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EDITORIAL: Cowardly commissioners run for the hills

Southern Nevadans are well-acquainted with political cowardice and malfeasance. But members of the Clark County Commission seem intent on writing a new chapter on the subject.

Last Sunday, the Review-Journal published a piece by investigative reporter Arthur Kane revealing how county officials dragged their feet investigating allegations of misconduct in various departments, including the public administrator’s office, whose elected head is now in jail facing murder charges in the stabbing death of the RJ’s Jeff German. The county has also refused to comply with a public records request seeking communications between employees in the public administrator’s office, potentially breaking state law.

But the flight from accountability gets worse.

When Mr. Kane attended a commission meeting to discuss the matter with commissioners, they all left out a back exit. Mr. Kane also noted that “none of the commissioners returned calls seeking comment or came out to talk” when he stopped by their offices.

Hide-and-seek is an enjoyable activity for young children, but it’s a bad look for politicians who purport to be representing the interests of local residents. If elected officials prefer to run for cover rather than confront tough questions about their performance, they’re in the wrong line of work.

Yet turning a blind eye appears to be the primary accomplishment of this board in recent years — and taxpayers are the worse for it.

Since 2017, four different county departments have been touched by scandal, including allegations of sexual harassment in the public defender’s office; a Henderson constable who pleaded guilty to stealing county funds; a coroner who claimed fake degrees, apparently double-dipped on vacation time and refused to abide by numerous court decisions on open records; and a public administrator’s office in which employees complained to county officials they didn’t feel safe under the leadership of Robert Telles, now charged with murder.

The common theme in all this dysfunction is the failure of well-paid county brass — including the commissioners. Clark County deputy manager Jeff Wells was responsible for each of the above offices. The county moved with all the alacrity of a snail when first confronted in 2020 with objections about Mr. Telles. County officials also abetted Coroner John Fudenberg, since retired, when he insisted on fighting judicial rulings demanding he release certain autopsy reports, a losing battle that ultimately cost taxpayers $167,000. Mr. Kane also reports that Mr. Wells initially defended the Henderson constable after RJ reports revealed his illicit activity.

County Manager Yolanda King is retiring in November, and Mr. Wells should follow her out the door. Their replacements should have a deep allegiance to transparency, accountability and open government. The voters have the ultimate say on the county commissioners, who clearly need to re-evaluate their commitment to performing the jobs they were elected to do, which is to represent county taxpayers while overseeing the most powerful local government in the state. And you can’t do that while cowering beneath your designer desk.

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