Las Vegas Sun

September 28, 2022

Currently: 108° — Complete forecast

How soon is not too soon to return as a consultant?

Clark County school officials are trying to figure out how to handle the district's brain drain.

Good people with years of experience are leaving and taking their institutional knowledge with them. It happens all the time, in civil service and in corporate America.

Some of them want to come back as paid consultants, and there's debate over how soon to welcome their return.

The School District has a policy against hiring former employees as consultants within a year because such sudden returns might suggest a sweetheart deal.

By enforcing a 12-month cooling-off period, the district seeks to negate such criticism.

The School Board can allow exceptions to the policy.

To the consternation of some, those exceptions to the cooling-off period have become the rule. And now the School Board is thinking of cracking down.

"I'm concerned by this trend of people coming to us with consulting contracts virtually before they're even retired," School Board President Ruth Johnson said.

Also at issue is whether the district should better prepare for the departure of valuable old-timers rather than rely on hiring the same people as consultants to fill their own gap.

"We've taken advantage of their knowledge for 35 years when we should have prepared a little more toward their eventual departure," Johnson said.

Clark County Schools Superintendent Walt Rulffes says he is trying to address the problem.

Yet, there are occasional circumstances when the specific skills of an individual are needed to complete a project, he said, and it's more cost-effective to hire the former employee for a limited contract.

However, "contracting for services with former employees would require thorough scrutiny to be justified in the future," Rulffes said Thursday.

The cooling-off regulation has been in place since 1989. The intent was to guard against former employees using the inside track to win consulting jobs, said Bill Hoffman, senior counsel for the district. "After a year, that influence is probably diminished enough that the contract can be approved on its own merits," Hoffman said.

Las Vegas, Henderson and Clark County do not have similar policies on hiring former employees as consultants. But county and Las Vegas employees must wait 12 months before representing outsiders doing business with those entities.

The debate was triggered March 8, when the School Board was asked to approve a $24,000 consulting contract for George Ann Rice, whose official retirement date as associate superintendent of human resources was the next day.

The deal, which would have run from March 9 to June 30, called for Rice Consulting Service LLC to work on the district's ongoing teacher housing initiative and create partnerships with the Nevada System of Higher Education.

At the meeting Johnson said she could not support the hiring, but not because of issues related to Rice's performance. Rather, Johnson said, the appearance of cronyism was enough to dissuade her support, and she had concerns about the validity of the housing initiative, which has foundered since its inception.

As for how the deal might appear to the public, Johnson said, "It just feels like we are having employees leave us being set up for a consulting contract. I don't want that to be the case. I want to avoid even the perception of that."

Rice planned to retire in December after 35 years with the district, but delayed her departure at Rulffes' request.

At the School Board meeting, Rulffes said he understood Johnson's concerns but that Rice's skills were needed. Rice has been "the heart and soul" of the outreach efforts to the state's higher-education leaders, and the housing initiative will "certainly wane" without her, Rulffes said.

"These are really specialized services that aren't readily available and would require a lot of training to get up to speed," Rulffes said. "This is a transition arrangement . It's not permanent. It's only to get us by until we can get someone else oriented in those areas."

A motion to accept Rice's contract failed on a 4-3 vote. A request by staff to reconsider the deal was pulled from a later School Board agenda.

In the past year the School Board has approved almost a dozen such contracts for recently retired employees. Dusty Dickens, who retired last summer as director of zoning and demographics, will receive as much as $22,000 for her consulting work. The School Board, which holds the broadcasting license for Vegas PBS Channel 10, also approved paying Impact Communications LLC $48,000 in grant money to keep "Nevada Week in Review" and "Capital Issues" on the air through June 30. Mitch Fox, the longtime program host, retired in December after more than 28 years with the station and is now a manager at Impact Communications.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy