Las Vegas Sun

August 18, 2022

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Email illustrates union’s campaign against NLV Council member

Richard Cherchio

Richard Cherchio

In a blunt email sent last year to some city employees, the North Las Vegas police union made clear its plan for the upcoming elections: The union would spend up to $100,000 to campaign against any council member who dared vote to lay off an officer.

The union made good on that promise. Councilman Richard Cherchio, who voted to lay off detention center officers and called on police and firefighters to agree to more wage concessions, lost his seat by a single vote after political action committees funded by police and fire unions spent heavily on the race.

The election is being disputed in court, but Cherchio’s challenger, Wade Wagner, has taken his seat on the City Council.

That elected officials’ votes on particular issues would affect the support they receive from interest groups — whether businesses or unions — isn’t surprising. But rarely are the consequences stated in such explicit terms beforehand.

“The PAC (Political Action Committee) recommended the union spend up to $100,000 if a City Council member votes to lay off officers (if that City Council person ran under the fact that public safety was their #1 priority),” wrote Tiffany Morey, the former union representative for the North Las Vegas Police Association, in an email sent Sept. 15.

Morey, who is no longer with the Police Department, sent the email from a city government email address. She could not be reached for comment.

Cherchio, who is seeking a new election because at least one ballot was improperly cast, said he remembers receiving the email. The email appears to be directed at other North Las Vegas police union members, although Cherchio said he received it directly from Morey.

“It surprised me that it would ever be put so blatantly,” said Cherchio, a Democrat and former president of his letter-carrier union who considers himself pro-labor.

Cherchio said he doesn’t believe he would have lost the election if the police and fire unions had not been so active in the race.

“They followed up on that (email) statement with money,” he said. “The seniors in my district, in particular, they were scaring the living crap out of them.”

Independent groups funded by police and fire unions sent mailers to voters in Cherchio’s district that pictured ski-masked men carrying crowbars and claimed that crime was up 30 percent — a claim Cherchio said is false. The police union has also erected billboards stating that city police can’t guarantee citizens’ safety because of budget cuts.

It’s unclear how much money the North Las Vegas Police Officers Association PAC eventually spent in the last election. Only a 2009 report was available on the secretary of state’s website, and no more recent reports for the PAC could be found on the North Las Vegas city clerk or Clark County websites.

The email sent by the police union was included in a complaint filed with the secretary of state’s office against two political action committees that targeted Cherchio with mailers — “Citizens for Responsible Leadership and Ethics” and “Concerned Officers Preserving Safety.” Both PACs filed late campaign finance reports, and paid fines to the state of $1,075 and $1,375, respectively.

Deputy Secretary of State Scott Gilles said the email does not appear to break any law. “The union is not limited as to what it spends on independent expenditures to oppose an individual during his candidacy for a particular office,” he said in a statement.

North Las Vegas has had its share of interesting politics over the years, with one man charged with registering drinkers at his bar’s address and the Republican Mayor Sheri Buck closely allied to the police and fire union, traditional Democratic supporters. (Neither Buck nor the city responded to a request for comment.)

But the latest episode comes as North Las Vegas, once one of the fastest growing cities in the country, is having trouble meeting payroll and facing the possibility of a state takeover of its finances.

One point of contention has been concessions for police and fire unions. Many police officers, for example, got merit raises this year.

Vili Fetapai, vice president of the North Las Vegas Police Officers Association, said the union was involved in the election to promote public safety.

“North Las Vegas is already highly taxed, overtaxed,” he said. The city “spent that money elsewhere, not to shore up what people ask for: People ask for public safety for their quality of life, not a new city hall and pet projects.”

He said the email stated “what they were doing behind closed doors. The only thing the union did is put it out front.”

He said police gave up scheduled cost-of-living increases, which saved the city $3.65 million.

He said it’s up to the council to negotiate.

“They have the citizens’ best interests in mind when they do their job,” he said. “Their job is to keep the citizens’ best interest in mind. Our job, as union negotiators, it to keep our members’ interest in mind.”

Cherchio said he had to vote for layoffs at the city’s detention center after North Las Vegas lost a federal agreement to house prisoners. He said he thought it was “reasonable” to ask public safety officials to take pay cuts — he suggested 5 percent — to save jobs.

Still, it appears the police did not spend $100,000 to win the election.

The Concerned Officers Preserving Safety PAC, which lists Fetapai as its resident agent, spent almost $10,000.

The Citizens for Responsible Leadership and Ethics got two $10,000 checks, one from North Las Vegas firefighters and one from North Las Vegas police. It paid Republican political consultant Ryan Erwin $19,950.

Erwin did not return a call for comment.

Wagner also received large donations from police and fire unions, including $10,000 from North Las Vegas police and $10,000 from both the Henderson Professional Firefighters Union and the International Association of Firefighters, and $7,500 from the Las Vegas firefighters union.

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