The Clark County Commission embarrassment: Voting against the new chairman, squabbling over seating

There may be more embarrassing or childish moments in political history than what we witnessed at today’s Clark County Commission meeting. But not many.

Commissioners voting against a new chairman even thought they knew he would win? Yes. That happened. And for no good reason.

And commissioners, like three-year-olds, squabbling about where they should sit up on the dais? Yes. That happened. And for no good reason.

What a pathetic spectacle. And these folks are on the most powerful local government body in the state.

Here’s what happened – a combination of raw politics and clumsy vaudeville:

Steve Sisolak wanted to be chairman. So did Tom Collins. Collins knew Sisolak had at least three votes, including Larry Brown, who immediately made a motion to elevate Sisolak.

Collins tried to stop the vote by asking that it be postponed until Chris Giunchigliani, his friend, arrived. She was returning late from a trip, apparently because of plane trouble. (There is no evdience Sisolak tinkered with the jet.)

No dice, outgoing Chairman Susan Brager said. Giunchigliani did not ask for the meeting to be held up, Brager reported to her colleagues. Brager was supporting Sisolak. She called for the vote.

So far, just hardball politics. Fun stuff.

Then the vote was posted – four to two, with Collins and Lawrence Weekly voting against Sisolak. What? They knew they were going to lose, so why do that? And why not explain the vote?

Let me tell you how unusual this is: County records show the last time there was a split vote on a chairman was 1976. They are usually pro forma votes and unanimous. What possible point could there have been?

Yes, it was about as pointless as what happened after the new chairman said he wanted Brown as his vice-chairman. Weekly immediately nominated Mary-Beth Scow instead. Guess who won?

I’ve seen kindergartner classes that were better behaved.

Then the unthinkable happened: It got worse.

The next item was on – believe it or not – the seating arrangement. It was put on by Brown, who obviously was sick of sitting between Collins and Giunchigliani. Had they been passing notes in class? Whispering behind his back?

Brown had a wry smile on his face, wondered if the commission should go into recess-- never was that word more appropriate --  and move around. Musical chairs, perhaps?

Move one to the right, Brown suggested. That would work, the county’s attorney said. So it’s legal? Phew.

Not so fast.  “I’m not moving,” Weekly declared. There was laughter. But he was deadly serious.

Brager, like a great diplomat, figured a way to allow Brown to move away from the Chris and Tom show. Collins wasn’t budging anyhow. And the smiling and perhaps relieved county counsel said that obviated the need for a vote.

You can’t make this stuff up, folks. This really happened at a public meeting of the most powerful elected body in Nevada.

Beyond the immature pyrotechnics, here’s the serious conclusion: This is a bitterly divided board, one of the most in memory. And it’s personal. If Giunchigliani had been there, it would have been 4-3 on many votes, including for the chairmanship, perhaps, and certainly on one at the end on the coroner’s inquest system.

But the Sisolak-Brown faction won that one, too, with only Weekly and Collins opposing a proposal put forward by the new chairman and his lieutenant that abolishes the current coroner’s inquest system and replaces it with one derided by critics who say it is not nearly as transparent.

Certainly not as transparent as the power play executed by Sisolak and Brown on Monday, which gave us a window into a board that someone will soon be calling The Silly Septet.