By SELWYN HARRIS
Disgusted. Shocked. Ready for a recall effort or anticipating her resignation.
That sums up the reaction of most business people and officials interviewed in the wake of Wednesday’s PVT story exposing county Tax Assessor Shirley Matson’s racially-charged e-mails to public officials.
Matson told other news outlets Wednesday that she doesn’t plan on going anywhere. She told the PVT when seeking comment for this story that, “I don’t ever want to make any comments to you ever again.”
The employers of the men whose skin color sparked Matson’s political troubles did go on record. Though Matson never spoke to their workers, or ever reported any potentially unsafe behavior, she sought help from the Nye County Sheriff’s Office on March 11 to help determine whether the “brown-skinned” men constructing the new jail were “illegal.”
Layton Construction and at least three local subcontractors are involved in the construction of the facility — Wulfenstein’s, Floyd’s and Morales Construction.
Jim Wulfenstein, company president, said he’s very pleased with all of his employees, including the ones of Hispanic descent.
“Several have worked for me for years. They’re good citizens, they’re responsible, they are key employees for me, I consider them friends, so I take offense at the whole thing,” he said.
Mike Floyd of Floyd’s Construction shares those sentiments.
“It sounds to me that she has the opinion that anybody who has brown skin is an illegal alien, and obviously that’s not right. We don’t have any problems, we have great employees,” he said.
A series of e-mails followed last Friday’s initial exchange between Matson and the sheriff’s office, much of them concerning the legality of the sheriff’s department dealing with immigration.
Captain Bill Becht wrote to Matson saying, “We must first establish probable cause of criminal activity to conduct an investigation, and as soon as someone provides that, we will be glad to ‘do our jobs.’ Your problem is that as an elected official, you are supposed to represent everyone equally. The prejudices expressed in your first e-mail brings that ability into question,” he said.
Adding fuel to the erupting imbroglio involving Matson and the sheriff’s department was the discovery of e-mails the tax assessor casually sent to so called “supporters” of hers, including a number of people affiliated with Concerned Citizens for a Safe Community. These were written just days before she won the 2010 general election.
One exchange went, “When I worked for Pardee Homes in San Diego that got fined for using illegals millions of dollars because of the shabby construction work, illegals can’t read blueprints, duh! let alone any other important construction instructions. I could go on and on…..but I need to go to work.”
Another part of that e-mail reads, “I would never have a uneducated illegal hater of Americans watch my children or clean my house, they can’t read and have no idea what directions are listed on cleaning supplies, that’s just one example,” she wrote.
Nye County is home to about 6,000 Hispanic residents including George Romero, owner of Romero’s Mexican Restaurant. Romero said he has concerns about the ability of Matson to conduct fair assessments on Nye County property owners.
“It makes us wonder what our tax bill is going to be next year because of our last name. And I pay a lot of taxes; I have multiple properties and a lot of my relatives have multiple properties, so I’m wondering are we going to have to get an inside look to see if our taxes, because of our last name are being taxed accordingly,” he said.
Karen Jackson, station manager of Pahrump’s KNYE-FM radio, broke format and devoted her Wednesday afternoon broadcast to discuss the issue. She said many of the listeners found Matson’s comments offensive.
“I think it was something that we had to do and for the most part, people were very angry and they do want her to resign or they’ll start a recall on her,” she said.
Jackson also said she believes that Matson is not fit to be in public office.
“No one can have that much hatred for a nationality and be in public office. They’re certainly entitled to that in their personal life, but you do not bring it to the office,” she said.
Frank Smith, who along with Matson led an opposition march against the Southern Nevada Detention Facility in 2006, has a completely different view of her now. He was included as a recipient in one of her e-mails.
“I find it disturbing that Nye County continues to elect office holders who are possibly delusional, but who certainly have questionable ethics,” he said.
During a conversation on Tuesday, Matson told the Pahrump Valley Times on the subject of racism, that she has “No history of racism, other than some comments that I have.”
In reference to the Oct. 29 e-mail where she referred to illegals as “dirty filthy,” Matson said Tuesday that the e-mail was not inflammatory or insensitive. “It’s my experience that that’s what goes on, I’m from a border town. They’re dirty and filthy they’re lazy, the immigrants who come over, they want to suck up all the resources,” she said.
Following the 2010 primary election, Matson, who ran as a Republican, won unopposed in the general election after Democrat Sandra Musselman opted to take a county buyout.
Fely Quitevis, a former county commissioner and current leader in the Nye County Republican Party, was a recipient of some of Matson’s e-mails. Contacted Thursday, Quitevis said she wasn’t aware of them.
“I haven’t heard Shirley talk like that. I haven’t talked to her since right after the election,” she said.
Quitevis did, however, agree with Matson’s stance that illegal immigrants shouldn’t take jobs from Americans — though in an ironic twist Quitevis herself was born in the Philippines and should almost certainly be offended by Matson’s remarks about “brown-skinned people.”
But, the top Republican registered little disagreement with Matson.
“I’m not really paying attention with what’s going on in the county,” she said.
On the Pahrump Valley Times website, there is plenty of public comment surrounding the Matson story. Two words that are regularly popping up were, resignation and recall. But, not a small number of residents are also voicing their support for Matson.
Nye County Manager Rick Osborne is not one of them. He said during his lunch at a local Mexican restaurant on Wednesday that an elected official must be in office for a certain period of time before any kind of recall petition is filed.
“If there was a movement to recall, they would still have to wait for the six-month period to lapse before they can do that,” he said.
According to the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office, a notice of intent must be filed before a petition of recall is filed. The notice of intent is filed through the county clerk’s office, the registrar of voters or with the secretary of state.
Recall issues aside, Osborne said he doesn’t share the tax assessor’s sentiments when it comes to non-whites.
“Quite honestly, I was shocked when I read it. I’m assuming everything that was in the paper was an accurate representation of what was in the e-mails, so making that assumption, I’m shocked.”