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October 20, 2014

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Columnist Jon Ralston: No moral restraint at City Hall

Jon Ralston hosts the news discussion program Face to Face on Las Vegas ONE and publishes the Ralston Report. He can be reached at (702) 870-7997 or at [email protected]

WEEKEND EDITION

March 20 - 21, 2004

And the FBI is investigating the county on strip club shenanigans?

Message to the G-Men: Perhaps you should take a look a short distance away where the payoffs are slightly more public and the corruption is just as redolent.

Over at Las Vegas City Hall, they don't revoke licenses for wrongdoing; they accept what amounts to million-dollar bribes -- heck, they actually solicit them during meetings -- and they talk tough but act meekly when confronted with an establishment that, coincidentally, has hired one of their colleagues and the mayor's son.

Clark County commissioners, current and former, have been indicted for having a few thousand bucks stuffed into their G-strings by strip club boss Mike Galardi. But Dario Herrera, Lance Malone and Mary Kincaid essentially are accused of taking cash to weaken tipping and lap dancing rules, of committing a petty crime for petty cash. But the more serious, overall allegation is of insidious political corruption, that the commissioners allowed their government to be infiltrated by one businessman so he could manipulate it to his financial benefit and his competitors' detriment.

But corruption is all relative. The dictionary definition does not just refer to dishonesty and venality; corruption, says Webster's, also can refer to taint, contamination, decay.

And while no one has yet alleged criminal behavior on Stewart Avenue, something clearly is rotten in the city of Las Vegas. At its core, the dictionary says, corruption goes to a lack of "moral restraint, especially in matters of public trust."

Nowhere does that description seem more apt than in Las Vegas, where the paucity of moral restraint begins at the top, with a mayor who uses his office to promote his son's business and uses city property to help said son and his councilman partner make a buck -- the same councilman, Michael Mack, and son, Ross Goodman, who, coincidentally, have serendipitously been retained by Treasures, the club the council let off the hook last week despite a law enforcement evisceration of the establishment as promoting a "culture of lawlessness."

This comes only two months after Mayor Oscar Goodman, snubbing staffers who urged revocation, lobbied to allow Jack Galardi to keep his Cheetah's license so long as he paid the council a million bucks. By accepting what amounted to a legalized bribe, the equivalent for Galardi of paying a parking ticket, the council allowed Cheetah's to continue to remain in its multimillion dollar business.

At the end of the hearing, Goodman congratulated Galardi attorney Dominic Gentile on the deal, smiling at him from the dais and saying, "Your client should kiss you." This just moments after the council, on a 4-2 vote, had established the price -- a million dollars -- of a government lap dance for a strip club owner.

And the FBI is investigating the county?

The Treasures spectacle was even more grotesque, with the run-up to the hearing indicating exactly what would happen -- i.e., nothing. Not only have the Davari brothers, the Treasures owners, become major campaign players in city politics -- a more common form of legalized bribery -- they have hired Mack and Goodman the Younger.

These developments come after a hearing three years ago in which the council, led by the mayor, bragged about raising the bar and imposing a one-strike-and-you're-out standard. Does anyone else think that the Davaris retained Mack and Goodman not because they are the peerless practitioners of their professions but as insurance to keep their license?

Mack and Goodman the Elder abstained during last week's hearing, but their conflicts cast a shadow over the proceedings. The rest of the council invertebrates may have their own reasons for ignoring the cops and giving the Davaris three extra months to ensure Treasures continues the good corporate citizenship that includes multiple violations, obstructing cops and prostitution solicitations they insisted (risibly) would not occur. But the insidiousness of the conflicts, the infiltration of the government is obvious.

Corruption in politics takes many forms. Down at the city of Las Vegas, the preferred method seems to be a cozy little arrangement whereby Mack, who has long solicited clients under the city's regulatory thumb, partners with His Honor's son and casts a taint over council decisions. The issue isn't whether Mack and/or the mayor abstain; the issue is how and why he and Ross Goodman were hired in the first place.

The incestuous relationships here are unseemly and the mayor is now paying a public price by his shameless and crass promotion of Mack and his son's new political consulting business, which has landed His Honor in front of the state Ethics Commission.

There is, returning to corruption's core meaning, no moral restraint at City Hall, especially in matters of public trust. And some of the putatively innocent council members are contributing to the corruption with their telling silence or willful ignorance.

Mack has been pawning himself off as a PR man to city supplicants for too long, another practice tacitly condoned by the mayor and the rest of them. But on the strip club front, with the transparent performance on the Galardi fine in January and the rollover on Treasures last week, the council might as well unfurl a gigantic "for sale" banner.

The price for Jack Galardi was a million dollars. The price for the Davaris was whatever they are paying Mack and Ross Goodman. I wonder how much the next controversial item will cost at the City Hall auction.

And the FBI is investigating the county?

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