By Dale Derbidge
Ely City Councilman
As many of you already know, in January of last year, Keith Carson filed a request for opinion from the Nevada Commission on Ethics concerning my voting on agenda items concerning JCR Construction. In August of 2012, the city council voted unanimously to award the contract for the Center Street Project to JCR, who was the lowest bidder.
I failed to disclose that I have a business relationship with one of the three partners in JCR, Jerry Jones. Since I have no interest in JCR and would receive no pecuniary benefit from the contract and since I was advised by counsel that I was elected to vote, I did not think it was necessary to mention our business relationship, since it is widely known in the community. In October of 2012, the council again voted unanimously to grant JCR an extension on the project without penalty. I did not disclose the business relationship with Mr. Jones before that vote.
After the investigation, the Ethics Commission and I issued a stipulated agreement stating that my actions during those two meetings resulted in a violation of the Ethics in Government Law. For the violation I paid a civil penalty of $1,000 to the Ethics Commission. The paperwork issued by the commission was signed by myself and my attorney on July 16, 2013 and by a representative of the commission on July 22, 2013.
On July, 2013, Mr. Carson again complained to the Ethics Commission. He accused me of “willful violations” of the Ethics in Government Law at city council meetings on May 9, 2013 and June 13, 2013. The first meeting involved a vote to accept the completion of the Center Street Project. The second meeting involved the paying of bills, which included a payment to JCR. At the time of May and June meetings, the agreement between the Ethics Commission and myself had not been made.
During the investigation of the second complaint, a representative of the commission claimed that my actions in the votes were “willful violations” of the law because I had signed the agreement on the first complaint stating that I was in violation of the law. I disagreed because the date of the first agreement was well after the two meetings Carson complained about. A representative from the commission came to Ely to speak with me, as well as my legal counsel. She wanted to see the dynamics of business and politics in a small town. During our conversation, she asked how many friends I had. Then she wanted to know where Jerry Jones ranked among my friends. Was he number one on that list, number 10, etc. I stated that rating friends is not how I live. After their investigation the commission determined I had again violated the law. I signed an agreement to pay a fine of $2,000.
I did not feel that I was guilty of a violation, but if I went to a hearing and lost, it would be a fine of $10,000 plus legal fees and travel costs. The lesson to be taken from this: Even if you are wrong in deciding not to vote, you will not be fined thousands of dollars for abstaining.