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Our View: Green grass, gray areas

Record-Courier editorial board

About two years ago, Gardnerville resident Ame Hellman barely made the Douglas County Planning Commission.

She was appointed on a 3-2 vote by the Douglas County Commission. At the time, she was working for the American Land Conservancy, a private group that arranges transfers and transactions that promote land conservation and public access.

County Commissioner Bernie Curtis, who cast one of those opposing votes, cited that affiliation as a reason. He predicted a potential conflict of interest if Hellman should be asked to vote on a development proposal while being paid by a group committed to preserving undeveloped land.

A trip to the state Ethics Commission yielded an opinion that Hellman would be free to serve on the planning commission, but that didn’t stop private grumblings about power and politics.

Now, the county commission is approaching a similar situation. The difference is that Hellman has moved on and the American Land Conservancy’s new Nevada representative, Jacques Etchegoyhen, is also the commission chairman.

Etchegoyhen has never made a secret of his passion for preserving ranching and agriculture. He was forthcoming when asked this week about his new job with the American Land Conservancy, though he wouldn’t divulge his salary. And he says he’ll be asking the state Ethics Commission for an opinion, as Hellman did.

He was one of the three who voted to appoint Hellman back in 1998, and doesn’t think his private work will generate any more conflicts than a real estate agent or developer would face.

But questions remain. Will this divide the commission? Does Curtis still think that working for a land conservation group and a county government body is a conflict?

And will voters be willing to separate Etchegoyhen’s private work from public work that, in the last several months, has happened to include a decision on whether to ask voters for money to preserve Douglas County’s open space?

Or will they assume that county leaders really are behind the open space initiative and the hands-off, grass-roots approach they’ve tried to cultivate is only an image?

In his quest to preserve Nevada’s green grass, Etchegoyhen has raised some gray-area questions. The sooner they’re answered, the better.