Monday, December 18, 2006

Column 87 - Bohn Must Go

As one who is committed to seeing the issue through to a just conclusion, I’ve found the community’s response to the Bohn/Mapps issue at IVGID gratifying. At one holiday party I literally could not cross the room without being stopped repeatedly for a discussion of what is happening and people’s reaction to it. The main thing I noticed was the degree to which Chairman Bohn’s campaign of deflection and obfuscation seemed to be working in the absence of concrete information on why Ms Mapps resigned, when she resigned, and what she said in her letter(s) of resignation. As long as those things remained unknown, people naturally gravitated there rather than to the more important question of the propriety of Mr. Bohn’s withholding the information.

With the publication of Ms Mapps’ first letter in last Wednesday’s Bonanza, we have almost everything out in the open. We have seen both of Ms Mapps letters of resignation and, admirably, she has written her side of the story in a letter to the editor and submitted to an interview besides. So let’s review the bidding:

In early September, Ms Mapps submitted a letter of resignation to Chairman Bohn. This is the letter that was published last week. The letter contains serious accusations regarding the General Manager’s behavior toward a variety of people, and of Mr. Bohn’s handling of the issue. Ms Mapps chose to resign over these issues. You can argue with her choice, but:

HER RESIGNATION IS NOT THE ISSUE; THE ISSUE IS JOHN BOHN’S ACTIONS

The issue is also not what Mr. Horn did or did not do – these are matters for the Board to investigate and deal with. Ms Mapps says she requested that Bohn submit the letter to the other trustees so they would know why she was resigning. She states “They should have known and been told. That was John’s doing.” Even if she had not resigned, allegations as serious as those in her letter should have been made known to the Board, in confidence if necessary, but made known.

With regard to a specific allegation in Ms Mapps’ letter, she states she was told by Bohn that he had spoken to the Board Counsel about a concern she had and she later found out he hand not spoken to the Counsel – in other words he lied to her. In his brief interview, Bohn does not deny that charge.

We further know that, after a conversation with Bohn Ms Mapps wrote a much milder letter of resignation, which she was then persuaded by Bohn and possibly Scott Brooke to withhold until after the election. We also know that Bohn did not confer with any other Trustees about persuading her to do this, and that he stated in an earlier interview that he did it out of a concern for the “fairness” of the upcoming election. To withhold this information from the Board and the public would be questionable under any circumstances, and is at the least an inarguable conflict of interest when Bohn was a candidate in the election in question.

We also know that Bohn has given statements about his actions that are grossly inconsistent, saying in one case that he decided to withhold the information and later in an unagendized statement at the December 6 Board Meeting, placing all the responsibility for the decision on Ms Mapps with no reference to his own participation in the decision.

None of the above is speculation, analysis, or conclusion – these are the facts and they are on the record.

The residents of IVGID are free to draw their own conclusions, but if Bohn’s actions do not rise to the level of unethical behavior as defined in Nevada's Ethics in Government Law (NRS 281.411 through 281.581), then to paraphrase the immortal Barbara Jordan, perhaps that 20th Century document should be consigned to a 21st Century paper shredder.

In my last column I called upon those who are outraged by this flagrant abuse of the office of Trustee to be heard, and they have been. John Bohn has demonstrated and been publicly criticized for his contemptuous treatment of the public he was elected to serve. He treats public comment in a patronizing and offhanded manner, as if it were an annoyance.  He is probably also contemptuous enough of the public to think that this will die out over the holidays. Mr. Bohn, it will not die out. As an ex-military man I know you are acquainted with the requirements of honor and I call upon you to do the honorable thing and resign from the office you have dishonored. If you do not, I and many others have pledged to do everything in our power to see that you are removed. You have already put a Trustee through having to deal with resigning – do not force the voters into the further misery of a recall.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Column 87 The Government They Deserve

The phrase “public office is a public trust” is part of the American political ethic. NRS  281.421 (the state’s ethics statute) states that “In Nevada, a public office is a public trust held for the sole benefit of the people. Public officers and employees must commit to avoid conflicts of interest between private interests and public duties.”

In this regard, a great many people have spoken and written to me to express their outrage at IVGID Chairman Bohn’s withholding Beverly Mapps’ letter of resignation on his own decision, yet few seem to be taking any action. If I am the only voice for what seems to be pretty widespread community outrage, then what is predictable is that the issue will die a quiet and unfortunate death.

