Monday, Nov. 7, 2011 | 4:53 p.m.
A seat on the Clark County Commission is a part-time job, with most of its members finding outside work to supplement their salaries, which start at $74,000 a year. But one commissioner thinks the outside work shouldn’t include consulting, lobbying or representing anyone or anything with business before governmental bodies in Nevada.
The policy — written by Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani — appears to be a response to the recent actions of Commissioner Tom Collins, who has caused minor controversy with his lobbying work.
Collins was briefly hired as a consultant by Veolia Transportation Services Inc., which is competing against another company, First Transit, for a $400 million Regional Transportation Commission bus contract. First Transit’s bid was $50 million less than Veolia’s but the commission’s board split on which bus operator to hire. A judge will decide who gets the contract. In an interview with the Sun, Collins said Veolia, which hired him through his business, Collins Consulting, wanted him to find out why RTC board members from rural communities had all voted for First Transit. (The County Commission’s representatives on the RTC board, Giunchigliani and Larry Brown, voted for Veolia.)
Collins told the Sun last month he dropped Veolia as a client — he had no other clients — after the company decided to change its strategy and didn’t need him to talk to rural board members. He said he had received clearance to do the consulting work from county attorneys and never received any money from Veolia.
Giunchigliani's proposal follows the Collins/Veolia episode, but she said it does not directly stem from it. She said she introduced the amendment to the county ethics code because “it just makes sense.”
“This makes it clear that we are employed as commissioners and commissioners should not be paid for lobbying,” she said. “You can talk to whomever you want to talk to, but not in a paid capacity.”
She said this commission has focused on ethical matters. Just three years ago, the commission adopted an amendment prohibiting county commissioners and management-level employees from lobbying any county agency for one year after leaving county jobs. It’s an issue other government agencies have grappled with recently as elected officials and former employees have sought lobbying and consulting work.
Collins could not be reached for comment. He was at a convention in London on Monday, representing the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which he chairs.
Commissioner Steve Sisolak expressed support for Giunchigliani’s amendment.
“It increases the transparency and disclosure of public officials and that’s what people want to know about,” he said. “Unless someone can show me where there’s a downside to it, I sure don’t see one.”
Commissioner Mary Beth Scow said she agrees. “I think it’s a good clarification,” she said.
Commission Chairwoman Susan Brager could not be reached for comment.
Collins’ forays into lobbying have become more frequent as his other business interests have fallen on hard times.
Collins told the Sun recently that he lost his business, Collins Power Service, which installed electric power lines, when the recession hit. His annual income dropped $200,000, he also said.
For a while last year, Collins was telling people that he had been living in a large storage box on some acreage in the Logandale area. But he said he only slept there occasionally, maybe 20 times from March through October, when he was working on the land. He now lives in one of his three homes on Decatur, which he shares with renters.
In 2010, Collins showed up in the state capital as a paid lobbyist, working for Tuffy Ranch LLC, a subsidiary of a company owned by developer Harvey Whittemore.
Whittemore wants to develop 40,000 acres in Coyote Springs and, in the process, sold some of his water rights to the Southern Nevada Water Authority for $25 million. Collins serves on the board of the authority, so questions arose about potential conflicts of interest, especially on votes related to Coyote Springs.
Collins did not violate any state or local ethics codes with his lobbying work.
Giunchigliani’s ethics amendment will be introduced and read into the record next week. Debate and possible action could come at the commission’s meeting Dec. 6.