Councilmen Mike Carrigan and Phil Salerno have been tangled up in ethics conflicts through the years as the Lazy 8 casino has continued to fight for its place on the Pyramid Highway, north of Lazy 5 Regional Park.
Now, as the Lazy 8 is up for another council vote on Monday, both men have asked the commission for official legal opinions and both have been told there will be conflict-of-interest consequences if they cast votes.
Carrigan got his answer at a meeting in Carson City Thursday and Salerno received his in an ethics commission meeting in early April.
The meetings were not the first time that the men had appeared before the ethics commission.
Carrigan had allegations of unethical behavior leveled against him in September 2006 regarding a vote on the Lazy 8 project. A group of Sparks residents who oppose Lazy 8 complained that Carrigan should not have voted on the casino project at that time because his campaign manager had ties to the casino’s developer. Carlos Vasquez managed both Carrigan’s election campaign and the business affairs of Red Hawk Land Co. at various times.
In August 2007, the Nevada Commission on Ethics agreed that Carrigan should not have voted on the project. However, he was not charged with an ethics violation because at the time of the Lazy 8 vote he did publicly disclose his conflicting relationship and voted under the legal advice of the city attorney.
Salerno has also escaped several counts of ethics violations. However, he did so at the price of a $5,000 fine.
Salerno went before the commission in October 2008 to argue against allegations that he also had business connections to some of the people involved in the casino conflict that tainted his vote on the matter.
Salerno is the owner of Nevada Forms and Printing, which got 12.61 percent of its income from business with John Ascuaga’s Nugget through 2008. The Nugget is involved in a lawsuit seeking to stop the Lazy 8 project from being built in Spanish Springs.
The compliant was brought forward by Lazy 8 developer Harvey Whittemore, who owns Red Hawk Land Co. Whittemore claimed that Salerno, who owns 60 percent of Nevada Forms and Printing, did not disclose his business transactions with the Nugget at the first of three city council meetings regarding the Lazy 8.
The council, including Salerno, voted against the project on Aug. 23, 2006. This vote started a sting of lawsuits that are still being considered by the state Supreme Court.
Salerno claimed at the time of his hearing that he felt he didn’t need to abstain from the 2006 vote because of his responsibility as an elected official. Salerno did not disclose his relationship with the Nugget at the Aug. 23, 2006, meeting, but did disclose at the Sept. 20, 2006 and Aug. 27, 2007 council meetings.
However, in order to avoid another possible ethics violation, Salerno said that he will be abstaining form the vote Monday.
“Just to keep myself in the clear, I want them (the commission) to have the final say,” Salerno told the Tribune in April, adding that he still does business with the Nugget.
Monday’s council vote on the Lazy 8 project could likely send the item back to the city’s planning commission for review, officials said.
The planning commission voted 4-2 in April to forward a denial of the project's master plan amendment request to the council. The council, according to city Attorney Chet Adams, is the ultimate authority for planning and zoning changes within the city.
If Monday’s vote sends the item back to the commission, the commission would have 40 days to prepare a report justifying the denial. That justification would then be considered by the City Council, according to representatives from the city attorney’s office. After their review, the council could agree with the reasons for denial or disagree and then send the project to its last planning hurdle – a vote at the regional planning commission.
The issue of the Lazy 8 casino is complicated by a web of outstanding lawsuits as well as a settlement agreement entered into by the city.
After the council's denial, Red Hawk Land Co. sued the city, claiming that the city violated a 1994 regional planning agreement. Rather than fight the $100 million suit, the city settled.