Members of the city and county governments watched, listened and asked questions Monday evening inside the Bristlecone Convention Center during a training seminar about how to stay ethical in government. The training class, put on by the Nevada Commission on Ethics, discussed ways to identify conflicts of interest, proper delegation of duties and more over the course of its two-hour runtime.
According to the commission’s Executive Director Yvonne Nevarez-Goodson, the class is meant to be a proactive way to try and prevent the need for ethics complaints to be filed by educating, rather than reacting to each instance and hoping to improve things through punishents,
“People make mistakes all the time. Unfortunately sometimes peoples mistakes are a violation of the law, but it doesn’t mean that someone isn’t a good public official,” Nevarez-Goodson explained. “It could simply be that that person made an error and that they will learn from that error and not do it again, just like human nature, because we all run into those situations.”
While the executive director said that no one mistake should make any public official seen as “irredeemable,” newly elected City Councilman Kurt Carson said he would like to avoid the mistakes altogether. Having won a seat on the council in the city’s general election, Carson said that he found the training to be “beneficial” and helped him get up to speed on what is, and isn’t, allowed.
“I think it really helped me in particular in knowing how to function with other people with what I can and can’t do. I think we all need to take and learn from this because in the past maybe things weren’t done quite properly,” Carson said.
The Nevada Commission on Ethics evaluates complaints brought forth by parties who are concerned that any government employee in the city or county might be doing something unethical. To eliminate what Nevarez-Goodson described as “mud-slinging” attempts, each filed complaint must be presented with proof to the eight-person board, If the commission finds the evidence to be strong enough to take the complaint seriously, they then engage in a confidential investigation into the matter. To try and ensure that political motivations don’t factor into the commission’s investigations and rulings, the board is not allowed to have more than four members belong to the same political party. Rulings from investigated complaints are only made public record once the investigation has concluded as to not interfere with the information gathering process, and each ruling can be found online at ethics.nv.gov.
As far as training the public on what to look for if they are concerned of unethical behavior, Nevarez-Goodson recommended potential watch-dogs stay as best informed on political issues and personal connections between public officials and private parties.
“Sometimes it is making the public just as informed of where the pitfalls might be for the public officers because you know a lot of times it is the public officers and public employees that have the information that the public can never have,” she said. “If they are looking for violations that is not something that I encourage necessarily, but if they are looking to see where conduct might be going awry it is to listen to the types of disclosures that are being made to see if they understand what the persons conflict is that they are disclosing. If they don’t understand the conflict, it could be and I emphasize could be, not an adequate disclosure.”