Las Vegas Sun

April 17, 2014

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Sun editorial:

This is vindication?

Gibbons administration disgracefully misses the point of investigations of Orleans deaths

On Dec. 17, Gov. Jim Gibbons’ office issued a news release declaring that the Nevada attorney general’s office had cleared Mendy Elliott, Gibbons’ deputy chief of staff, of any wrongdoing in her involvement in the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s investigation of the deaths of two workers and the injury of a third at the Orleans in 2007.

At the time, Elliott was head of the state Business and Industry Division, which oversees OSHA. It is exceedingly rare for someone in her position to take part in accident investigations.

A state OSHA inspector found the Orleans had “willfully” violated safety laws. But after Elliott met with state OSHA officials and representatives of Boyd Gaming, which owns the Orleans, the violations were downgraded significantly.

A review by the U.S. Labor Department said that although the state did not violate any of its policies, the handling of the case “raises serious concerns.”

The governor’s news release, however, said the attorney general’s office “disagreed with the federal report” and said its investigation “clearly vindicates you (Elliott).”

A copy of the attorney general’s memo provided to the Las Vegas Sun, however, neither disagreed with the federal report nor said it “vindicates” anyone. The memo said the investigation found no evidence of “undue influence” by Elliott and said the federal report “appears to conclude” Elliott’s involvement was “within her statutory duties.”

After several inquiries from the Sun about the discrepancies, the governor’s office sent out a news release with a clarification on Tuesday, noting that the vindication quote was “inadvertently attributed” to the attorney general’s office when it was really from an e-mail written by Elliott’s private attorney.

Dan Burns, the governor’s spokesman, said it was a simple mistake. We wonder what other simple mistakes the governor’s office has made. Gibbons and his staff are showing a tendency to play fast and loose with the facts. Remember Gibbons’ hasty swearing-in just after midnight on Jan. 1, 2007? According to his office, it was necessitated by the potential for terrorist attacks, yet it was really a political ploy to undo an appointment made by the outgoing governor.

The blatant political spin is unconscionable, particularly regarding the Orleans investigation. Two men died, another suffered serious injuries, and the Labor Department says the state’s handling of the case raises concerns, yet the Gibbons administration sees this as a political game.

That’s disgraceful. Occupational safety isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about life or death.

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