Las Vegas Sun

April 18, 2014

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Guv wants Loux to pay back $64,000

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LAS VEGAS SUN FILE

Bob Loux, left, and Rep. Shelley Berkley listen as Nevada Sen. Harry Reid speaks at a news conference on Yucca Mountain in 2006. Reid says Loux’s entire career should be weighed as his fate is decided.

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CARSON CITY – Gov. Jim Gibbons has moved to recover more than $64,000 paid to outgoing nuclear projects director Bob Loux.

Loux, who headed the Commission on Nuclear Waste since its creation in the 1980s, resigned after it was revealed he raised his own salary and that of his staff without authorization.

The governor has sent a letter to state Controller Kim Wallin asking her to start to recoup the money. Wallin won’t comment until she talks with the state attorney general’s office next week.

The governor urged the state controller to expedite the process to recover the money “so the state can be whole as soon as possible,” according to Chris Nielsen, counsel to Gibbons.

Nielsen said the governor’s office asked Loux and his staff to voluntarily return the money but they refused.

Reached for comment, Loux said, “There’s an issue whether any is owed or not.”

Meanwhile, a two-member panel of the state Ethics Commission ruled Thursday that there is enough evidence to show that Loux violated seven ethical standards in giving himself and his staff pay raises during three fiscal years. The panel sent the case to the full commission for a hearing on the complaint filed against Loux by Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno.

At the hearing, tentatively set for Jan. 8, the full commission will decide whether to find him guilty of three counts of raising his own pay without authorization, three counts of giving his employees unapproved salary increases and one count of using an employee to pull it off.

An audit revealed that Loux used salary savings to raise his and his staff’s pay above the authorized level. Loux said when a worker left, the others had to take on extra duties in the office tasked with fighting Yucca Mountain.

Nielsen said, “At no time did the governor approve this.”

According to budgeted figures, Loux had an authorized salary last fiscal year of $110,851 but earned $145,718. Nielsen said there is a law prohibiting a state employee, except physicians and educators, from earning more than 95 percent of the governor’s salary. The governor’s salary last fiscal year was $141,000.

The state budget office figures Loux was paid 31 percent higher than authorized. This fiscal year he was earning $151,542 against an authorized salary of $115,285 when the pay dispute was discovered. That salary was reduced. And that is the salary for the replacement of Loux.

The staff of the nuclear commission made 19 percent more than approved last fiscal year. They earned anywhere from $12,000 to $19,000 more than was authorized by the Legislature. For instance, the deputy directors Susan Lynch and Joseph Strolin made $120,442 last fiscal year compared to their budgeted $100,910.

For the three fiscal years 2006-2008, an estimated $200,000 was overpaid to the six employees in the agency.

Nielsen said the governor’s office thought it could order the refunds itself. But it was advised by the attorney general’s office that the controller is the one who decides.

Loux has agreed to stay on until a replacement is selected.

As of Friday, 11 applications have been submitted by candidates to replace Loux. Nuclear commission member Joan Lambert and Senior Deputy General Marta Adams will screen the applications and submit six to eight names to the full commission.

The commission will meet in Las Vegas to interview the finalist and send its recommendations to Gov. Gibbons, who makes the final selection.

A two-member panel of the state Ethics Commission held a hearing Thursday on a complaint against Loux filed by Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno. The hearings are confidential.

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