Ethics commission names new chief, gets organized

Gov. Kenny Guinn's newly reorganized Ethics Commission took its first steps under new law Thursday, picking a chairman, swearing in new members and trying to figure out how to deal with hundreds of unpaid fines.

Among loose ends left by the old commission is sorting out several hundred thousand dollars in unpaid fines from 1998 and getting the Attorney General's Office to finish writing the last of the old panel's opinions.

The members named Las Vegas lawyer Peter Barnhard as chairman and ex-judge Mario Recanzone, one of the few holdover members, vice chairman.

Barnhard replaces Bill Bible, who chaired the panel only a couple of months before resigning to head the Nevada Resort Association.

Recanzone swore in Barnhard as well as new members Skip Avansino, Todd Russell, Bill Flangas and Lizzie Hatcher.

Kenneth Rohrs, who was hired for the newly created executive director's job, said he plans to have a meeting schedule, list of panels, a handbook for public officials and other procedural matters ready for the board by its January meeting, along with more information on the fines owed by public officials.

Rohrs said there are several hundred public officials and candidates from as far back as the 1998 elections who appear to owe fines. The problem, he said, is that the records are "a mess."

"We have some concerns with the accuracy of the records," he told the commission.

"But if we're not going to enforce it, why have the law?" said commissioner Joni Wines, one of the holdover members.

Hatcher said she is one of the public officials caught in that mess from her abortive run for district judge in Las Vegas. She said she mailed in her disclosure forms and remembers doing it because it was in the same week that her mother died. But she said she has two letters from the Ethics Commission asking her to send in the forms despite the fact she already sent in more copies of the documents.

Flangas said the commission will have to look at what is in those files before deciding how to handle the old cases but must set a policy for the future.

"We need to say that, starting today, here's what we're going to do in the future," he said.

"I've heard there are $114,000 in unpaid fines," said Wines.

"I've also heard $750,000," said Rohrs.

He promised to have those files analyzed by January or February.

The other old issue involves outstanding opinions. Commission lawyer Nancy Lee Varnum said the attorney general's office is working on the formal, written versions of the old commission's decisions but that a number of them are still unfinished. Some of those cases date to January.

The commission will operate under a rewritten set of rules, including a new requirement that all public officials sign statements saying they have read and understand state ethics laws.

Rohrs said he expects them to meet monthly but will follow commission directions to try speed up the handling of cases. The new law mandates that cases be heard and decided within 150 days.

He agreed that continuances granted routinely in the past should be allowed only if there is good reason for them so that complaints about public officials are resolved quickly.


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