Emails reveal city officials discussing bending rules, even telling Reid's son to "bid high" for soccer tournament

Maybe the city of Las Vegas wasn’t trying to go out of its way to help Key Reid, simply because he’s the senator’s son.

Maybe Reid the Younger is right to be suspicious of how the city has allocated soccer fields in the past, especially because a three-year-old audit eviscerated the process.

And maybe Las Vegas officials, whipsawed by warring soccer factions that make animal rights activists look neutered, simply were trying to navigate an impossible situation complicated by a supplicant with a famous name.

But whatever the truth, what we know from scores of internal emails and documents that my “Ralston Reports” producer Dana Gentry obtained is that city officials talked about giving bid advice to Reid the Younger and bending the rules to accommodate his request to conduct an elite soccer tournament on a public field.

The language used in some of the emails, especially by Deputy Parks Director Lonny Zimmerman is striking in both its implication of corruption and obtuseness of language, as if he did not read the admonition that the communication could one day become public. His exchanges with Deputy City Manager Scott Adams, Neighborhood Services Director Stephen Harsin and consultant Damon Cobb reveal a city infrastructure intent on pleasing Reid in as sub rosa a way as possible, so as not to put the City Council into the middle of a political maelstrom and keep the elected officials in the Soccer Wars DMZ.

The emails and documents pull back the curtain on how government can work depending on who you are, even though none of the documents nor none of my reporting indicates Reid the Younger ever asked for any special treatment. His only concern seemed to be to break through a byzantine field allocation process that is dominated by the Nevada Youth Soccer Association, to which the city essentially has ceded the right to schedule games and tournaments.

But Soccer Wars aside, the city’s reaction to Reid’s request many months ago to host a pair of tournaments in the city prompted a flurry of activity as if God’s son had come calling. Even City Manager Betsy Fretwell seemed to realize how the email exchanges look.

“First and foremost, maintaining the integrity of our competitive processes is paramount,” Fretwell said in a statement. “The choice of words in the city staff e-mails about sports fields was not the best, and unfortunately has left the wrong impression. It is important to understand the context of those messages.  City staff was in the very difficult position of trying to correct a City Auditor finding that showed inconsistency in field allocation and poor cost recovery for the use of city fields. In addition, City Council gave direction to achieve more cost-effectiveness and greater equity in field use.  At the same time, the city was trying to balance the heavy demands for those fields from the competing soccer interests.  It is important to understand that the various soccer associations have accused the others of impropriety, with the city caught in the middle.  I believe the city will find a solution that balances all the needs of youth sports, and at the same time protects the field assets the taxpayers of Las Vegas have provided.”

The timeline laid out below illustrates just how eager to please Zimmerman & Co. were while also understanding they were in uncharted waters after that audit mandated they change their procedures. City officials made it as difficult as possible to piece this together after Gentry’s records request, providing 457 unsorted pages with dozens of extraneous and repetitive information.

Transparency without being transparent, releasing information while attempting obfuscation.  But I’ve pieced it together with the sequence of events and the incendiary emails highlighted below (Fair warning: I have not edited Zimmerman’s emails, which are a marvel of grammar and punctuation – or lack thereof).

This all began three years ago when that audit found what a briefing memo described thusly:

“A primary finding of the September 22, 2010 field allocation audit was the lack of any rational relationship between price and quantity of municipal sports allocation.

“In September 2012, Heat FC, a Las Vegas soccer organization, represented by Key Reid complained to the City Manager’s office about unfair treatment regarding allocation of soccer tournament dates. While a Henderson-based club, Heat FC has one of the largest proportions of city of Las Vegas resident players on their teams of any Club in the valley.”

The memo also lays out a slew of allegations against the Nevada Youth Soccer Association, which allocates the fields for the city. The items range from self-dealing among board members and preferential treatment to coaches being paid $100,000 a year and weekend tournament income also in six figures.

Out of this came the decision to hire Cobb and to try to reform field allocation practices this past spring, which is when Reid went to the city with his plans:

5/15/13 -- Adams informs Harsin of Reid’s request and says, “Lets (sic)  accommodate.”

5/16/13 – Reid, who has been involved with organized soccer since his college playing days and is affiliated with the Henderson Heat, emails Zimmerman about his plan for an Elite National Showcase and Mayor’s Cup tournaments in November (Thanksgiving weekend) and March, respectively. He also asks the staffer to “keep it confidential for now,” presumably to stop the NYSA folks from trying to scuttle it.

Zimmerman forwarded the email to consultant Cobb, asking him if he has “any idea” how to accommodate a request  “that gives a new group 2 tournament dates, one of which is already held by youth soccer?”

Cobb’s answer is something else:

“Short answer – no.

“I think it would be opening a can of worms, man! One date is going to be interesting unless it is based on a competitive bid…could raise the favoritism talk.

“And on top of that he is requesting T-Give weekend???? Nothing like shooting for the stars.

“I don’t think Ronald Reagan could pull this off without something sticking.”

Subtle, eh? Hard to miss the point there.

Zimmerman passed on Cobb’s reply to Harsin, saying he is “truly not sure where to begin” and at “key’s request can we keep this confidential?” He added an emoticon.

My goodness. Keep it secret at Reid’s request? Do these people have any idea how this looks?

5/20/13 – Consultant Cobb frets about a competitive bidding process because “other deep pockets could throw a wrench in this plan.”

5/22/13 – Zimmerman tells Harsin he recommends denying the November date. On the March weekend, Zimmerman says he is working with the consultant “as to how to guide the policy to suit keys (sic) request….just struggling with how to bend the policy to assure we can accommodate Key.”

