March 21 Letter to the Editor
Sanctuary the wrong word
“Sanctuary” is probably the wrong word to describe the rural county revolt against Nevada’s gun background check bill. The rural counties that have so far taken a stand against the bill are not refusing to prosecute criminal behavior, they’re refusing to enforce an illegal law that – to use the Second Amendment phrase – infringes upon the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.
The legislature’s defense of the background check is that it was first passed by a (bare) majority of voters. But America fought a civil war over 384 battles, sacrificing 640,000 dead and many more thousands wounded, to prevent a majority to deprive a minority of their civil rights. A case could be made that Nevada legislators who ignored the oath they took to God to obey the Constitution could be criminally charged for conspiring to violate Nevadans’ constitutional rights.
Douglas County should be grateful that Commissioners Nelson and Engels took the initiative early on to conduct two public workshops to answer the concerns of Douglas County citizens. The crowd at the first such workshop packed Hamdog’s Restaurant so completely that hundreds were turned away. We thank owner Wayne Mills and his crack staff for accommodating so many people.
Douglas County patriots filled the Senior Center to standing-room-only capacity on March 12, but at least we were all inside when the surprise snowstorm hit. Nelson and Engels were joined on stage by Sheriff Dan Coverley, Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, and Sen. James Settelmeyer. Most everyone who wanted had a chance to express themselves. I want to thank the volunteers who greeted the attendees, provided the sign in sheets, and passed out information.
We’ve just begun to fight.
Demand Jackson resign outlandish
At the March 7 Douglas County Board of Commissioners meeting , District Attorney Mark Jackson came under personal attack — with one speaker making the outlandish demand that he resign over his role in Tiregate.
What are the facts?
The 99-page comprehensive report of the Nevada Division of Investigations concludes, relative to Mark Jackson: “It is important to note there is no evidence, and it is not suggested, that the District Attorney, or any member of the District Attorney’s staff attempted to protect Oakden or otherwise “cover-up” unlawful activity. Jackson properly forwarded the limited information he received for appropriate action. There is no evidence of any personal relationships between any of the concerned parties.”
In Tiregate, parallel investigations were initially undertaken by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office (criminal) and Douglas County District Attorney’s office (administrative misconduct). When early information developed a potential conflict of interest for the sheriff’s office, the Nevada Division of Investigations assumed criminal investigative responsibilities. Jackson recused himself at all times from the criminal investigation.
His actions were consistent with an earlier Douglas County District Attorney who turned over a criminal investigation to the Nevada Division of Investigations in a strikingly similar 1989 embezzlement case. “The District Attorney acted wisely,” in avoiding the perception of conflict of interest, the Grand Jury found at that time.
The Nevada Division of Investigations’ 2018 Tiregate Report concluded:
1. Nine identified individuals could be proven criminally culpable – without any reservation or equivocation.
2. Specifically named county government managers and supervisors, including the chief financial officer and public works director, failed in their duties and were negligent.
3. While proving criminal intent would be unlikely for county employee tire purchases , there exists “a persistent attitude of entitlement among significant numbers of employees” in Douglas County.
Notably absent in the NDI report is criticism of Jackson.
The decision to decline to prosecute anyone in Tiregate was made solely by the Nevada Attorney General’s office— not by Jackson.
The frivolous demand calling for Jackson to resign for any actions related to Tiregate should not be taken seriously.
Inaction allowed Tiregate to continue
What was District Attorney Mark Jackson’s role in the Tiregate scandal? In my opinion he bungled the 2012 administrative informal inquiry into Chris Oakden’s criminal activities, and he kept Tiregate a secret from the county commissioners from March to September 2017, while he conducted the secret, confidential internal investigation into Douglas County employees while being investigated himself by the state investigators for his decisions in 2012. The commissioners are now proposing to hire a new investigator and convene a grand jury to specifically investigate Tiregate further. The commissioners should disallow the district attorney from selecting and overseeing the investigator. The district attorney’s judgment has been compromised by his own involvement.
Jackson’s 2012 investigation discovered that Oakden was improperly using county assets. They discovered that Oakden put tires on a county employee’s personal vehicle using county facilities. They could have also discovered that these tires were stolen from Douglas County, but they did not independently verify Oakden’s story. On page 74, the NDI investigation concluded, “The information gleaned from the informal investigation was derived exclusively from Oakden’s statement and provided Jackson and others with incomplete and unreliable information.” Jackson was responsible for this incomplete and unreliable inquiry because he made the ultimate decision to limit the scope and not independently verify Oakden’s story. Investigator Steve Schulz turned in his report to Jackson concluding “I will not pursue this matter any further until you advise me differently.”
The District Attorney’s inaction enabled the Tiregate scandal to result in a loss of more than $1 million. In matters of employee embezzlement, the taxpayers of Douglas County deserve better in a district attorney. Hopefully, the grand jury that will be proposed at the March 21 BOCC meeting will result in independent and productive conclusions.
Response to the response
In response to “DA responds to Tiregate criticism” (R-C, 3/16/19), I must say I was surprised to see my name in the article. When I made my comments at the commissioners’ meeting I was pretty sure I would be ignored. My fellow residents of Douglas County are such a nice bunch that they, in my view, often go beyond the call to give others a pass when something goes awry. This kindness goes to their credit, but in some instances results in encouraging sloth or negligence, or, occasionally worse.
At the meeting I was rebuked almost immediately by Chair Barry Penzel, who sternly put it on the record that he had every confidence in District Attorney Mark Jackson. That, in my view, stands as a perfect example of the “kindness gone astray” kind of benevolence.
The article claims I called for the Jackson’s resignation “over the handling of an inquiry into the activities of motor pool manager Chris Oakden in 2012.” Not exactly. I called for the DA’s resignation over the handling of the internal investigation into the decade-long million dollar plus thievery by Chris Oakden known as Tiregate.
The Nevada Department of Investigation’s report on Tiregate features a number of episodes starring none other than our own DA. Turns out a whistleblower turned in Oakden for abusing his position way back in 2012, but the then county manager and Jackson did not choose to really delve into what was going on out there in the motor pool. Wrist slap and then business as usual (which for Oakden was stealing tires to sell and using county property as if it were his).
Jackson’s excuse, “Oakden conned a lot of people,” falls flat when it arrives at my ears. One, because there had already been a history of thievery at the motor pool established at the turn of the century so the highest law enforcement officer in the county (Jackson) should have been hyper-alert to a recurrence, and two, because Jackson and the then County Manager Steve Mokrohisky both allegedly played key rolls in what the NDI report describes as a troubling extended office conflict linked to Oakden that resulted in two women giving up their positions in county government. One of these women was the whistleblower; the other one took the whistleblower’s tale to the DA.
Given that DA Jackson had to be well aware of both his “missing the mark” on catching Oakden (no matter how “in accord” his actions might have been with county policy) in 2012, and the prickly circumstances under which the two women were forced out of county employment shortly after the first “Oakden is up to something” notice, I do not believe the DA should have ethically come within 100 feet of the internal county investigation.
The possibilities of corruption and cover-up are undeniable. Only an “outside” investigation could be free of those shadows. Jackson made another wrong judgment, and for this one he should resign.