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May 21, 2019

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Clark County:

Two newcomers just might shake up commission

They’re enough to alter balance, observers say

Updated Friday, Jan. 2, 2009 | 1:30 p.m.

For better or worse, the fact is that a few people can make a big difference.

Politically, Southern Nevada sees that every 10 years or so. It wasn’t too long ago, for instance, the federal court convictions of four former Clark County commissioners made that body the most ridiculed in the state.

Since then, the commission, which oversees an annual budget of $5.9 billion, has gone about its work in relative calm under the chairmanship of Rory Reid.

“Rory set a new tenor that they’d be less sensational, fewer headlines but more about getting things done, more nuts-and-bolts dealing with problems instead of getting headlines and getting people agitated,” said Dan Hart, a political consultant who was hired in 2008 to lobby for Clark County.

So how will Reid and the county fare when two new commissioners take office Monday? Some onlookers expect a change in the county’s most important and powerful local government — not for the worse, but possibly for the more active.

Both Larry Brown, who replaced Chip Maxfield, and Steve Sisolak, Bruce Woodbury’s replacement, have long careers in public service. Brown was on the Las Vegas City Council since 1997; Sisolak served on the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents since 1998.

Knowing how government works will help them hit the ground running — at least in the bureaucratic sense of the word, which isn’t typically a run so much as a jog between stops and starts.

Terry Murphy, political consultant and behind-the-scenes operative for many of Clark County’s powerful people, sees the addition of this duo as “changing everything.”

“Two new personalities can really shake things up,” she said. “Larry is very experienced with government, and Sisolak is going to want to learn everything there is to know about everything that comes before him.”

That has been Sisolak’s stock-in-trade as a regent. He asks questions, not something staff members always want, especially during open meetings.

A high-ranking county official worried about that, hoping Sisolak “doesn’t get pigeonholed and made to feel like it’s wrong.”

Sisolak laughs at the notion — not because he’s impervious to peer pressure, but because that’s what he experienced when he first became a regent.

“They used to do that, they’d say, ‘You’re asking for too much information,’ ” he says. “And I learned, if anything solidified my position, it was to ask questions.”

When people were reticent, he’d ask more.

“If I get the sense that someone is hiding something, I’ll start delving and poking even more,” he says. “I’m there to represent constituents, and together I think we can accomplish an awful lot.”

Sisolak also has had some firsthand experience with county disputes — courtroom experience. He was at odds with the county’s McCarran International Airport for years over a land-use case. He won that fight and collected millions of dollars from the airport.

So when matters come before the commission regarding McCarran — which is run by the same person, Randall Walker, with whom Sisolak previously clashed — it stands to reason that the new commissioner will be skeptical.

Brown may be similarly ready to take on the Culinary Union. Although Brown is known mainly as a careful monitor of the budget and his demeanor on the City Council was more reserved than forceful, he came out swinging when the powerful union opposed his run for the commission.

It all adds up to an expectation that it is going to be noisier down in the County Government Center, but with added substance, when the two commission freshmen take their seats.

(Editor's note: This story has been corrected. In an earlier version, the wrong year was given for when Larry Brown started serving on the city council.)

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