Las Vegas Sun

September 16, 2021

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Answers: Clark County:

Water District contract sparks flap

Steve Sisolak

Steve Sisolak

County commissioners are growing increasingly frustrated that some taxpayer-supported agencies aren’t putting a high-enough priority in hiring Nevada-based companies for work in Clark County. Feeling the commissioners’ wrath this time was the Las Vegas Valley Water District, which usually meets just before the County Commission does.

“I’ve been talking about (hiring Nevada companies) for well over a year, and it still comes back, time and time again,” Commissioner Steve Sisolak said of the issue.

And what, specifically, was he talking about Tuesday?

The Water District wanted to hire a company for $65,000 to conduct a survey about the Springs Preserve and water quality, among other things. Problem is the company, Market Decisions Corp., is based in Portland, Ore. When Sisolak asked why the Water District insisted on hiring a company from out of state, the answer, essentially, was that it has always done it that way.

That wasn’t good enough.

What do you mean?

Sisolak and others say phone banks and marketing are among the few nongaming industries that Las Vegas does well. So why couldn’t the Water District hire someone local?

Julie Wilcox, a 17-year Water District employee and director of the money-bleeding, $250 million Springs Preserve, told Sisolak the district had used a local company until the principal died. The district also had done business for a long time with the Oregon company.

But she acknowledged that the district could hire a different company, because Market Decisions’ contract is renewable annually.

Answered Sisolak: “I’ve got 14 percent unemployed, I’ve got a lot of people in Clark County who could get paid (to do this work). These (contracts) are funded by ratepayers, citizens of Clark County. There are companies that have contacted me who do this work.”

Wilcox responded: “I hear what you’re saying, and we’ll get on this tomorrow morning to continue this search.” The job is going to be reopened to other potential bidders.

Sisolak seems to take aim often at the Water District, right?

After the meeting, the commissioner openly questioned many of the district’s contract dealings, suggesting cronyism in awarding contracts. That’s not the case, district spokesman said Scott Huntley said, adding that Market Decisions won the contract in 2006 against competing companies.

•••

It wasn’t all bad for the Water District, though. It earned kudos from commissioners for ending a costly contract with Chef Wolfgang Puck to operate a cafe at Springs Preserve and asking to sign a new contract with the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas.

Wolfgang Puck

Wolfgang Puck

What was wrong with the Puck deal?

Puck paid the district only if he surpassed $1 million in sales. Meanwhile, the oft-reported figure is that the district subsidized Puck’s Springs Cafe to the tune of about $600,000 annually. The Culinary Academy won the right to negotiate for a new contract.

What is the Culinary Academy?

It is a nonprofit training institute developed through a “joint labor management trust” that involves private business (usually casinos) and the Culinary and Bartenders unions. The Academy is not part of either union, company representatives said. Founded in 1993, its CEO is state Sen. Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas. The potential contract to operate the Springs Cafe calls for 30 full-time employees, plus about 100 paid externs from the academy who will train there for three to six months.

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