Las Vegas Sun

May 30, 2024

Answers: Clark County:

For Water Authority, $500 an hour seems A-OK

Steve Sisolak

Steve Sisolak

Pat Mulroy

Pat Mulroy

Shari Buck

Shari Buck

The Southern Nevada Water Authority will begin scrutinizing the wages paid to an attorney who works for the agency on bond matters, after a board member expressed astonishment at the way the Water Authority keeps track of its money.

Who raised the issue?

Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, one of seven Water Authority board members. The others are North Las Vegas Mayor Shari Buck; county commissioners Mary Beth Scow and Tom Collins; Las Vegas Councilman Bob Coffin; Henderson Councilman Sam Bateman; and Boulder City Councilman Duncan McCoy.

At the board’s Sept. 15 meeting, Sisolak dug into a matter about the refinancing of a bond through the Water Authority’s “bank” — the Las Vegas Valley Water District. The deal would increase a bond from $300 million to $450 million, but avail the authority to lower interest rates.

The Water Authority hires private attorney John Swendseid to handle bond matters.

Sisolak then asked how Swendseid’s pay had reached $500 an hour. The only paperwork he had seen was from when the attorney won the Water Authority contract 17 years ago. Back then, Swendseid’s rate was $175 an hour.

How, Sisolak wondered, did it get to $500? (It has since been lowered to $450.)

How did Pat Mulroy, the Water Authority’s general manager, answer?

She said the agreement was between Swendseid and the late Cary Casey, the Water Authority’s finance director who died of cancer in June.

“Mr. Casey, I can only assume, knew what the rates were, was comfortable with the rates ... and was comfortable moving forward,” she said. “Am I speculating? Yes … but I relied on the director of finance, his knowledge of the market and the bond counsel market to make those determinations.”

But Sisolak said the Water Authority paid Swendseid more per hour than other public agencies in Clark County.

“This is about $3 million worth of invoices and there is no backup (documentation) … It’s about the taxpayers, the ratepayers’ right to know what the fees are.”

What did other board members say?

Buck appeared to try to get Sisolak to shut up, asking Water Authority staff if his questions fit within the scope of the agenda item being considered.

Someone replied he had a right to ask questions.

Bateman and Coffin also expressed some agitation.

With Sisolak voting no, the board adopted the refinancing and agreed to examine the legal fees at a future meeting.

•••

Speaking of the Water Authority board, Bateman works for Clark County as a lawyer in the district attorney’s office. Bateman also serves on the Southern Nevada Health District board.

When he attends those meetings, representing Henderson, is he also on the county clock?

Since Bateman’s late-June swearing-in, the Health District held meetings July 28 and Aug. 25; Water Authority meetings were July 21, Aug. 18 and Sept. 15.

County records obtained by the Sun indicate Bateman filed “leave” documentation for two hours on July 21. He did not file slips for the other dates. He earns $50.50 an hour. When asked, Bateman called it an oversight.

“I got behind in putting them in,” he said.

He has now filed leave slips for all the days he attended those meetings.

Why is it even important?

In 2003, two county workers who served as legislators were fired for similar offenses. Back then, Kelvin Atkinson (now a state senator) and Kathy McClain, both in the Assembly, earned county salaries while working in the Legislature in Carson City. (The Legislature meets for four months every two years.)

An arbitrator decided the two didn’t intend to defraud the county and both were allowed to return to county work.

Months later the county adopted a new policy: “No county employee, while serving as an elected official, shall be eligible for any form of paid compensation from the county, including accumulated leave time.”

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