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October 23, 2014

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Brown drops bid to become water czar; only one candidate left

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Mona Shield Payne/Special to the Sun

Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown.

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Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, is shown during an editorial board meeting at the Las Vegas Sun offices in Henderson, Jan. 18, 2012.

The field of candidates vying to replace outgoing water czar Pat Mulroy dwindled to one today after Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown withdrew from consideration.

In an email to fellow commissioners, Brown said he was withdrawing from consideration for the top job at the Las Vegas Valley Water District because of media reports that had “distorted my intentions and reasoning in seeking this position.”

“This is not good for the district nor the county,” he wrote.

Brown’s decision comes a day before commissioners, sitting as the Las Vegas Valley Water District board, are scheduled to pick a new general manager for the agency.

Brown’s withdrawal leaves John Entsminger as the frontrunner for the position. Entsminger is the deputy general manager at the water district and is backed by Mulroy.

Mulroy is scheduled to retire Feb. 6 after 25 years leading the water district and the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Although the water district and authority are separate entities with their own budgets, staff and governance, Mulroy has served as the leader of both since the authority’s formation in 1991. She drew a combined $310,134 in pay and benefits last year.

It is expected her successor will also hold both positions, although the SNWA board will hold a separate vote to appoint a general manager, likely at its meeting on Jan. 16.

Brown, who spent seven years at the water district in the 1990s before pursuing a political career, positioned himself as an outsider who would bring a critical eye to the agencies’ finances.

The water authority has racked up roughly $3 billion in construction debt over the last two decades while rapidly expanding the region’s water delivery capacity.

That spending was needed to keep up with a growing population, even as Lake Mead’s stores dwindled, Mulroy and other top water officials, including Entsminger, argue. But the cost is beginning to affect residents in the form of higher water rates.

“The infrastructure is in place for Southern Nevada for today, so we become more of an operational resource organization than a capital expansion organization,” Brown said. “The whole fiscal picture needs to become part of the discourse. I think we need to become more of a transparent agency moving forward.”

Brown’s candidacy raised some controversy after reports that he was offered the No. 2 job at the agencies if he backed out of consideration for the top spot.

Brown has denied that any formal offer was made but said he talked “extensively” with Mulroy and Entsminger about different scenarios, including versions with Brown taking over as the general manager with Entsminger as his deputy and another with Entsminger in the top job with Brown serving as a deputy.

Brown said he’s met with Entsminger twice to discuss the general manager position over the last month and that the two agree on several fundamental issues, including the financial direction of the organization and the importance of transparency.

On Monday, Brown said he isn’t planning to take a deputy job at the water district in the near term, but he hasn’t ruled it out “somewhere down the road.”

Brown said he’s still awaiting a legal decision from county counsel before he’ll know whether he can vote on the general manager appointment at the district’s meeting Tuesday morning.

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