The tactic of some to attack the messenger (me) both personally and by distorting what is said and then attack based on those distortions has hit a new high (low?) on this issue, recalling Churchill’s observation that “Some people's idea of [free speech] is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage.”  Let me see if I can clarify a few things for those who are interested in facts and clarity.

First of all, none of this is an attack on Ms Mapps, or her resignation – this was her right. The issue, which some would have us ignore, is that the Chairman, a candidate in the election, (a) chose to decide what the electorate should or shouldn’t know, (b) chose not to consult with anyone else except the resignor and the attorney for the Board, and (c) chose to flout established Board procedure by withholding Board Correspondence from the agenda.

There is one point worth noting, though. Ms Mapps’ letter of resignation contained strong criticism of the Board, which criticism has been lost, in part because Chairman Bohn seems to have felt that the Board could wait to hear this criticism from one of its members who felt strongly enough about it to resign.

Secondly, this is not about how the election might have gone if this information was made public – the law is clear that the election would have been for two seats, with the third then appointed by whatever means the Board chose. One could, however, argue that the resignation and Ms Mapps’ criticism were something the voters had a right to know as they decided how to cast their votes.

Thirdly, as I’ve pointed out repeatedly, this is not about my supposed vaunted ambition to be on the Board – if that were what I wanted to do, the smart thing would have been to keep quiet, kiss up, and do my best to be appointed on December 13th. One factor in my withdrawing last week was that I got tired of this specious argument being used to deflect attention from the real issues.

I believe the facts indicate that, at the very least, John Bohn violated his public trust in that he had a conflict of interest. I do not find it credible that someone of his background and experience is, as one correspondent suggested, na├»ve or unaware of this. If he could not see at least the appearance of a conflict he acted incompetently; if he could see it he acted unethically; if he did so in order to maintain the dubious power of being a Trustee and the minor honorarium it carries with it, he acted criminally. I don’t claim to know which is the case, but I do believe that the residents of the District are entitled to an accounting by Mr. Bohn and also from Ms Mapps, who remains an elected official. What we have gotten instead is silence from them and  attacks, distortions, and name calling from people “defending” them.

David Simon said that “one of the sad things about contemporary journalism is that it actually matters very little. The world now is almost inured to the power of journalism. The best journalism would manage to outrage people. And people are less and less inclined to outrage.” That seems to be the case here in Incline where outrage is short-lived, and seldom translates to action. The Board meets tonight to decide on their procedure for interviewing candidates and next week to select a new Board member. Both meetings will include public comment. If you feel strongly one way or the other on the issues I’ve outlined here, I urge you to go to the meetings and use your three minutes of public comment to demand an accounting and express yourself.

If you will allow me one last quote, de Tocqueville said that “in a democracy, the people get the government they deserve.” I will do my best to make sure this issue doesn’t go away, but if I am the only voice of the outrage many people profess, then the issue will fade away and, I suppose, the residents of Incline will have the government they deserve.

Column 86 (National) A Modest Proposal

A Modest Proposal

As you can imagine, I found the results of the mid-term elections, in the words of that guy in the credit card commercials, “rewarding – very, very, very, rewarding.” As Frederic Hertzberg in the current New Yorker, “This election was a crushing rebuke to Bush and his party. The rest is interpretation. Nearly everyone agreed that public anger about the Iraq catastrophe was paramount. To the surprise of much of the political class, exit polls suggested that corruption was almost as formidable a factor, especially among Independents and disaffected Republicans.”

The spinmeisters on the Right are working overtime to put some lipstick on this pig, but clearly Bush has spent not only his supposed political capital, but that of a lot of other Republicans as well. Now the Democrats are in control of the Legislative Branch, and could be considered to have the edge in the race for the Presidency in 2008. Unfortunately, that consideration requires that we ignore some unpleasant realities about my party of choice.

Without stretching too much, one could make the case that the Democrats did not win the election so much as the Republicans lost it. The incompetence and corruption on the GOP side made it easy to run on a “we’re not them” platform, and while I wish it weren’t so, the Democrats did not have much more of a coherent story or message than they did in 2004. For the Dems to take advantage of their newfound political capital we will have to do more than clean things up over the next two years – we will have to find our ideological feet and get them solidly underneath us.

