Small fines but important message on ethics

Nevada's Ethics Commission has been so busy lately that it would be easy to overlook a couple of minor infractions by two Carson City teachers in an election almost a year ago.

But the commission did take up the complaints against Jeff Greb and Lynne Trujillo, found they had broken the rules and fined them an appropriate amount, $15 each.

Was it a waste of time? No.

If the Ethics Commission lets the small stuff slide, then sooner or later it adds up to big stuff. The message commissioners sent was that all the rules need to be followed. The $15 fine was a slap on the wrist, a punishment befitting the crime.

Greb used school time to send an e-mail. Trujillo, although she made a flier at home and brought her own paper, used a school copy machine. Both had to do with a campaign walk for former teacher Bonnie Parnell, who was elected to Carson City's Assembly seat over Ron Knecht.

The politics of the teachers union within the school district can be a tricky thing. It has a legitimate function in representing teachers and in supporting political candidates. But it must do so at the expense of its members, not the taxpayers.

The Ethics Commission's ruling was a reminder to keep those activities separate with every dotted i and crossed t.

Knecht, who filed the complaint the day before the election, wondered aloud why state Comptroller Kathy Augustine was fined $15,000 for her transgressions, yet the teachers union members got off with $15 penalties.

That's an easy one to answer. Augustine is an elected official, a constitutional officer and the boss of the employees working in the Comptroller's Office. She was accused of coercing underlings to perform campaign functions on her behalf.

She faced impeachment and was found only to have misused state equipment. But before the Ethics Commission, she admitted to three violations.

The Legislature did nothing this year to toughen ethics laws. With what it has to work, the commission is doing an important job for Nevada, even if it's seldom appreciated.


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