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April 21, 2014

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Ouch! Why this last week made being a Nevadan rough

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CLOCKWISE FROM UPPER LEFT: SAM MORRIS, TIFFANY BROWN, SAM MORRIS, STEVE MARCUS / LAS VEGAS SUN

Patrons fill the floor at Pure nightclub, which IRS agents raided; Gov. Jim Gibbons and his wife, Dawn, were said to be having marital troubles; poor practices at the Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada have endangered 40,000 patients; and Clark County Democrats’ attempt to hold a convention was suspended amid chaos.

For the cynics and the hopeless, the naysayers and the joyless, Nevada had a grand week, a week to remember.

It featured a hospital executive in handcuffs, reused medical vials, the feds sniffing around casino properties, botched political conventions, the discovery of potentially deadly ricin, first family marital distress, school shootings and a heartbreaking funeral after a questionable police shooting.

It was a week to raise a fist in outrage until it was time to double over in laughter.

It was the type of week that has Las Vegas transplants wondering why they moved here, and natives wondering if the state will ever grow up.

“It’s been an unusually bad week,” said Mike Green, a Nevada historian at the College of Southern Nevada.

“It suggests something about trying to do things as though this is still the 1920s, the population is less than 100,000, that we can run the state like an old West town,” Green said. “It doesn’t work that way. Are we here to make a fast buck? Or to build a community we can be proud of?”

The Rev. Kevin McAuliffe, vicar general of the Las Vegas Roman Catholic Diocese, said, “the ricin thing just topped it all off,” referring to the inexplicable discovery of the deadly toxin in an off-Strip residency motel. (At this point, it doesn’t look terrorism related.)

Other events were mind-blowing and deeply disturbing:

• The third child in 11 days was shot outside a Clark County school building, this time near Gibson Middle School.

• The Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada had apparently abandoned basic medical practices, which led to an outbreak of six cases of hepatitis C. Health authorities are trying to alert 40,000 patients that they may have also have hep B, or maybe even HIV. Sun reporter Marshall Allen reported the opinion of experts: The Endoscopy Center was cutting corners to make more money.

• The father of three children buried their mother, who was killed by Henderson Police, who say she attacked them with a knife.

Other events reminded us of Las Vegas’ past of petty corruption.

• Lacy Thomas, the indicted former chief executive of University Medical Center, was arraigned, and grand jury transcripts revealed the allegations against him: no-work, no-bid deals for his old pals in Chicago. Under his management, the hospital lost $20 million, or $20 million more than it was supposed to anyway.

• It became clear that the Internal Revenue Service raid of Pure was just the beginning, and that the cash the foolish tourists kick to club bouncers gets kicked upstairs to club management, right in the heart of vaunted squeaky-clean casinos.

Then there were the events that made us look a little foolish, such as the Clark County Democrats booking a room with a capacity of 5,000 for a convention they knew would likely draw at least 7,000. (It was suspended, and they’ll try again at a later date.) Or a member of the governor’s staff telling a Reno reporter about a family meeting the governor will have this weekend to determine the future of his marriage.

The events are disparate and discreet, but taken together they had some of the valley’s big thinkers musing about what it all means. The consensus seemed to be the usual: inadequate institutions, stacked with the well meaning and obtuse, if not the corrupt and the devious.

Green, who’s lived here his whole life, said all the bad news reminded him of the 1970s, when it was becoming clear that the Tropicana, Aladdin, Stardust and other casinos were dirty, and their leadership not the pillars of the community they’d been pretending to be.

Greg Brown, a UNLV historian and an expert in the Enlightenment, which is when the great European cities came to life, wrote in an e-mail that our rapid growth isn’t unusual, although the way we’re growing is:

The population increase “has not been structured by preexisting social networks — family and kinship networks, socioprofessional networks, patronage networks — that in earlier times both assimilated newcomers into the growing city and in turn helped impose public order on that population.”

For Hugh Jackson, the liberal blogger who focuses on politics at Las Vegas Gleaner, the Democrats’ failed county convention was particularly galling.

When he arrived here about a decade ago, people spoke with amazement about how there was now a decent restaurant in town. This was said to be evidence of progress, a shorthand way of noting the death of the old order of juice and back-scratching and who do you know?

But if there’s progress, he said, it comes in fits and starts.

“The old-school connections, who you know, a wink and a nod, small-time cliquishness — it’s entrenched, and it’s tough to root out.”

The city’s finest pitchman was a bit more optimistic.

Billy Vassiliadis, whose firm, R&R Partners, designed the “What happens here” ads for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said, “Do we as a state have things we need to learn to adjust to and deal with? Absolutely. But is there progress being made? I’d say yes.”

In any case, all the bad news, all news of failing institutions, take a toll on the flock, McAuliffe said.

“Keeping a family intact is hard enough as it is. There’s a little bit of an air of desperation, and it’s robbing people of an inner peace or inner sense of direction. Our churches are quite full here.”

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