Legislative Pay Dispute Stirs Ethics Controversy

Nevada Legislature 2003
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UNLV ethics professor Craig Walton has a word of advice for legislators who contemplate accepting pay from their local government employers at the same time they draw legislative salaries: Don't.

"They should take a leave of absence when they serve in the Legislature," Walton told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Walton and other Nevadans are troubled by recent stories that legislators such as Assembly members Wendell Williams, D-Las Vegas, and Morse Arberry, D-North Las Vegas, have taken double pay.

The two collected their legislative salaries at the same time they billed their local government employers for work they contend they did on their behalf during legislative sessions.

Assembly members Kathy McClain, D-Las Vegas, and Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, were also fired Friday after payroll records showed they violated county policies by collecting their salary while also being paid during this year's legislative session.

Williams and Arberry were paid their entire city of Las Vegas salaries at the same time they drew their legislative salaries at the 2001 Legislature. Williams has agreed to pay back more than $6,700 in city pay he received while at the Legislature earlier this year.

Of the 63 legislators during the 2003 session, 16 held jobs working for local governments, the university system, courts or schools. A 1971 opinion by then Attorney General Robert List said local government employees could serve in the Legislature.

Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, has requested a bill for consideration at the 2005 Legislature to stop double payments to these government employees.

Her proposal would also block legislators who work in private industry from serving as paid members of boards, such as a bank board of directors.

Titus said she has taken an unpaid leave of absence from her job as a University of Nevada, Las Vegas political science professor during every legislative session. She assumed all government employees behaved similarly and only took their legislative pay while serving in Carson City.

"What is happening bothers me," she said. "We all get painted with the same brush."

Amid the Williams controversy, Las Vegas City Manager Doug Selby banned employees from working intermittently for the city while on unpaid leave. They also must return cell phones and other city equipment while away from their job.

George Harris, chairman of the Nevada Republican Liberty Caucus, will launch a petition drive Friday to prohibit government employees, including teachers, from serving in the Legislature.

Voters would have to approve the proposal during the election next year and in 2006 before these employees would be prohibited from becoming legislators.

"George Harris must be salivating over this," Titus said about the recent revelations of double-dipping by legislators. "Wendell Williams has become the poster child for his petition drive." .