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August 29, 2014

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County Commission beefs up security after Sisolak threatened

Steve Sisolak

Steve Sisolak

Clark County administrators requested that a Metro Police officer be posted at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting, saying they sought additional security after a commissioner reported receiving threatening phone calls related to his criticism of firefighters’ compensation.

County Manager Virginia Valentine said metal detectors and other security measures for the county building are being studied, the result of a separate security analysis. The commission is to get a report on those measures at a future meeting. More immediately, though, the concern has been irate calls to Commissioner Steve Sisolak, Valentine said.

Sisolak said after the meeting that he has received threatening calls for months from callers claiming to be firefighters. They have grown more frequent and intense in recent weeks, as county administrators and the firefighters union are in closed-door negotiations on a new contract, he said.

“They’re from private numbers or unknown numbers,” he said. “If I don’t answer, they hang up. At night, I’ll turn my phone off. When I answer, they’ll say stuff like, ‘You don’t know what it’s like to be a firefighter’ or ‘You better hope your house doesn’t catch on fire.’ ”

He said he receives the calls each time he is quoted in the media discussing firefighters’ pay and benefits. The last time was in Sunday’s Sun, when he said he would push for an ordinance to prohibit firefighters from doing charity work while on the clock.

Sisolak said he received about a dozen such calls over the past week, and about 20 in the past two weeks.

“I’ve tried reasoning with them a few times, telling them I’ve just got a problem with the way the pay for firefighters has outpaced the county’s ability to pay,” he said. “I really believe it’s a couple of guys sitting around drinking, probably not on duty ... and they bolster each other and make the calls.”

The average salary and benefits for a county firefighter was $181,000 in 2009.

The first-term commissioner has become an enemy of firefighters over the past year.

He criticized their union last year for not offering salary concessions that commissioners or county staff deemed acceptable.

Last month, he criticized the amount of sick leave taken by firefighters relative to other county employees, saying firefighters are “gaming” the system to work more overtime.

Last week, he questioned the practice of allowing county firefighters to collect money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association while on duty, saying they should not be doing charity work for a private organization while being paid by taxpayers.

After each story, Sisolak said, “the phone calls begin.”

“I just think there’s a sense of entitlement here that’s been reaffirmed over many years,” he said. “But it’s got to stop, because we can’t afford it.”

County administrators are close to submitting a budget for the next fiscal year. Because of falling property and sales taxes, the county expects a deficit of as much as $200 million.

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