The key issues of the day are, for the most part, not very arresting or not ones on which the left and right disagree in compelling ways. The war in Iraq is an unmitigated disaster, and the only real issue is how to withdraw and how fast. Predictably Bush will find some way to get the GOP off the hook on this one over the next two years and, by referencing the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, defusing the war as a political issue. Minimum wage, gay marriage, the death tax do not admit of a clear political divide and in any case are not real “grabbers.”

There is, I think, an issue on which the two parties clearly divide and that is of sufficient importance and impact that the Democrats could build a platform around it, and that is the environment. At this point the scientific community is as unanimous as it can ever get on the issue of climate change. While pundits, columnists, and novelists who would be pundits insist the scientific evidence is equivocal, there has not been a single peer-reviewed scientific article that dissents from the view that the climate is changing in the direction of global warming and that that change is potentially calamitous. Even Bush has admitted that America’s addiction to fossil fuels, particularly oil, is dangerous, the Republican Party remains in thrall to oil interests and to vested big business interests in general.

So my recommendation to the Democrats, regardless of whom they run, is to start early and often to build a campaign around the environment – not spotted owls or endangered fish (though those are important also) but around energy policy, alternative energy sources (solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and, yes, nuclear), and reversing global warming. That’s a horse (or a donkey) they can ride to the White House.

Column 85 - He's Back

He’s b-a-a-a-ck.

I warned people who didn’t like my column that they should vote for me or I might be back. Well… Seriously, though, Andy has been doing a great job and has graciously offered to alternate weeks (and months for the national columns) with me, so here I am.

It’s been an interesting six months. Everyone should run for office at least once in their life if only to get a feel for what the political process looks like from the inside. I must say that the local races were (with one notable exception) remarkably civil, particularly as compared to the state contests, and while I’m disappointed that Nevada didn’t follow the national trend toward rebuking the Administration, I was gratified by the results nationally, some of the state results, and most of the local results.

Now we have a new wrinkle in local politics. IVGID Trustee Bev Mapps has resigned, and in her letter of resignation takes a swipe at her fellow Board Members. It seems odd to me that Ms Mapps’ idea of how to meet the Board’s responsibility “to provide a level of oversight to IVGID and its management” is to resign, but that’s what she has done.

What seems more odd to me is that Mapps’ letter of resignation is dated September 11th but was not made public until after the election. Rumors abound that someone received the letter well in advance of November 8th, so one has to wonder if someone sat on it and why. Would the results of the election have been different if Mapps’ charges were known and if it were known that the first duty of the new Board would be to appoint another member? I believe that the residents of IV/CB have a right to know if this news was withheld and by whom, and to inquire into the motives and ethics of whoever was involved in hiding this information.

Chairman Bohn is quoted in the Bonanza article giving a whole list of criteria the Board will consider in making this appointment including the ambiguous “personality that would be a good fit with the other trustees.” Conspicuous by its absence is any reference to the fact that there was just an election in which 40% of those voting expressed their preference for new people and new thinking on the Board. It seems to me that this should be the major thing the Board considers.

The first announcement was that the Board would interview candidates and make a decision on January 10, after Mapps’ resignation takes effect on December 31st. Now the date has been moved up to December 13th, when Mapps will still be on the Board. Again, one wonders why. The Board has 30 days from December 31st to make an appointment before the issue goes to the County, so why move it up? Will Mapps vote on her own replacement or will she (as I believe she should) recuse herself?

Also, if four Board members vote on the fifth, what happens in case of a tie? NRS 318 calls for the County Board of Commissioners to fill vacancies on the IVGID Board – presumably the County Board has delegated this responsibility to the IVGID Board, but who breaks a tie? My guess would be the Commissioners – do IV/CB residents want this decision taken at the County level?

Obviously I have a dog in this fight. I still want to be on the Board for all the reasons I made clear in my campaign. More importantly I want to see the views represented by the 2,649 votes cast for Tripp Hudson and for me (only 1,266 less than the combined total for the incumbents) honored in filling the vacancy on the Board.

The Bonanza has opened a forum on the North Tahoe Living website (www.northtahoeliving.com) on this issue and I urge residents to make their views known to the Trustees, to Jim Galloway our Commissioner, and to each other through the forum and the paper. Most importantly, let the IVGID Board members know if you want them to honor the results of the election or if you are OK with their electing a Trustee to a two-year term on their own.