Most embarrassing board in state history? Maybe



Before Tuesday’s meeting began, Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak sat down with his colleague Tom Collins.

Collins has been antagonistic toward Sisolak for months, excoriating him for taking on unions and sneering that Gov. Brian Sandoval is “more of a Democrat” than the chairman. I get the sense that Sisolak considers Collins a buffoonish but less-than-prickly thorn whose behavior has grown increasingly erratic.

To say there is no love lost would be an understatement; there never was any affection to be lost.

So Sisolak sat down with Collins today to deliver a simple message: Your behavior must change or else. Or else what? Well, for example, Collins would not be allowed to offer the motion to replace Steven Brooks (the expelled assemblyman represented the cowboy’s district) unless he apologized for remarks he made at last week’s legislative hearing on a county-endorsed bill to change the system of governance at UMC.

Collins had told the Legislature that two of his colleagues who used to be school board members  – oblique references to Mary Beth Scow and Susan Brager – should not be trusted on the bill because they left the district’s finances in a shambles. Yes, he said that.

The Sisolak-Collins sitdown appeared to be productive. And then the meeting began.

And what ensued indicated just why this Clark County Commission may be the most embarrassing and dysfunctional in history. And that is something, considereing a majority of one board was guilty of criminal acts  – but at least the trains ran on time during those days.

How bad did it get? “This makes Carson City look good,” said one veteran county observer.

That bad? Consider:

At the end of a seemingly innocuous, ceremonial item, Collins offered one of the lamer “apologies” on record:

“I gotta tell ya…the chairman came to my office first time yesterday, and we had a good discussion. We had another one this morning. He’s beat me into submission. Politics is a tough game; ya gotta have thick skin. And it’s been expressed to me by the leadership that maybe I have offended somebody. I hope not.  It was not my intent. So I certainly w want to make sure that I want to serve well with all of my colleagues, and if you want to come throw rocks at me or stone me or something, I’m available. Going forward I hope we can all get along a little better. I’m just very impressed that the chairman come and found my office and we opened up the...'collegiality' was the word we shared – I can’t share the two conversations we had, but we did have a good conversation.”

THAT was the Collins apologia, delivered with a wry smile as he was leaning on his chair. A real soul-baring, eh?

He then handed the mike back to Sisolak, who was standing between two stone-faced colleagues – Brager and Scow.

And it gets better, so to speak, with what can only be described as some of the more excruciating minutes of a government meeting I have ever witnessed, what one observer likened to a public “therapy session.”

During the discussion of that UMC bill, which lawmakers killed last week, commissioners discussed their hurt feelings, respect or lack thereof for one another and how to move forward in love and harmony – I paraphrase.

First, Lawrence Weekly wondered whether Sisolak was “upset” that he and others testified against the bill, approved by the commissioners on a contentious 4-3 vote weeks ago.

“Being upset, I don’t understand why,” Weekly began.  Later: “I testified, like you (Sisolak) lobbying in Carson City for it to pass, I went and testified for it not to pass.”

Weekly then talked about seriously discussing the public hospital’s $87 million shortfall – Chris Giunchigliani earlier had raised the possibility of a dedicated tax, which many have long thought was a wise idea.

But this was the time for an unserious discussion, not public policy.

“I heard you were really, really upset, and I wish you and I could sit down and talk,” Weekly said to Sisolak.  “This whole little split up on the dais? It’s not gonna work. It’s not cool. It’s not cool at all.”

Where is Dr. Phil? Or better yet, Jerry Springer?

Sisolak then raised the issue of implication by the commission opponents before the Legislature that some commissioners “do not care termdously about UMC.” What ensued was jaw-dropping in its inanity:

Weekly interrupted: “Not to disrespect you, sir, but Mrs. Miller (yes, that’s what he called County Counsel Mary-Anne Miller) was sitting in the audience there….I don’t think anyone was disrespected…Did you hear that?”

To his credit, Sisolak didn’t let Miller answer (if she was going to), and said, “Don’t put her on the spot.”

Weekly, undeterred, to Miller: “Did you hear that? You were there. You were a witness.”

Sisolak: “She’s not a witness. But all of the commissioners saw it on TV as well.”

(Yes. This happened.)

And then more from Weekly: “I did what I said I was going to do. I’m not taking it back. I’m glad it failed…I don’t care who’s upset about it….I was upset when you all voted to have this piece of legislation go forward. But you all didn’t give a damn about how I felt as chairman of UMC.”

Maybe we need Dr. Melfi?

Larry Brown then weighed in, aggressing mostly with Sisolak, saying of Weekly and his scripture-quoting diatribe before the Legislature: “I know that in your heart you didn’t mean it.”

Brown says he had a problem with “the tone” of the testimony against the UMC bill by the three commissioners (Weekly, Giunchigliani, Collins). “That’s not only UMC; that happens all too often with policy decisions we make.”

Can’t they all just hold hands?

I think Collins then referred to the “weasels” down at the other end, resulting in a “Come on now” from Sisolak. Uh oh. Might be another woodshed visit for Collins.

Giunchigliani weighed in, pointing out that she did not “disparage anybody” and talked about policy before the Legislature. (This is true.) She also referred again to a “dedicated revenue source,” discordantly injecting policy into this venting session.

And then Brager, clearly not over the Collins comments from last week:

“I wasn’t going to speak, but I am, I guess…..But what I’d like to say is no one should go up to the Legislature and speak about other than the subject. I don’t think you speak about another commissioner….I don’t disparage anyone on this board, and I don’t think anyone should be disparaged.”

Yes. That never happens in politics.

Sisolak then wrapped it up, as the head of this battling brood: “I think this has been a healthy discussion…we need to move forward as a board.”

And they did. In the middle of the afternoon, commissioners voted to approve Tyrone Thompson to replace Brooks in the Assembly. Sisolak allowed Collins to make the motion.

I guess his “apology” was sufficient. And the vote was unanimous.

Everything must be fine now.

(Commissioner photos from Las Vegas Sun)