Las Vegas Sun

August 22, 2019

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New member of governor’s cabinet drew two state paychecks

TIMELINE:

  • July 2007 - Gov. Jim Gibbons appoints Frank Woodbeck to the Nevada Commission on Economic Development.
  • February 2009 - While on the commission, Woodbeck signs consulting contract with the state’s Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation for green initiatives.
  • October 2009 - Woodbeck takes full-time job with the Commission on Economic Development to oversee the Las Vegas office and workforce initiatives.
  • October 2009 - Woodbeck seeks opinion from the Ethics Commission on propriety of consulting for DETR while an Economic Development Commission employee.
  • December 2009 - Ethics Commission votes 6-1 that Woodbeck can keep the consulting contract and work for the state full-time because it is a pre-existing contract. Commission members warn, however, that he should return to them if the “scope of work” changes.
  • February 2011 - Consulting contract with DETR terminated.
  • September 2011 - Sandoval appoints Woodbeck as DETR director.

The newly appointed director of the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation held down two state jobs last fiscal year, earning almost as much as the governor.

Frank Woodbeck, who will join Gov. Brian Sandoval’s cabinet Monday, was, from July 2010 to March, both the full-time Southern Nevada director of the state’s Commission on Economic Development and a paid contract consultant to the state on “green jobs” training, according to records obtained by the Las Vegas Sun.

His economic development job paid almost $82,000; and from July 2010 to March the state paid $57,700 to Manpower Inc., which paid Woodbeck for his consulting work, according to state records.

Manpower is a staffing company that provides temporary employees to state government. And agency directors are given wide latitude in choosing who Manpower hires for a specific position.

Woodbeck said he worked nights and weekends on the contract job with the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation.

“I put in 60- to 70-hour weeks,” he said. “Anyone who knows me, works with me, knows what kind of hours I put in.”

The consulting contract ended in February, when Woodbeck said the work ended. That was also the same time Sandoval’s office was pressuring the department to cut back on its consulting contracts.

Sandoval named Woodbeck this month to head the department. The agency’s most visible role is paying unemployment benefits.

The governor’s office received an anonymous letter last week, apparently written by employees inside the department, expressing concern about Woodbeck’s holding a full-time state job and doing state consulting work. Woodbeck’s contract, as well as contracts held by others, made the department “a laughing stock, and full of waste and abuses,” the letter claimed.

The letter, signed “Ethical State Employees,” requested that the Sandoval administration investigate the issue or they would go to the media.

During the 2009 and 2011 sessions, lawmakers passed bills to curb the use of consultants and contractors, particularly work done by current or recently retired state workers.

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, who sponsored the legislation, said so-called “double dipping” leads to legitimate questions about whether employees are adequately doing their full-time state jobs. She said such arrangements also give a skewed view of the number of positions agencies need to fulfill their duties.

“I think we have to be very sensitive to public perception,” Smith said.

Her most recent bill on the subject, passed this year, prevents current or recently retired state employees from contracting with the state unless it’s approved in a public meeting.

A 2009 audit by the Legislative Counsel Bureau found 250 former and current state workers providing services to the state, at a cost of $11.6 million in fiscal 2008 and 2009.

The audit also found some irregularities. For example, one contractor/employee logged 25 hours of work in a single day and consultants got paid without written contracts. The audit also found that the state lacked controls to ensure contractors were not working when they were supposed to be doing their full-time jobs. The audit did not single out employees by name.

Woodbeck’s contract wouldn’t be the first DETR pact to prompt questions.

Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly had a $60,000-a-year contract with the agency to provide community relations on “green initiatives.” That contract, which also went through Manpower, was canceled in May 2009 after media reports about the contract raised questions about a potential conflict with his position as an elected official.

The department was unable to produce documentation of Woodbeck’s consulting work Tuesday. State law generally prohibits state workers from contracting with other state agencies. But the law is silent on whether employees can retain pre-existing consulting agreements, as Woodbeck did.

In an October 2009 letter to the Nevada Commission on Ethics, Deputy Attorney General Shane Chesney wrote: “It may be the case that this arrangement complies with the letter of the law (or not) but not the spirit of the law.”

At the suggestion of Chesney and others, Woodbeck asked the Commission on Ethics for an advisory opinion in October 2009 — after he had accepted the full-time position with DETR.

The commission ruled in favor of Woodbeck, 6-1, because the contract was in place before he was hired. But commissioners warned that any change in his consulting work should be brought back to the commission, according to a transcript of the proceedings. (Woodbeck agreed to make public a transcript of the confidential proceedings.)

“If his contract with Manpower and/or DETR changes, it is a whole new ballgame, you are starting from scratch,” said Ethics Commissioner Gregory Gale.

Woodbeck, in an interview with the Sun, acknowledged that his work for DETR took on a broader scope from when he was hired in February and when he went to the Ethics Commission in October.

He originally aimed to be part of the “green jobs” effort, noting the federal stimulus was being debated in Washington at the time. The “scope of work” submitted to the agency proposed “research and fact-finding with the major stakeholders in the re-employment and employment expansion efforts.” Woodbeck said he coordinated efforts to secure a $6 million “State Energy Sector Partnership” grant and apply for other grants that the state did not receive.

Woodbeck said his work eventually expanded through verbal agreements with former DETR Director Larry Mosley, including working with higher-education institutions and assisting a deputy director of the agency.

“I took the burden from other people in the agency who had their own work to get done,” Woodbeck said. “It was a high-stress time for the agency, when unemployment was rising rapidly. I had various assignments.”

Mike Skaggs, executive director of the Commission on Economic Development, called Woodbeck “the consummate professional.” Skaggs wanted Woodbeck to be the Las Vegas operations manager because of his relationship with DETR, he said.

“He was the perfect guy to help build that bridge between us and DETR,” Skaggs said. Thanks in part to Woodbeck’s work, Skaggs said, the agency can now quickly provide to prospective businesses a list of qualified but unemployed workers in Nevada.

Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval, said the governor was unaware of the contract when he selected Woodbeck as DETR director.

The governor’s office was investigating the matter this week, including reviewing the Ethics Commission transcript, Erquiaga said. “At this point, it doesn’t appear that anything is wrong or there’s any problem with his appointment as director,” he said.

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