Commission to determine if CCSD's help to ‘Yes on 2’ campaign violated ethic laws
LAS VEGAS — The Nevada Commission on Ethics has summoned Carolyn Edwards, president of the Clark County School District board of trustees, and Joyce Haldeman, CCSD’s top lobbyist and head of the district’s Community and Government Relations department, to answer for alleged violations of the Nevada Ethics in Government Law.
Edwards and Haldeman are to appear before the Commission on July 17 and 18 to answer allegations that they used taxpayer resources to push for passage of the November 2012 “Question 2” ballot initiative to raise Clark County taxes.
Question 2 was a ballot question submitted to voters to decide whether to permit CCSD to levy an additional property tax of up to 21.2 cents, per $100 of assessed valuation, to finance CCSD capital projects, including school improvements and replacements, and acquisition of new school sites.
The possibility of ethics-law violations was first reported by Nevada Journal last October.
“Using district resources, personnel, email system and databases” — wrote former Nevada Journal reporter Kyle Gillis — school board trustees Carolyn Edwards, Deanna Wright, Lorraine Alderman and Erin Cranor sent out email messages “directing parents and the public to contact the school district's Community and Government Relations department to obtain ‘Yes on 2’ volunteer information and campaign materials.”
The trustees were soliciting volunteers to help “distribute door hangers and yard signs to registered voters encouraging them to support Question 2.”
Not only did trustees utilize district employees during the work day to answer phones and coordinate volunteers, continued the Gillis report, “but CCSD warehouse staff, equipment and facilities were also used to load/unload, transport and store the advocacy materials, specifically, ‘Yes on 2’ signs, T-shirts, door hangers.”
In a subsequent report by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Haldeman admitted that she “personally” made the choice to house the materials so volunteers could pick them up.
In February of this year, Michael Silbergleid, local resident and member of the committee that wrote the ballot’s opposition statement to Question 2, filed formal complaints with the Nevada Commission on Ethics. The complaints alleged Edwards and Haldeman violated Nevada Ethics in Government law, specifically, NRS 281A.520(1)(a).
NRS 281A.520(1)(a) states, “a public officer or employee shall not request or otherwise cause a governmental entity to incur an expense or make an expenditure to support or oppose a ballot question.”
“I was just amazed at the amount of shenanigans that the school district was pulling,” Silbergleid told Nevada Journal. “I was amazed at how open they were with the shenanigans they were pulling.”
What pushed him into lodging the ethics complaints, he said, was reading remarks by Haldeman reported by the Review-Journal. The district’s blatant willingness to violate state law, he says, astonished him.
“You expect there to a little bit of hokey-pokey,” says Silbergleid. “You don’t expect it to be that open.”
Responding to the complaint, Haldeman did not dispute having asked the district’s purchasing division to arrange for campaign promotional materials to be handled, which caused CCSD personnel, vehicles and storage space to be used.
Similarly, the allegation that Edwards requested or caused a school district employee to undertake an action supporting Question 2 was supported, a two-commissioner Ethics Commission Investigatory Panel found, by “uncontroverted evidence.”
While the relevant material facts are not in dispute, questions of law are.
According to the investigating panel’s May 21, 2013 determination, affidavits submitted in response to the case against Haldeman say that at some point after CCSD transported some of the materials, CCSD’s legal counsel had opined on the matter.
Reportedly, the opinion argued that if the School Improvement Committee, a PAC created to support passage of Question 2, reimbursed the district for its costs, CCSD's involvement with the Question 2 materials would not violate state law.
Whether CCSD counsel’s legal opinion extends to Edwards is unclear. Contacted by Nevada Journal, Edwards said she had no comment.
The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 8:30 a.m. in room 3143 of the Nevada Legislative Building, 401 S. Carson Street in Carson City. It is to be video-conferenced to room 4412 of the Grant Sawyer State Building, 555 E. Washington Avenue, Las Vegas.
If necessary, according to commission staff, the hearing will continue the next day at a time not yet determined.
The hearing’s official purpose is to determine:
1) whether a violation of the Nevada Ethics in Government Law occurred, and
2) if so, whether such violation was willful, and
3) whether any penalties will be imposed by the commission.
Although the hearing is exempt from Nevada's Open Meeting Law, the commission has pledged to make every effort to open the hearing to the public.
Haldeman and CCSD Chief Communications Officer Amanda Fulkerson did not respond to requests for comments by press time.