Nye County Commissioner Frank Carbone quietly withdrew his request to recall four members of the Nye County Water District Board after hearing accusations that included he was practicing Chicago-style politics.
The request would’ve recalled Pahrump water board members John MacLaughlin, Donna Lamm, Tim McCall and at-large member Lee White. Carbone’s original motion asked to set up a procedure for interviewing and selecting water board members and to look at evaluating two water board members he didn’t identify, within a month.
County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen sympathized with Carbone, who said the members were routinely reappointed without giving an opportunity to other applicants. He wanted to reappoint them for only three months during the July 16 meeting, but was told by water district general manager Darrell Lacy they were two-year terms.
“I have concerns about one person I would like to see changed,” Schinhofen said without identifying the board member.
All four except White have served on the water board since its creation after the state Legislature passed Senate Bill 222 in the 2007 session creating the county water district.
Schinhofen suggested talking to water board members to see if they wanted to step down. He said county commissioners have the authority to bring back any appointed board members, but he said recall was a poor word choice for the proposed action.
Commissioner Donna Cox agreed, saying water board members served at the pleasure of the county commission and could be recalled by a simple vote.
Carbone and Cox had voted against the reappointments.
“Several people had an interest and did not have an opportunity to be heard,” Cox said, adding she didn’t see the qualifications of the incumbents seeking reappointment.
“I believe the whole board is guilty of negligence at this point at the least and I think the whole board should be looked at, not just a couple members,” Cox said. “If they’re doing a fantastic job they should know when their position is up, as a commissioner I know when my position is up.”
But Commissioner Lorinda Wichman said she was disappointed and embarrassed by the agenda item.
“There’s only four appropriate reasons to use the word recall to recall anybody. They should be removed if they’ve done something unethical, immoral, illegal or unsafe,” Wichman said. She told the proponents, “I will never let anybody bring up a recall against you simply because they want someone else in your seat.”
Commission Chairman Butch Borasky also was in opposition.
“I think we’re going to lose all faith in our organization and the appearance of the good ole’ boy network like we’re all accused of,” he said. “There is an appearance that someone may be trying to be guided into a position just to get somebody out of the way.”
Carbone said there were a lot of applicants, Borasky said he read every application. The same group of eight applicants applied to serve on each of the three Pahrump area seats along with the incumbents.
Longtime Pahrump community leader Tim Hafen blasted the proposal even more.
“Those board members are not guilty of anything I know of and without cause. They should not be recalled. What is the motivation behind this recall? With all respect to the board, this reeks of a naked Chicago-style, political maneuver,” Hafen said.
He said the water board would be in limbo after such a recall and couldn’t carry on their duties with only three of the seven members.
“Give it no further consideration. It is an extremely ridiculous type of maneuver,” Hafen said.
Applicants who applied unsuccessfully to be appointed spoke in support of the agenda item. Amargosa Valley town board member John Bosta applied for the Amargosa-Beatty seat.
“The members have been reappointed. Their term had expired. They took and continued to conduct business for one year and nobody said, ‘whoops we didn’t reappoint the board.’ So you asked for people to apply,” Bosta said. He charged the water board with not having a proper quorum during that time.
“When you have people who are not an officially appointed board and that board acts, basically there is really no quorum and I believe that any action they took is illegal,” Bosta said.
Kenny Bent, who applied for the Pahrump position, said “I am very taken aback by the way this whole thing was handled and most of the public was not aware whatsoever of what was happening.” He called it a sham after asking people to turn in applications and “a slam dunk” for the incumbents.
Wichman said a vote can only be brought back for consideration by a board member who voted with the majority wanted to change their vote.
Applicant Dan LeVar of Crystal, who applied together with his wife, former Pahrump town board member Charlotte LeVar, touted his 27 years in public works, he retired from the Las Vegas Valley Water District. LeVar complained he wasn’t even given an interview. He also accused water board members of a conflict of interest.
“You have two people on that board who have been buying and selling water rights for many years and they are in real estate and I personally feel uncomfortable with them being on that board,” LeVar said. Lamm and McCall are water rights brokers. LeVar added, “We have another individual on that same board that also is in real estate who has been selling large parcels of property.”
LeVar said he was astonished to attend a water board meeting and no one questioned a consultant asking for money. “Somebody threw his hands up in the air and said the following: ‘Give the man what he wants’ and I just about fell out of my chair,” he said.
Wichman explained the impetus for forming a water district began after discussions with the Southern Nevada Water Authority in 2004 which wanted to acquire water rights in Nye County; officials were told they would need to form a water district. Negotiations broke down with the SNWA anyway after the creation of the water district, she said.
Applicant Judith Holmgren called the situation “very, very awkward.”
Other applicants included former Pahrump town board member Frank Maurizio, county renewable energy consultant Walt Kuver, Mel Millett and Herman Payne.
Water board member James Eason, the Tonopah town manager who represents that area, said he wasn’t aware his term expired. He said there was no hidden agenda. Eason, Lamm, McCall and White’s terms were extended to the end of 2014; board members Roberta “Midge” Carver, Weeks and MacLaughlin’s terms were extended until the end of 2015. Deputy District Attorney Marla Zlotek advised commissioners at the time it would be improper to extend terms because certain people weren’t seated properly for the term as it began, the appointments through 2014 would have to begin in 2012.
Eason said water board members want to have a joint workshop with county commissioners.
County Clerk Sam Merlino said her office hasn’t been involved with the water district board but would try to work with them.
“This is just one that fell by the wayside,” she said.
PVT staff members assisted in reporting this story.