5/23/13 – In an email to Adams, Zimmerman is blunt: “Unfortunately, bending the policy to assure we can accommodate Key will open the floodgates for everyone else when Key’s organization advertises what they got.”

6/3/13 – In what may be the most damning correspondence in this series, Zimmerman tells Adams and Harsin about the new bidding plan for 2014 tournaments and concludes: “Key’s desired date in March is available and I have pulled it off the calendar so that it doesn’t get booked not sure what to do if someone bids higher, we will have to make sure Key is aware to bid high.”

Telling an outside bidder to bid high? Never seen anything like that in writing, folks.

6/5/13 – Adams told staffers he had come up with a plan to award the March 7-9 prime slot to Reid’s group and start bidding for tournaments slated for 2014 this year.

6/11/13 – As they were working on a rate structure for Reid’s tournament, Adams sent an email to Harsin and Zimmerman about the March event, saying it must comply with the audit and that it would be “RFP’d (Request for Proposal) next year” and Reid would “have the right to bid.”

The next day, consultant Cobb suggested they “couch” the deal with Reid as “an operational ‘dry run’….” He asked Zimmerman for his thoughts, and the deputy parks director replied:

“Not much. Can do so much pressure comming (sic) to make this happen….”

Cobb replied that he imagined “pushback” is likely coming from NYSA, not Reid’s group.

Zimmerman: “Better come up with a new rate structure for these two new tournaments….QUICK.” His caps, not mine.

You see why Fretwell is, well, fretting?

On that day, Zimmerman, obviously realizing the, ahem, heat coming from the rival soccer clubs,  also informs Adams and Harsin a briefing schedule for the council that will “not give youth soccer the chance to derail the council before we can present the ideas.”

6/9/13 – Zimmerman informs Reid that only the March date would be available.

6/24/13 -- The council members receive a letter from activist Lisa Mayo, who is an advocate for NYSA: “My understanding is that a group from Henderson is attempting to circumvented (sic) the established protocol that was set up by the City for tournament request and is being taken directly to City officials and not to youth soccer (NYSA).”

(This is what happened, but Reid has said he got no satisfaction from the governing body, so he went to the city.)

The letter goes on to say the city is modifying past policies to accommodate Reid’s request, and then she accuses his group of a “smear campaign to try to accomplish their mission” by trying to “paint youth soccer as the villain…”

She asks that the council to send the request back to NYSA.

7/9/13 – Adams wonders to Harsin about using the new format and posits they can do the agreement without going to the council. That is, out of public view and political harm’s way for the elected officials.

7/13/13 – Officials from the rival soccer organizations exchanged emails with more than a hint of nastiness, with Pam Calhoun of the NYSA saying Reid’s organization or its advocates had been disparaging the organization at City Hall. Eric McDonald of the Heat FC (Reid’s group) wrote back, said no one he knew of was doing so but added that Guy Hobbs, once the head of NYSA, has “never been friendly or fair with our organization.”

As I said, these are long-simmering feuds.

7/16/13 – Adams informs Reid that the March 7-9 tournament “draft agreement” will be in his hands soon and that he believes he can get it done without council approval. Reid responds with appreciation and says it will be a “first-class event the City will be proud of.”

7/29/13 – Reid relays to Adams by text – and the deputy subsequently informed his boss, Fretwell – that Calhoun had left him “an angry voice mail” when she learned he was going to get the coveted March date for his tournament.

8/8/13 – When Adams suggests swapping out an established tournament in March to put in Reid’s, Zimmerman responds, “I wouldn’t suggest it because our past practice and current policy do not allow for us to do so. However if we wanted to get very technical youth soccer has only applied for the dates and has an expectation of receiving them but does not have the permit, we could swap the tournament’s (sic). It would make a tense situation extremely volatile.”

In other words, this existing tournament has every expectation that, as in the past, it would get city permission. But to accommodate Reid, they could deny the existing tournament access on a technicality.

On that same day, having gotten wind of Reid’s request, NYSA Executive Director Angie Eliason asks Zimmerman about it. She apparently had asked the previous week with no reply. By late August, emails from Nevada Youth Soccer and the Downtown Las Vegas Soccer Club raise questions about Reid’s tournaments, including potential confusion with another Mayor’s Cup already scheduled.

8/26/13 – Adams contacts Key Reid about Gentry’s simple request for the agreement with Reid, says he “might want to be aware of the contact in the event it leads to negative press or other contacts.” (This may be common practice to notify an outsider of a media request, but ….)

Adams also writes to Harsin: “We need to address this allegation and address any misinformation and inaccuracies.”

Um, there was no allegation in Gentry’s email, simply a request for a document. Touchy, eh?

Later, in a follow-up email to staffers, Adams suggests talking about the audit. “We need to stay at a high level on this. “

Ah, yes. This is a very high level of discourse.

9/9/13 – Adams tells Zimmerman to prepare for “final execution” of the agreement with Reid’s group because he wanted Fretwell “to execute the first of next week….”

There is still no agreement. But word of what has been going on has leaked out, and the RJ’s Ben Spillman focused on the Reid aspect in a story Thursday. And I asked Adams about the emails in a spirited exchange on "Ralston Reports" in which he tried to divert attention solely to the city’s adjustments to the critical audit.

I’ve lost count of how many self-inflicted wounds the city has on this. Reid’s questions about the influence of NYSA have been buried beneath city officials trying to open a process controlled by an outside organization and obsequiously and questionably trying to please a man with a powerful last name.

Maybe the city behaves this way all the time, no matter who your father is. But after seeing these emails and this timeline, I doubt many will believe that.