Las Vegas Sun

August 16, 2022

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After questions about $500-an-hour attorney, Water District looks for new one

For the first time in 20 years, the Las Vegas Valley Water District is going to put out to bid a lucrative legal contract.

The district's board of directors agreed to put out a request for other attorneys interested in working on bond issues for the agency.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak spearheaded the move after expressing astonishment last month that attorney John Swenseid had done the bond work for 20 years and the district never sought other bids.

Swenseid's contract rose from $175 an hour 17 years ago to $500 an hour (which Swenseid reduced 10 percent voluntarily to $450) with almost no paperwork documenting the increases over the years.

Pat Mulroy said her former finance director, Carey Casey, who died in June, had simply written letters of agreement between himself and Swenseid. Further, she said the Water District was pleased with Swenseid because he would always do his work under estimates.

The problem with that praise, Sisolak said after the meeting, is that Swenseid "came in under his own estimates."

"So if he comes in under the estimate that he came up with, then it means he's doing a good job," Sisolak said. "That is totally unacceptable.

"When there is no competitive process and the counsel makes their own estimate, then they come in under that estimate, it is obviously in their own personal best interest to make an unrealistically high estimate so they will come in below it."

The only commissioner to disagree with putting the contract out to bid was Tom Collins, who said you stick with a good thing when you have it.

"If you've got a horse that's winning every race, you stay on that horse," he said. "When you've‚ got the best guy doing it, let's try not to run them off."

Sisolak responded: "Sometimes, there's a new horse that comes up."

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