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October 31, 2014

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Indignant sheriff dismisses county commissioner’s allegations

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Steve Marcus

Sheriff Doug Gillespie speaks on the Metro Police budget during a county commission meeting at the Clark County Government Center Tuesday, April 16, 2013.

Updated Friday, Oct. 11, 2013 | 7:25 p.m.

Sheriff Doug Gillespie today angrily denied allegations that he colluded with an arbitrator to win pay raises for Metro Police’s rank and file, while also lambasting the Clark County Commission for lack of leadership.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak raised the allegations Thursday during a meeting with the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s editorial board, setting the stage for heated public comments between the pair today.

Gillespie, flanked by Metro leadership, delivered a fiery, six-minute speech this afternoon before members of the Las Vegas media.

“The arbitration process is set in stone,” Gillespie said. “There are rules. There are processes. They were followed.”

The source of Sisolak’s discontent began last month when a Chicago-based arbitrator awarded members of the Las Vegas Police Protective Association a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase. He also increased the county’s annual contribution to officers’ health insurance plans to $9,727, up from $8,573.

Sisolak, a member of Metro’s Fiscal Affairs Committee, said he became suspicious because the arbitrator’s decision, dated Sept. 23, was only a page and a half in length and devoid of rationale for accepting the final offer, which is required by Nevada law.

To get a sense of what happened, Sisolak said he called Gillespie on Sept. 30 and asked for copies of the final written offers from both Metro and the police union. The request triggered a series of correspondence with Metro leadership, including Kelly Sweeney, the department’s director of labor relations.

In an email to Sisolak on Oct. 3, Sweeney noted that, “The arbitrator, who is not from Nevada, was unaware of the specific requirements in (Nevada statute) to include in his award, and did not write his award consistent with the statute.”

Sweeney also wrote that the arbitrator was in the process of correcting the error.

On Wednesday, Perkovich issued a “supplemental opinion and award,” which stated that he awarded the police union’s final offer because it was more “closely aligned with the change in the cost of living, in the interest and welfare of the public to do so, and the financial ability of the Department to meet the total costs associated with such Final Offer.”

Perkovich estimated that the award’s total cost would be more than $6.9 million.

Sisolak said he also never received copies of the final written offers and instead was told by department officials that only final “verbal” offers were made.

The final verbal offers included identical percentage increases to officers’ health insurance plans. Sisolak said he found the 13.46 percent increase odd because it was higher than what was discussed at a Fiscal Affairs Committee meeting.

Sisolak ultimately asked for a complete record — written transcriptions, photos, video and audio recordings and exhibits — of the arbitration process.

Metro told him a transcript would not be ready until Oct. 28, Sisolak said.

“This was set up to be a transparent process, and this is like looking through a piece of wood,” Sisolak said this afternoon. “You can’t see through it.”

Sisolak acknowledged that he would “never find out what happened behind closed doors,” but he wants the process to be transparent as provided for by Nevada statute.

Even if the sheriff did not collude with the police union, Sisolak said the arbitrator did not adhere to Nevada statute when he issued the award decision.

“Statutes were enacted to provide for transparency and accountability in every department,” he said. “I’m asking Metro to provide the same transparency and accountability and follow the statute — and that just did not happen. I don’t know why that’s being met with such resistance.”

Gillespie flatly denied any hint of truth to the allegation of collusion.

“I, as the sheriff of Clark County, was given directions as well as flexibility from the Fiscal Affairs Committee in regards to what would be our last, best, final offer,” he said. “I feel I stayed within those guidelines. I did not stray.”

In perhaps his most impassioned speech this term as sheriff, Gillespie instead lobbed blame on local government, noting that he was “even more concerned about the leadership of the Clark County Commission.”

Last week, commissioners voted down two proposals that would have increased sales tax rates to pay for additional police officers. Sisolak voted against both proposals.

“I will work with any elected office; I will work with any community member,” Gillespie said. “But make no mistake: I work for the citizens of the county. I do not work for Steve Sisolak.”

The statement was a sharp change in tune compared with earlier this week when Gillespie met with the Sun’s editorial board. Asked his opinion of Sisolak’s outspoken opposition to the ‘More Cops’ sales tax increase, Gillespie denied any friction between the two.

“He has been consistent in his position,” Gillespie said during the editorial board meeting. “He’s just not in support of increasing tax.”

Commissioner Susan Brager bristled at Gillespie’s notion that the commission lacks leadership. The commission has a history of not being a “rubber-stamping government body,” she said.

“We do ask questions and we do want numbers,” Brager said.

Brager said she does not want to see today’s public feud between Gillespie and Sisolak derail important conversations on the horizon.

“We need to work through this in a very adult manner,” she said. “My hope is that we move through this and do what’s best for the county.”

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