Friday, Oct. 10, 2003 | 11:12 a.m.
The union representing Clark County workers today filed a complaint with the Nevada Ethics Commission in an effort to remove Clark County Recorder Fran Deane from office.
Service Employees International Union Local 1107 filed seven charges with the ethics commission, among them that Deane, who took office in January, tried to personally profit from her office, granted preferential treatment to the property title companies that supported her campaign last year. She even waived required fees for those title companies, the complaint alleges.
The allegations stem from the highly publicized controversies that have affected the recorder's offices over the summer.
"The message is for Fran Deane: Do what's best for the taxpayers, the employees in the office and the public which relies on the use of the recorder's office, and resign," said Maryanne Salm, Local 1107 political director. Absent a resignation, the union is asking the ethics commission to investigate the charges and ultimately, to force her to leave office through court action.
"We're asking the commission on ethics to take immediate action and initiate an investigation as soon as possible," Salm said.
Some county commissioners and county employees have also said they would like Deane to step down from her office, but she has refused.
Stacey Jennings, ethics commission executive director, did not return phone calls this morning. Union representatives said the commission should do more than fine Deane, which it can do if the commission finds wrongdoing.
The commission also can refer the issue to District Court. If the court sustains a finding of malfeasance, the court can strip Deane of her position. If that happened, the Clark County Commission would appoint a replacement.
Deane said this morning that she still has strong support from the title companies that bring most of the work to her office. Beyond recording ownership of property, a crucial component of buying a house or other real estate, Deane's office also works with personal documents such as military discharge papers and marriage certifications.
Deane said a county audit of her office due to be released later this month will settle some of the complaints directed at her and her office. The audit, requested by the county manager's office, will look at issues of preferential treatment, among others.
"I have submitted to the audit process to make an assessment of what is working and doesn't work in the office in an effort to improve services," Deane said. "The audit will reveal that there is parity across the board for my customers.
"I'm cooperating with whatever investigative authority wants to look at my office," she said. "I will continue to do so because there's nothing to hide."
Although Deane said today that her office no longer grants preferential treatment to title companies, Stotik and several employees from the recorder's office disagreed. They said title companies and some government agencies continue to receive priority service over members of the public.
SEIU field representative Mark Stotik said, for example, that title companies are allowed to present their requests via fax, an option not open to the general public.
The union represents about 60 workers in the recorder's office and has charged that Deane has created a hostile work environment for the employees. Deane has said that most of the office's employees support her.
In July, Assistant Recorder Dan Hoffman publicly revealed Deane's abortive plans to set up a for-profit company to sell access to his office's public records over the Internet.
Deane's proposed company could have competed with the county itself, which has a $5 million contract with a company to computerize and validate the office's documents and ultimately post them for free online.
Deane said after the news of her proposed company came out that her concern was the cost and ability of Virginia-based AmCad to provide the Internet access. She said she tried to block AmCad's installation, not because her company would benefit but because of her concerns about the cost of the work.
Deane noted at the time that Clark County Title Service, which provides documentation to professional title companies, already has computerized files of property documents. The independent company provides title search services for title companies.
Last month, Hoffman announced he would leave the office, asked the county to find him another position outside of Deane's supervision and requested whistle-blower protection. He has since been assigned to the county's business licensing department.
Comment from the County Manager's Office, which has tangled with Deane since the recorder cut off public access to her office phones for three weeks in March, was muted this morning.
"We have not seen a copy of the ethics complaint," county spokesman Erik Pappa said. "However, the concerns in the recorder's office have been well documented and the ethics commission is the appropriate venue to address these matters.
"Whenever we've had concerns with the recorder's office, we've referred them to the District Attorney's office, or talked to Ms. Deane directly, or asked for an audit to address them," Pappa said.
Stotik said the controversies affecting the recorder's office are proof that the position should be appointed by the Clark County Commission, an independent body whose members are, like the recorder, elected.
"We really need this office to be appointed," Stotik said, explaining that the duties in the office are very specialized. "She's a good example of why the law should be changed."
The commission and county manager's office lobbied unsuccessfully during the last legislative session to have the law changed so that the recorder was appointed.