Veiled threat surfaces against tax-initiative skeptics
LAS VEGAS — When the Clark County Debt Management Committee voted unanimously to put the school district’s tax initiative on the November ballot last month, one of the votes came from the director of business development at McCarthy Building Companies — a firm financially supporting the tax initiative.
Cam Walker, a Boulder City Councilman, is also director of business development at McCarthy Building Companies, Inc., where he’s responsible for McCarthy’s “strategic business relationships” — one of which happens to be with CCSD.
Headquartered in St. Louis, the firm has a Las Vegas office and is currently working on construction projects at Valley and Clark High Schools.
Walker told Nevada Journal he previously disclosed his relationship at a 2009 bond meeting when the Committee approved CCSD’s use of $110 million from the Obama administration’s federal “stimulus” program.
The district attorney, says Walker, didn’t force him to abstain from voting.
“I’m there [on the Debt Management Committee] in the capacity as a representative of Boulder City,” said Walker.
“I asked the DA [in '09] if I should abstain, and he said no, because my company would still go through the same bidding processes as other companies and would not directly benefit from the bond.”
Walker shared with the Committee some views regarding McCarthy’s school construction projects, explaining how schools need a major renovations after 30 years and how the HVAC (air conditioning) systems and modernization projects at Clark and Valley high schools each cost nearly $30 million.
Walker says his inside knowledge was meant to inform Committee members but not influence the vote.
“I wear many hats,” Walker said, “and I try to think objectively about each scenario from various points of view. When I’m on the Committee, I’m trying to think about what is best for the County as well as my constituents back in Boulder City.”
Walker’s vote, however, could help his business interests more than his constituents. Boulder City High School would receive a “complete phased replacement” under the district’s proposed improvement list, but seven schools also need HVAC replacements similar to the ones McCarthy currently works on.
If McCarthy lands the seven HVAC contracts, the company could be in for a $210 million windfall.
So far, McCarthy has donated $5,000 to the School Improvement PAC, one of the largest donations from any construction company.
Despite Walker’s “inside knowledge,” some of the committee members expressed tepid support for the initiative. Wade Wagner and George Rapson, councilmen from North Las Vegas and Mesquite, respectively, expressed concern about the effect of higher property taxes in their municipalities.
When Rapson mentioned early in the meeting that Mesquite wasn’t fully on board with the initiative, Las Vegas Councilman Bob Coffin hinted that Mesquite might face political consequences if it didn’t go along.
“What if the people of Mesquite vote ‘no’? Should we support the construction of schools in Mesquite?” asked Coffin.
Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak warned Coffin to “not go there,” but Wagner took Coffin’s hint, and brought it up later in the meeting, before the final vote.
“It was said earlier that if someone were to vote ‘no’ on this, they’d be blackballed down the road,” Wagner said.
Committee members reassured Wagner there wouldn’t be any “blackballing,” but Wagner ended up voting ‘yes’ with the rest of the committee.
“I’m not against democracy, so let it [the initiative] go to the people,” he said.
Kyle Gillis is a reporter for Nevada Journal, a publication of the Nevada Policy Research Institute. Karen Gray, a reporter/researcher for Nevada Journal, contributed to this report. For more in-depth reporting, visit http://nevadajournal.com/ and http://npri.org/.