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September 15, 2014

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ANSWERS: CLARK COUNTY:

Big idea floated: A full-time commission

Giunchigliani says change would minimize conflicts of interest; Woodbury is opposed

In Clark County, it seems a commissioner’s job is never done. That’s one reason state Sen. Terry Care will enter the 2009 legislative session with a bill that would make the post full time.

Wait. The job of a Clark County commissioner is considered part-time?

Yes. Most commissioners hold outside jobs. Tom Collins runs a ranching operation and manages a number of rental properties. Rory Reid and Bruce Woodbury are lawyers. Susan Brager is a real estate agent. And Chip Maxfield is an engineer. Chris Giunchigliani and Lawrence Weekly make the job their only source of income.

Why the push now?

Giunchigliani said she’s been advocating the idea for years, even before she left the Assembly to run for the County Commission. Soon after election in 2006, she said she realized the demands of the job were hurting her performance as a special-education teacher in the Clark County School District. (She is on an unpaid leave of absence from the district.)

Commissioners should work full time and, in that case, not be allowed to hold outside jobs, she says. That provision, Giunchigliani said, would minimize conflicts of interest and abstentions that often deprive constituents of a voice on important matters.

Are there other reasons for making the job full time?

According to Giunchigliani, the commission has too often left important decisions to advisory committees and political appointees, only to be caught off guard on zoning issues and the administration of important county institutions such as University Medical Center.

Besides, the move would give the public better access to elected officials, she said.

What do other commissioners think about the idea?

Most concede that balancing their public and private obligations is challenging but nevertheless think the arrangement works just fine.

Some, including Collins, had small concerns about the idea. “Does it mean I can’t enter a rodeo and win the bulldogging contest?” Collins quipped.

Others, including Reid, said having seven full-time commissioners might force the commission to redefine the job of the county manager.

Woodbury, the county’s longest-serving commissioner, was more direct. “I think it would be a mistake,” he said. “I think you need people in local government bodies that are out there in the community earning a living along with their constituents.”

What’s he talking about?

Woodbury is referring to Nevada’s long history of citizen legislators. Nevada historian Michael Green notes that upon its founding in 1864, Nevada was seen as a frontier state with limited governmental needs. Even after the creation of Clark County in 1910, Las Vegas’ population was less than 1,000, he said. Thus the Legislature met once every two years, a practice that continues today.

But as Giunchigliani notes, Clark County is now 2 million strong and the demands on local government are increasing.

Wouldn’t the county need to raise the salary?

Likely, yes. The base pay for the part-time commissioners is $73,971. That’s the amount Collins and Giunchigliani make. Woodbury, Reid and Maxfield each make more than $80,000 because of longevity bonuses. Brager and Weekly make $68,391 because they declined a pay raise enacted after their elections.

Most commissioners said higher pay would be necessary to attract high-quality candidates to run for office.

What do other counties across the country do?

A national survey by the National Association of Counties this year provides a picture. About 70 percent of the elected officials in its representative sample were part-time.

Of five counties nationally with populations comparable to Clark’s, from 1.7 million to 2.3 million, three (Dallas County in Texas, King County in Washington, San Bernardino County in California) have full-time commissioners or supervisors. Two (Miami-Dade in Florida and Wayne County in Michigan) have part-time officials.

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