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Councilmen need to check their parachutes
by Nathan Orme
Jul 26, 2008 | 629 views | 3 3 comments | 35 35 recommendations | email to a friend | print
My whole life I have been a cautious type of individual. No risks with my money, relatively little risk when it comes to my love life and I certainly don’t go out on a limb when it comes to my life and limb.

I can probably count on one hand the number of risks I have taken. The first one that comes to mind is the time I jumped out of an airplane with a big piece of nylon and an experienced risk-taker strapped to my back just in case I wasn’t able to pull the rip cord. Another time, when I was in college, I rode a friend’s motorcycle around a parking lot and nearly did some severe damage to my ability to reproduce. Fortunately, I did more damage to the bike than it did to me (drop me an e-mail if you want details on that story). A few years back I bought a house in Southern California when the market was near its peak and then sold it as the market was starting its descent into the current state of disarray. Once again, I not only came out unscathed but actually quite farther ahead than most people. Believe it or not, my house there sold, fell out of escrow and sold again while many houses in my neighborhood sat offerless. As for my love life risks, well, I’ll leave that to your imagination but they’re mistakes we’ve probably all made once or twice when passions flare.

Those exceptions aside, I avoid danger like an anorexic avoids calories. I drive ridiculously slow, I don’t do anything with my extra money except put it in a simple savings account and I stay away from fast women (OK, that last one isn’t totally true). My job has some inherent risks, but the First Amendment is a pretty good legal shield. The law doesn’t help everyone in their jobs, though, as has been illustrated to me several times by members of the Sparks City Council. Last summer, when I covered the Nevada Commission on Ethics hearing for Councilman Mike Carrigan, I learned for the first time about the Lazy 8 Casino controversy. Not only were many residents opposed but the members of the council had the unfortunate task of voting on the issue. The ethics commission ultimately admonished Carrigan for voting on the Lazy 8 hotel/casino because Carlos Vasquez, the public relations man for Lazy 8 developer Red Hawk Land Co., also worked as Carrigan’s political campaign manager. The relationship constituted as a conflict of interest that should have stopped Carrigan from voting on the Lazy 8 application, the commission said. Carrigan told everyone about the relationship, but went ahead and voted on the advice of the Sparks city attorney’s office — which the ethics commission said was bad legal advice.

This last week, Councilman Phil Salerno received word that he will have his own ethics hearing on his vote on the Lazy 8. In his case, his printing company did business with John Ascuaga’s Nugget, which has been a vocal opponent of the Lazy 8 project. The ethics complaint also asks whether Salerno should not have voted because he makes money a Lazy 8 opponent, a fact that might have influenced his vote against the hotel/casino.

The councilmen and I are in similar positions when it comes to our actions on the job. We learn the laws that govern our actions before we go to work, but sometimes we still encounter gray areas. In those cases, we trust lawyers (isn’t that an oxymoron?) to give us advice on what we should do so that we fulfill our obligations but stay within the law. For certain articles that we publish, I have to carefully ponder the implications of each word combination to make sure we don’t cross into a legal area that could get us into trouble. Fortunately, I haven’t encountered too many such situations and I can usually recognize when it might be a problem and make the appropriate edits to avoid the problem. Sometimes, though, I have to go out on that precarious limb and hope the truth prevents it from breaking.

When it came to the Lazy 8 vote, Carrigan and Salerno had advice from the city attorney’s office telling them it was OK to vote on the project despite their ties to the developer. The plethora of law degrees in the office made this a seemingly logical choice. As elected officials, the legal advice coincided with their natural inclination, which is to vote on the matter so they could represent their constituents as they saw fit. As a journalist who has been relatively untouched by pressures that haunt larger media outlets, I have not felt corporate pressure so I also feel that my ultimate job is to serve the people, albeit in a different way that is sometimes confrontational with the local politicians.

Even with the inclination to serve and with the go-ahead from the folks who went to law school, there are still times when the gut feelings need to take over. For Carrigan and Salerno, one of those times probably should have been that fateful Lazy 8 vote. Let’s face it: Conflict of interest is 99 percent perception and just 1 percent reality. Regardless of how the Nevada Commission on Ethics ruled for Carrigan or ultimately rules for Salerno, that vote was one of those times when any little gut feeling of doubt should have taken over, if for no other reason than to avoid the question.

But they were in a no-win situation. If they didn’t vote, they weren’t doing the job the people of Sparks elected them to do. By voting, they opened themselves up for attack by the vocal opponents of the project. And in a tight-knit area like this, the only way to avoid voting on an issue with a potential conflict of interest is to not run for office at all. The small-town closeness that makes this place great is a thorn in the side of anyone trying to be an impartial local legislator. But that’s the risk they have chosen and while I applaud them for their efforts, I’m glad it’s not my job.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going skydiving.

Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at
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August 06, 2008
Aren't you seeing some pretty nurse woman now? Implying that she's "fast" might be a mighty big risk in itself. Nurses have sharp pointy objects to stab you with when they are not amused.
July 27, 2008
It's time to take a stand against some of the elected officials in the City of Sparks. In regards to ethics and special interests, I am totally disappointed in most of the City Council members and the City Attorney. Being a retired City employee with over 20 years of service, I have a problem with most of the current elected officials. First of all, in regards to Phil Salerno, he claims that his voting for the Nugget was in no way biased. I know for a fact that Mr. Salerno frequented the Nugget on a social basis so many times, that I thought he might have a time card going. As for Mike Carrigan, his association with Harvey Wittemore concerns me in that his campaign manager, Carlos Vasquez, is the public relations manager for Red Hawk. Now, you have the City Attorney giving advice to both councilmen on the Lazy 8 allowing them to vote on the project? Adding insult to injury, the City Attorney has been investigated for allegations of sexual misconduct with his subordinates costing the taxpaying citizens thousands and thousand of dollars. The Mayor, Geno Martini, who authorized the investigation into Adams misconduct, knowing that thousands of dollars were paid out and maybe more, and authorized other attorneys to do Adams' job (at, you guessed it--our expense), endorses Adams for City Attorney for yet another term. Carrigan also endorses Adams. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. Something really stinks!! It appears that whoever has the most money, is allowing these four elected officials to continue to make bad decisions. It seems to me, the only two decent elected council members that have commom sense and look out for the interest of the taxpayers of the City of Sparks are Ron Smith and Ron Schmitt who will always have my vote. Geno, you are no Tony Armstrong.
July 27, 2008
And, let's not forget that Carlos Vasquez (from what I've heard) was also Chet Adams' campaign manager. Chet Adams, ELECTED City Attorney (elected by no one), providing legal advice to the aforementioned City Council Members. Another big reason the City Attorney should be appointed rather than elected. He (Adams) is a politician who claims to have been elected by the people (NEVER ONCE). Chet, your free ride, which appears to border on unethicity, IS OVER!!! We need someone in office who IS NOT A POLITICIAN, but rather a LAWYER with no special interest baggage. Many of you out there have asked the question, "Just who is this opponent of Adams?" Well, the answer is simple. A lot of you haven't heard of him because he is a lawyer -- a good lawyer -- who has no political baggage and will serve us, the taxpaying citizens, well. No special interest crap. No political crap. Just GREAT, IMPARTIAL LEGAL REPRESENTATION.
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