviewed Williams' time records. Goodman eventually conceded that, since the council lacked the authority to compel sworn testimony from people who don't work for the city, and several of the key players in this melodrama aren't on the city payroll, the council couldn't determine who was telling the truth.

Did Williams falsify time records in violation of city policy? Or were his time cards filled out for him by others, as he claimed Tuesday ... and was there no policy governing time worked by city employees who also sit in the Legislature? Did the city give Williams a raise and a promotion after he resurrected a city annexation bill in the 2003 Legislature, as he claims? Or did he have nothing to do with the bill and is using this story to blackmail current and former city workers into remaining silent regarding his many indiscretions -- including running up thousands of dollars of personal calls on a city cell phone, taking sick leave from his city job while he was running legislative committee meetings, not showing up for an $86,000 a year no-show job, etc.?

Goodman decided to turn the entire matter over to the local DA and the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, where people who can compel testimony might be able to get to the bottom of this.

While Goodman recommended that the city require any future employees who serve in the Legislature to take unpaid leave and receive no benefits while the Legislature is in session, Councilwoman Lynette Boggs McDonald receives the Profile in Courage award for urging the city to obey the Nevada Constitution and bar city employees from legislative service altogether. (She wasn't channeling me, but it sure seemed that way.) In a passionate, meticulously argued presentation, Boggs McDonald explained the separation of powers problems that arise from dual service, and also noted the problem such employees cause for their superiors in City Hall. One minute these employees are on the city organization chart, just like every other public worker; the next, they're the boss, with the power to set budgets, establish regulations, and in effect boss everyone else around. (She brought up the home rule issue as well, noting that if the council wanted to shift Las Vegas' form of government from its current manager-council to a strong mayor system, it would need the approval of the Legislature first.)

Unfortunately, she was trying to convince a council whose collective IQ (except for Goodman, who's a very bright guy) may reach triple digits. The other members who spoke issued platitudes about how "this is America" and "everyone has the right to run for office." So while Lynette may have cheered a few lonely souls, her sensible (and legal) alternative has no chance of adoption.

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.