By Mark Waite
A 4-0 vote by Nye County commissioners to refer Sheriff Tony DeMeo to the state attorney general’s office for prosecution for exceeding his budget by more than $1 million, was voted the top news story of 2012 in a survey of the Pahrump Valley Times editorial staff.
Commissioners agonized over the decision made after almost a two-hour executive session at an Oct. 16 meeting in which Commission Chairman Lorinda Wichman said, “it makes me want to go out back and get rid of my cookies.”
A few other elected officials came under fire as well in 2012. County Assessor Shirley Matson was found guilty of two ethics violations by the state’s ethics commission in April and fined $5,000. She was cited for failure to avoid conflicts between her private interests and her official position and using her position to intimidate and harass other officials.
County Treasurer Mike Maher was called onto the carpet by commissioners in January for being over six months late in filing his monthly reports listing the status of county funds. An investigation was ordered of Public Administrator Falkon Finlinson in July after a complaint by Linda Bromell of Amargosa Valley.
TOWN BOARD ARREST
Also voted among the top news stories of the year in Pahrump was what happened on primary night, June 12, when newly-elected members of the Nye County Republican Central Committee threatened to arrest members of the Pahrump Town Board over town ordinance No.46, which deals with incorporation. The Nye County Republican Party convention in Tonopah in March was fractured by a dispute between supporters of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, the only presidential candidate to appear in Pahrump and who won 45 percent of the Nye County Republican caucus, and former NCRCC Chairman Fely Quitevis. Nye County delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa in August joined a protest by Ron Paul supporters.
Another very big story in 2012 was the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s approval of Golden Gaming Inc.’s takeover of Terrible’s Town and Terrible’s Lakeside casinos from Affinity Gaming on Feb. 10. The Nevada Gaming Commission lent its approval two weeks later. The action meant Golden Gaming will be by far the biggest casino company in Pahrump, with 560 employees. Terrible’s Lakeside was renamed Lakeside Casino, while Gloria King won a $10,000 promotion with the winning name for Terrible’s Town, now called Gold Town Casino.
FATAL ACCIDENT AT NUGGET
Tragedy struck close to the heart in 2012 as well. Another big news story was the death of Lt. Alejandro Gomez, an officer at the Nevada Southern Detention Center, who was killed in the Pahrump Nugget parking lot by an elderly driver who lost control of his vehicle. Eight cars were also damaged in the bizarre accident, which occurred on April 17 when Russell McMorris, 77, lost control of a Chevrolet Blazer.
NEW JAIL FOLLIES
Another very big story of the year was the opening of the county’s new $17.7 million jail. Nye County Commissioners held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new facility on Aug. 1, though it actually didn’t open until late October after District Judge Robert Lane dismissed a motion for a restraining order filed by the Nye County Law Enforcement Administration over staffing levels and training. No big news in Pahrump is without controversy.
COLD CASE DNA
A blockbuster story also unfolded in October of 2012 when police released new information in the 2006 disappearance of Maureen Fields, 41. News broke that DNA evidence linked Keith Wayne Holmes, 81, a California registered sex offender, to the disappearance of the former Wells Fargo bank employee. Holmes allegedly told police he frequented the Pahrump area in a 1965 Ford truck with a camper shell. He was recently arrested in Little Rock, Calif. for attempting to lure a young girl into his car. The Fields case could become a bigger story in 2013.
VEA’S CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’
In happier news, in September, the California Independent System of Operators (CAISO), which operates 80 percent of the California power grid, approved an application by Valley Electric Association to be a participating transmission owner. The approval, contingent upon the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approving VEA transmission owner tariff and transmission revenue requirements, was seen as a key to getting power from southern Nevada solar power projects to utilities in California. VEA submitted an application to build a 500-kilovolt power line from the Hidden Hills project, two 250-megawatt power plants planned by BrightSource Energy on the Tecopa Road, to the California grid in Eldorado Valley south of Boulder City.
In big political news in 2012, two new county commissioners will take their seats later this month after Frank Carbone defeated incumbent Gary Hollis by 348 votes in his quest for a third term and Donna Cox, president of the Concerned Citizens for a Safe Community, edged out Ken Searles by 108 votes in the Nov. 6 general election to fill a vacant seat left by a term-limited Commissioner Joni Eastley. Former Nye County Chief Civil Deputy District Attorney Ron Kent handily won election to fill the position of retiring Pahrump Justice of the Peace Tina Brisebill while Kimberly Wanker easily won ratification by voters to Fifth Judicial District Court judge after her appointment by Gov. Brian Sandoval following the death of District Judge John Davis. Desert View Hospital Marketing Manager James Oscarson was elected to the Nevada District 36 assemblyman seat to replace Ed Goedhart, who chose not to run for another term; State Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, was elected to replace term-limited State Senator Mike McGinness, R-Fallon.
DUMP THE BOARD
Also making big political waves in 2012 was passage of ballot question No. 2 by 231 votes, a margin of 50.8 percent to 49.2 percent. The question asked that the Pahrump town board be dissolved and revert to advisory board status, which will take effect in two years, but the case continues to be tied up in court challenges between the town of Pahrump and Nye County.
In other town board news, former board member Bill Dolan was elected to the town board along with Amy Riches. Robert Adams, chairman of the Pahrump Public Lands Advisory Board was appointed by Gov. Sandoval in December to replace Carolene Endersby who resigned at a meeting in March. The vacancy was open for eight months, another big story for tiny Pahrump.
BLAGG OPENS 2 YEARS LATER
After motorists faced detours on parts of Blagg Road between Basin Avenue and Mesquite Avenue since heavy rains opened sinkholes in December 2010, Nye County Commissioners finally awarded a $2.36 million contract to Wulfenstein Construction in April for the road repair. Blagg Road was reopened to through traffic in late September. Just before Christmas, Nye County filed suit over the Blagg Road failure against Utilities Inc. of Central Nevada, Corrections Corporation of America, the installer of the sewer line Spirit Underground, the county’s inspector Viking Construction, and other defendants.
WILLOW CREEK AND THE JAILHOUSE BLUES
Former Willow Creek golf course owner Jim Scott was sentenced to 21 days in jail in early November for failing to comply with a court order issued in April to clean up the ponds. That came a day after his company, Caldera P and G Company, filed for bankruptcy. That same month the Public Utilities Commission absolved UICN after a 16-month investigation that included complaints over odor issues.
Stories that received multiple votes but just missed making the big list included the Pahrump Valley High School Lady Trojans winning the class 1-A state soccer title Nov. 10 with a 3-0 victory over the Faith Lutheran Crusaders.
Commissioners terminated County Manager Rick Osborne’s contract in January, after he lost the support of three commissioners. He was allowed to collect his salary until August 2013, in a buyout with salary and benefits valued at almost $200,000. Assistant County Manager Pam Webster was promoted to county manager through Dec. 31, 2013, while Commissioner Joni Eastley is a favorite for assistant county manager.
The Pahrump Alliance for Valley Economic Development (PAVED) gave notice in August it was pulling out of the annual Pahrump Fair and Festival after complaints the festival would have cost $125,000, thanks partly to security costs, $25,000 more than last year. The town of Pahrump then picked up sponsorship.