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July 24, 2014

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With Metro workers watching, sheriff candidates square off in debate

The Metro Police unions put Clark County sheriff candidates in the hot seat Monday night, peppering them with questions during a two-plus hour debate at Cashman Center.

For the 400 people in attendance, many of them Metro employees, it was a chance to hear answers to some of their most pressing questions, such as: How do the candidates feel about culture change within the department? How would they boost employee morale? And deal with the More Cops sales tax?

For the leading sheriff candidates — former Las Vegas Township Constable Robert “Bobby G” Gronauer, former Assistant Sheriff Ted Moody, former Metro Capt. Larry Burns and current Assistant Sheriff Joe Lombardo — it was a chance to give their best sales pitches to the rank-and-file officers.

Lombardo, who has raised the most campaign funds, according to financial disclosures released last month, opened the forum with an admission: He was taken aback by a friend’s assessment that he can come off gruff and bully-like.

“That really discouraged me,” Lombardo said. He attributed those perceived traits to his intense passion for the department.

Slight nuances and larger divides began emerging among the candidates — three of whom served together on current Sheriff Doug Gillespie’s executive staff — with the question posed about changing department culture.

Moody, who resigned in protest of Gillespie’s decision not to fire an officer, advocated for an environment that “embraces innovation and transparency” to reduce the use of deadly force. His two-minute answer referenced “deadly force” at least three times and ended with him voicing support for a fact-based process to review such incidents.

“There isn’t a shortcut,” he said. “There’s not an easy way out.”

Lombardo, who is endorsed by Gillespie, said the department needs to be more accountable and in touch with the community, but he stopped short of backing any large overhaul of Metro culture.

“I don’t believe we’re broken,” he said.

While all four agreed the department could benefit from a morale boost, their opinions varied about the contentious More Cops sales tax, which Gillespie has argued is necessary to help close Metro’s projected $30 million budget gap. Four proposals have failed to muster the necessary Clark County Commission votes.

Burns and Gronauer touted their relationship-building personalities as the key to winning support from the Clark County Commission. Gronauer, a three-term constable and former Metro sergeant, said that approach led to him being able to “get everything I asked for” in past dealings with county government.

Tired of Metro “groveling for funding” from the commission, Lombardo presented an alternative — earmarking a percentage of the county sales tax for the department.

Moody, who spoke out against the More Cops sales tax during a commission meeting in January, reiterated that he couldn’t support a “bad plan and bad tax.”

The candidates found common ground again on the topic of filling funded vacancies, which the current administration didn’t do as a cautionary move in light of looming budget deficits. Several county commissioners, however, have taken issue with Metro’s $140 reserve fund.

All candidates supported filling funded vacancies and, thus, putting more officers back on Las Vegas streets.

The lesson learned, Burns said, was “shame on us for being fiscally responsible.”

“Our hearts were right in that whole thing,” he said. “How pathetic it is that we find ourselves in this position.”

Burns, the apparent favorite among patrol officers, received the loudest applause at the end of the forum, which did not allow the use of audio or video-recording devices. Members of Metro unions representing officers, supervisors and civilian employees were able to submit questions in the weeks leading up to the event.

This was the second debate. On Saturday, the Libertarian Party hosted a debate at the El Cortez, which focused on Constitution-related questions. Burns, Moody, and Gronauer attended, along with candidate Gordon Martines, a former Metro detective. Lombardo did not attend.

The official filing period for sheriff candidates begins March 3. The field will be narrowed to two candidates after the June 10 primary election.

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