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, naïve 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.

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