By Ken Small
Special to the Las Vegas Tribune
During the 2012 election there was a school tax increase item on the
ballot. An allegation was made that school board member Carolyn
Edwards used the school district email system to broadcast an email
request for people receiving the emails to vote for the tax increase.
State law is “NRS281A.520 … Except as otherwise provided in
subsections 4 and 5, a public officer or employee shall not request or
otherwise cause a governmental entity to incur an expense or make an
expenditure to support or oppose: (a) A ballot question…”
Michael Silbergleid, a member of the committee who wrote the ballot
opposition against the ballot item, filed a complaint against (CCSD)
Clark County School District Board Member Carolyn Edwards with the
Nevada Ethics Commission.
The school district sent their attorney, who arrived prior to the
hearing and apparently alone. Edwards arrived, flanked by her personal
attorneys with Hutchison & Steffen. Edward’s attorneys prepared a
masterful 157-page submission including numerous depositions and
exhibits. In the dismissal request the ability of good attorneys to
breathe massive confusion into a relatively simple matter was heavily
in evidence. The dismissal request did not deny that Edwards did do
what (complainant) Silberbleid alleged.
This ethics commission meeting was conducted with no public input
during the individual agenda items. Hearings are conducted using a
video conference system including northern Nevada commissioners and
the Las Vegas members who attended at the Grant Sawyer building along
with members of the public and the press. During the actual item
hearing there was no opposition called to appear. However, public
speaking is allowed at the start and finish of the meetings. The
public speaker before the hearing was Michael Silbergleid, who filed
the ethics (complaint) request. As is typical of school board
hearings, Silbergleid was interrupted during his 3-minute
presentation. The ethics commission chairperson then commented that
this was regarding an item appearing on the agenda, as though that was
a problem, and explained the rules. Silbergleid’s comments essentially
addressed the confusion and erroneous inferences in the papers that
Edwards had filed. After the interruption, Silbergleid was allowed to
finish his allotted three minutes of remarks.
After allowing three minutes for Silbergleid, Ms. Edwards was allowed
unlimited time for her attorneys to present their argument for
dismissal of the complaint. Senator Mark Hutchison (R) spoke
extensively as individual council representing Edwards.
On Edwards’ behalf her attorney argued that the email requesting that
a receiver vote for the ballot item and call to volunteer for the
campaign was not done for political reasons. This is not a requirement
of the law. But, Hutchison attempted to draw a correlation between
this matter and a past case.
He then argued that since Edwards had submitted an affidavit from her
secretary saying that she had not taken her two 15-minute breaks, she
therefore did the emailing on her own time. He also asserted the
argument that the cost of sending the email was only 20 cents by
calculation of the secretary’s time. This argument disregarded the
millions of dollars that it cost CCSD to construct and maintain a
district-wide email system and that Edwards’ email asked readers to
call a CCSD telephone number manned by CCSD staff to volunteer. By
selecting certain facts to defend he seemed to infer that it was not
foreseeable by Edwards that persons calling to volunteer would eat up
CCSD staff time in organizing the volunteers.
The attorney argued that it was ‘for the kids,’ a common argument used
by the school board when violating regulations, making the point that
under state law Edwards is charged with making sure that schools are
maintained. There was later discussion about how the makers of the
state law had not included the phrase “no matter what illegal activity
is required” in tasking school board officials with building
maintenance. It was also noted that the vote would have funded
construction of a new school.
Hutchison argued that the item was not actually known to be a ballot
item because the ballot printing date was not disclosed in her
rebuttal or the complaint and that unless early voting was ongoing
that the item was not actually on the ballot. This argument
disregarded that the school board voted to put it on the ballot months
Then he argued that there was no willful (violation) intention to
violate the law (281a.520) on Edwards’ part.
After hearing all of the points the commission decided to vote
unanimously against Edwards’ request and staff was directed to
agendize the next hearing.
Disclosure: My name was mentioned in the complaint. The documents can
be read at www.ethics.nv.gov.