Las Vegas Sun

October 19, 2017

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CCSN probe didn’t include key insight

Two people who could have shed more light on allegations of influence-peddling by CCSN officials during the 2003 legislative session were never questioned by the investigator.

Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, and John Pappageorge, the university system's lobbyist, said they were never approached by private investigator Jeffrey Cohen. Both are mentioned in key portions of the 1,026-page report presented to the Board of Regents.

"I was never approached by anyone," said Giunchigliani, who is also a spokeswoman for the Community College of Southern Nevada. "I still am stumped as to why I wasn't interviewed."

In the report, a copy of which was obtained by the Sun, Giunchigliani's name was mentioned along with allegations of circumventing the regents by working on a bill to create four-year degrees. Pappageorge was mentioned by one person as a witness to allegations that a public official made threats to another lobbyist.

Although Giunchigliani was given notice that her name appeared in the report about CCSN's lobbying activities and hiring practices, Pappageorge said he was surprised he was in the report.

"I'm a little bit upset that no one bothered to mention this to me," Pappageorge said. The two offered different versions of events that were presented to the Board of Regents during closed session meetings held on Nov. 17 and 20. During those meetings the report -- a compilation of unsworn statements, letters, e-mails and other documents -- was read to the board.

The document led regents to vote 7-6 to oust CCSN President Ron Remington and return him to a faculty position. Regents also voted 9-4 to demote John Cummings, Remington's adviser and lobbyist.

The document is the result of a complaint lodged by Topazia "Briget" Jones in August. Jones was claims she was harassed before her superiors attempted to fire her. Chancellor Jane Nichols intervened in the termination and ordered an investigation.

The chancellor's efforts to settle a discrimination suit filed by a lawmaker's wife made it into the report. Zelda Williams, the wife of Assemblyman Wendell Williams, D-Las Vegas, collected $49,900 during the legislative session for a suit that she filed because racial remarks were made about her by a CCSN administrator.

Cummings told the investigator that he tried to be an intermediary between university system lawyers until Williams approached him and said, "I didn't need you anyway," Cummings said. "I've got the chancellor, and I have Pappageorge. Pappageorge took care if it for me."

Pappageorge said he did help only by telling the chancellor to settle the case.

"The chancellor indicated we were going to have a settlement and I said, 'Gee that's great,' " he said.

But Cummings makes a more serious allegation against Williams. He claimed that he was told through Pappageorge and Michael Chambliss, director of the city of Las Vegas' neighborhood services where Williams used to work, that Williams would subpoena him and have him testify about CCSN's hiring before the Interim Education Committee if Jones was not promoted from a secretary to professional staff.

"Mr. Pappageorge further informed me that I could save myself the trouble if I would simply make that happen," Cummings said.

Pappageorge said he does not remember that conversation happening and Chambliss would not comment on the issue. Williams could not be reached for comment.

"If John recalls it, fine. If he doesn't recall it, there's nothing I can do," Cummings said. "It just holds significance for me. Pappageorge was just alerting me about what Wendell was about to do."

The report also attempted to tag Cummings as the ghostwriter behind a bill to create four-year degrees at CCSN.

Nichols told the investigator that she "arrived at the conclusion that this bill was being -- had been and was being promoted by Mr. Cummings and I said to President Remington at that point in time, you have -- if you -- you cannot be promoting this, the Legislature putting four-year degrees at CCSN and it could cost you your job."

That part of the report was a key in the regents' decision. One allegation against Remington and Cummings is that they circumvented the regents by pushing for the bill without the regents' approval.

But Giunchigliani said she was the one who supplied the language of the bill.

Giunchigliani said Cummings was approached by Williams and asked to write "talking points" that could help him draft Assembly Bill 511. The bill would have created four-year programs in nursing and teaching.

"I looked at what John wrote and said that doesn't make sense and I wrote something up," Giunchigliani said. "That was the language that never made it in. It's as simple as that."

Giunchigliani said she has yet to see the investigation where she is named and still has a request pending.