Las Vegas Sun

February 20, 2024

Columnist Jon Ralston: Timid silence permeates scandals

It's always easier to lie down than stand up, so pathetically prostrate in the face of unseemly behavior by comrades is the default choice for those who almost always choose the path of least resistance.

The elected elite are bound by an informal union that, like a real labor organization, too often would rather protect a bad apple than expose the rot. So it surprises me not that Assemblyman Wendell Williams has been insulated by a conspiracy of silence by a confederacy of wimps and abetted by two government entities that are complicit in the ongoing cover-up.

You can keep all your innocent-until-proven-guilty and there-but-for-the grace-of-God-go-I nostrums. This is just de rigueur for a risk-averse, even cowardly political class motivated by the same self- protection instinct that allows hypocritical county commissioners to wish Mary Kincaid-Chauncey the best on her legal woes while whispering to each other that she should step down as chairwoman if she is indicted.

And while the political plights of Kincaid-Chauncey and Williams may be similar, they are not the same. One, Kincaid-Chauncey, deserves the benefit of the doubt; the other, Williams, forfeited that benefit long ago.

For a time, Williams looked like he might be on track to be the first African-American speaker in a state once known as the Mississippi of the West. Now he seems destined to be remembered as just one in a depressing line of promising politicians who succumbed to personal and or professional weaknesses.

My print colleagues barely have space for any news in their recent stories about Williams because they have to devote so much space to background about his past transgressions. Failure to pay fees for filing campaign reports late. An arrest warrant issued because he failed to appear to answer charges that he was zipping around in his Z4. And now, the unfolding story of his relationship with a Community College employee, Topazia Jones, who a lobbyist, John Cummings, says Williams importuned him to promote. Then when the Williams protegee was about to be fired, the system, in the form of Chancellor Jane Nichols, intervened.

Why won't someone say what already is obvious? That the community college only hired Jones because of her relationship with Williams, who wanted her in Carson City. And now when she, like any other employee who wasn't doing the job, was about to be fired, she is protected -- only because she is close to an assemblyman.

From Nichols on down, they can cite all the legal mumbo jumbo they want about how they have to go through proper procedures. But everyone can see what has happened here -- it is transparent.

And now that Williams also has been found to have been paid $12,000 for his city of Las Vegas job while he was in Carson City and charging the city for hundreds of dollars in calls on a government-issued cell phone during the session, the folks down on Stewart Avenue are covering for him, too.

Williams, who was notorious for his tardiness and absences in Carson City, is being portrayed by his city masters as having earned every penny despite the lack of documentation. Doing what? He works for Neighborhood Services, so what neighborhoods was he servicing while he was 500 miles away?

Williams' city staff superiors struggled to find any excuses and wondered if discipline was warranted. Mayor Oscar Goodman had the temerity to try to use the discussion to criticize public employees serving in the Legislature, all the more laughable because the city often has relied on its employees turned lawmakers.

If the city and the university system's wagon-circling wasn't offensive enough, we hear nary a peep from Williams' elected colleagues. What are they waiting for?

Then again, these are the same folks who allowed a leering assemblyman named Mark Manendo to prosper, even promoting him to a prominent chairmanship (Government Affairs) and refusing to do anything even after they received complaints. And they are the same group that portrayed a state senator named Maurice Washington, once under investigation by law enforcement, as the second coming of Martin Luther King.

And it's not just state lawmakers who are guilty of this kind of craven behavior.

The same county commissioners who now fret (privately, of course) about the shining image of the board being tainted by an indicted chairwoman once saw no problem in keeping Yvonne Atkinson Gates in the top spot despite her Guinness Book record ethics violations.

The same City Council, led by Goodman, that once stripped (without comment, of course) Michael McDonald of his mayor pro tem title because of ethics problems has been silent as Michael Mack has sunk deeper into the ethics quicksand.

Ultimately, it comes down to the same virus that has infected the body politic and become epidemic in proportion. It is the same affliction that allows some Republican lawmakers to boast about being anti-tax when they would have voted for the largest tax increase in history, if it were only $600 million or $700 million. And the same disease that allowed some Democratic lawmakers to insist they were advocating for school kids and regular folks when they were shilling for gaming and labor.

Yes, it's fear that causes them to close ranks. Yes, it's disingenuousness that renders them mute. But mostly, it's a lack of leadership.