Las Vegas Sun

October 24, 2014

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Another assemblyman’s pay scrutinized

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said Thursday that the investigation into Assemblyman Wendell Williams' pay for city work while he was in the Legislature goes beyond one person: "There are an awful lot of people whose conduct will be looked into."

City officials on Thursday released figures indicating Williams' one-time co-worker in the Neighborhood Services Department, Assemblyman Morse Arberry, also performed work for the city while he served in the Legislature in 1997, 1999 and 2001. Arberry, D-Las Vegas, retired from the city at the beginning of 2002.

The two developments came as city officials are trying to wrap up the investigation into the amount of time Williams worked. Williams agreed to pay back $6,700 after reviewing the 2003 time cards with his supervisor, but he later said that he was coerced into it to squelch media interest in the story.

"We're being as thorough as we possibly can in looking at all facets of information, and being as thorough as we possibly can in our interviews and review of the data," said Betsy Fretwell, the deputy city manager who is handling the investigation.

Of Arberry's time cards, she said: "I probably will be reviewing all of those documents."

Arberry said he had nothing to hide. Computer records provided by the city indicate that he billed 768 hours from Jan. 11 to June 28 in 1997; 705 hours from Jan. 9 to June 26 in 1999; and 1,040 hours, including 190 hours of sick leave, for 2001.

"I had been there too long to put any black eye on the city," said Arberry, who worked for Las Vegas from 1977 to 2002. "I would never want to do anything like that, so I just had to keep things straight and above board.

"All I got is my credibility, that's all I got, so I wouldn't do anything like that."

He said he "can't speak for anybody else and what they do," referring to Williams.

Arberry is chairman of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee. Williams, D-North Las Vegas, is speaker pro tempore and chairman of the Education Committee.

Williams billed Las Vegas for 208 hours of sick time during the 2001 Legislature. While some employers allow sick leave to be used as personal time, city officials say the Las Vegas municipal policy restricts sick leave to actual medical needs.

Fretwell said the investigation is wide-ranging, involving a city bureaucratic mechanism that must trace the people and procedures "that are involved from the time the person logs the time, performs the duty they've been asked to perform, all the way to when the check gets cut.

"There are a lot of people and a lot of parts of our organization -- so that's a pretty broad process."

Fretwell declined to say how many people have been interviewed, saying that she cannot get into details until she has completed a report for City Manager Doug Selby, who was out of town Thursday.

"What I'm trying to do is get to a point (with) all the information we've amassed that I can evaluate and put together a report for the city manager," she said. "It's too early to say, 'Here's the answer.' "

She said Thursday afternoon she was trying to complete the review into the 2003 information, and was "in the preliminary stages of looking at the 2001 information."

One of Williams' charges was that his time cards were forged. City officials said Thursday morning that Michael Chambliss, who works with Williams in the Neighborhood Services Department, signed Williams' name on some time cards, but did not call it forgery.

Chambliss said Thursday he could not talk unless given permission by the city.

Williams, D-North Las Vegas, has not spoken to the Sun since September, and could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Sharon Segerblom, Neighborhood Services director, has been told not to speak to the media until the investigation is complete.

Arberry said that when the Legislature was in session, he worked whenever he could.

"There were different days I would fly home and work, and weekends I worked," said Arberry, who served as deputy director of the Neighborhood Services Department. "It was real tough but I did it."

He said that there was no way he could work full time. He said his supervisor, Segerblom, would allow him to receive full-time pay in some cases, but said he could not recall the exact circumstances. The city records indicate that he received full-time pay while he was in the 2001 Legislature, the only one of the three years for which he received full-time pay, by using a mixture of sick leave, vacation time and work hours.

While Williams has said he spoke with other legislators while working on city time, Arberry said he never spoke with his fellow lawmakers about municipal programs related to his job while he was there: "That's why they had lobbyists."

And Arberry took issue with those who say that someone who works for a public entity should not serve as an elected official: "Is that any different than legislators (who serve) on the boards of banks, and they held up the session because they didn't want their banks to be taxed, and they're getting a stipend from their banks?"

He said it's easy to question people who work for the public, because of rules requiring record-keeping. Private companies, he said, could easily be paying people while they are serving in the Legislature.

Goodman said Thursday, without being specific, that city staff investigating the issue "can't pick out a slice, they have to look at the whole."

Otherwise, he said, "it will never be satisfactory to either myself as the mayor or to my constituents. It has to be broad-based and the chips have to fall where they may. ... If you're honest with the public, you can do wrong, but you will be forgiven. If you're dishonest or try to cover up, it's a sin."

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