(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid today released an ambitious plan for ethics reform in Nevada, saying he is offering “common sense” changes to the way state government does business.
Reid is also proposing initiatives to make government more transparent and accountable to the public in his plan, “A Foundation of Trust.”
In an interview this morning, Reid said: “I think we need to build a foundation of trust in Nevada. And if we’re going to attract investment that we need to build a new economy here then people need to believe in our system of government – have faith in it. So this is a high priority, and I think what I’ve suggested is reasonable.”
Among the recommendations are a prohibition on lobbying state agency officials by lawmakers, holding officials accountable for ethical violations whether they are willful or not and imposing a two-year cooling off period before former lawmakers or state employees can represent private interests at the Legislature.
Reid said his reform plan is out there for other candidates to comment on or endorse if they so choose.
“I challenge them to tell me what’s wrong with this plan and then we can talk about it,” he said.
In his plan Reid said of Gov. Jim Gibbons: “The current administration has led Nevada down a shameful path.” Reid said he would bring his leadership on ethics reform begun in Clark County in 2003 while serving on the county commission to the governor’s office.
Reid said in his ethics plan he would require his appointees to meet proven standards of excellence.
“There should be no place in gubernatorial appointments for cronyism,” he said.
In the interview, Reid said he did not have the time to cite specifics but said he believes there have been examples of cronyism in the Gibbons administration.
“I think it is apparent that some of the governor’s appointments have been questionable,” he said. “And that people that might not have been the most able got jobs in the administration that maybe they shouldn’t have. I think that that type of behavior erodes public confidence as quick as anything and I think that I will assemble an administration based on merit.”
Asked for a response, Gibbons said: “I put people on boards and commissions who will help Nevada citizens. Given his track record and his family background, Commissioner Reid should tread carefully when talking about ‘cronyism’.”
Reid is the son of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Gibbons also said: “Commissioner Reid is merely trying to distance himself from the shattered families and disastrous problems he has created in Clark County. Commissioner Reid is ignoring the needs of working families in Clark County while he makes uninformed and false statements about state government. He should tend to his responsibilities and serve the people, not serve salacious gossip about matters he knows nothing about.”
Reid , who was accompanied by Dick Morgan, former dean of the Boyd School of Law at UNLV, said he worked to “raise the bar” for transparency in Clark County with Morgan’s assistance, focusing on disclosure and abstention when necessary.
“I think that Clark County government is more transparent than it has ever been,” Reid said.
Morgan said one clear change was to prohibit former commissioners and senior county employees from immediately going into the business of lobbying the commission.
Reid said he is not familiar with what would be involved in making state government budgets, expenditures and contracts totally transparent on a searchable database. Nor is he proposing any changes right now to the way candidate campaign contribution and expense reports are available for public review.
“We need to start with building a foundation, so this is an attempt to ensure that Nevada’s process is open and transparent and that we close the loopholes that exist so people can have trust in what we do,” he said. “So we can attract the investment that we need to build the economy. I think I’m starting in the right place.”
This is not to say there isn’t more that can and should be done, Reid said.
The recent action by the Nevada Ethics Commission to find Las Vegas City Councilman Steve Ross guilty of three ethics violations was coincidental in the timing of the release of his plan, Reid said.
The Ethics Commission on Friday found no willful violation in the Ross matter, which involved votes for a new city hall that could benefit his employer, the Southern Nevada Building and Construction Trades Council, so no penalties were imposed.
This practice would end under Reid’s plan.
In his plan, Reid said: “There will be no further room for the ‘non-willful’ distinction. I will move to have that loophole removed from law so that all government officials and employees will be liable for all misconduct.”
Other elements of the plan include:
– Increase transparency at every level, starting with the executive branch. As governor, Reid said he would release his official schedule to the public and hold regular press conferences. He would also hold periodic town hall meetings broadcast statewide and require department heads to do the same.
– Reduce conflicts of interest by requiring all appointees to sign a code of responsibility and disclose any instance where there is a potential for even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Appointees would be required to make appropriate recusals in any questionable situation.
– Establish an open meeting law for the Legislature that allows the body to conduct its business expeditiously, given the limits of a 120-day legislative session, but places a premium on openness and transparency.