District attorney explains liaison ethics question

Responding to several comments by members of the public, and at least two letters to the editor in the Lincoln County Record, District Attorney Daniel Hooge spoke to the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners on Monday to clear up what he called a “misunderstanding of the law.”

Letters sent to the editor, and calls to commission members, have complained the hiring of retired Lincoln County Sheriff’s deputy Gary Davis to be a liaison, under a critical needs provision, between the county and the Nevada Test and Training Range, after he had retired from a position of authority, has been part of a premeditated effort to circumvent the ethics law.

“Nothing in the law,” Hooge said, “prohibits Davis from having this job. And what the critical needs position does is act as a pension waiver, whereby you can continue to receive PERS. It is not approving employment of a particular person as some people think it to be.”

Sheriff Kerry Lee also told what he believed is the full story at the meeting. He said about 18 months ago, he was on a teleconference call with the state Ethics Commission Board to ask if a former county employee could contract with the county for the liaison position. He said he was told by board members he didn’t need to talk with them, it wasn’t something they could tell the county to do, instead they should pursue a critical needs provision for the position.

After seeking legal advice from the district attorney, Lee presented the matter to the board of county commissioners, which approved the critical needs request last December, and Davis was hired as the liaison person. Lee said critical needs is already done by some Nevada state agencies, several school districts, plus cities and counties, including Clark County, and is not illegal.

Davis is able to work as a part time employee, earning not more than $24,000 a year, and working not more than 1,039 hours per year, which will allow him to continue to receive his PERS pension.

“We’ve done this twice before with another position,” Lee said. “And I never heard complaints from anybody then, so why now? I went to the ethics board myself to find out it this would be legal. We wanted to go about it the right way. However, request for a contract was not granted because of a 4-4 vote by the ethics commission board, and we were told it really wasn’t necessary, and we should pursue the critical needs idea instead.”

Hooge explained under Nevada law, signing contract for services with a retired former county employee until one year has passed, would be unethical. “However, you can ask the ethics board for a waiver, which is usually granted. It wasn’t granted in this case, because it wasn’t needed. So, it was made a private, critical needs employment. People are trying to make more out of this than there really is. The sheriff did exactly what I told him to do.”

Hooge continued, “The Sheriff followed the law to the T, and any indication that this is somehow underhanded is ridiculous. People will just twist it to be the way they want it to be.”

He explained further there is a huge difference between a contract and private employment. “They are two totally different things that I think people misunderstand and are trying to bring the two together.”

Lee said he did advertise in all the law enforcement agencies statewide for applicants to the position and received only one. “But when the person found out the position would only be part time, with no benefits, were no longer interested.”

Davis then remained as the most qualified person for the job because of his past experience and dealing with the NTTR. “I have dealt with them many times over the past 30 years,” he said.

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