Cowardice on Clark County Commission not a new thing

In 1997, Clark County commissioners told state lawmakers they unanimously embraced a plan to raise sales taxes to pay for water system infrastructure.

After much wrangling, and a message from Gov. Bob Miller that he would not sign the tax if it were imposed by the Legislature, legislators enabled the locals to raise the tax they said they supported.

And then the backpedaling began. Commissioners cited polls showing people were opposed. Gadflies buzzed about at their meetings. It must go on the ballot, the courageous commissioners declared!

Finally, after an advisory ballot question passed to give them the political cover they bravely sought, the commissioners unanimously passed the measure…. a year and a half after lawmakers approved it. (I remain surprised to this day that water czar Pat Mulroy did not murder any elected officials in the interim.)

Leadership, or lack thereof, on these taxing issues, it appears, is a trait passed from commission to commission in Southern Nevada. Or, put another way: Consistency, it seems, is the hobgoblin of lesser government bodies.

In a striking case of déjà vu, Clark County commissioners are once again petrified of tax shadows, after a governor afraid of a tax vote and lawmakers playing along enabled the board to raise a sales tax for more police motnhs after commissioners signaled their support.

And on Tuesday, they balked.

The vote to hold the badly named “More Cops” initiative (it’s now simply about holding on to current positions) came nine months after a December vote on a resolution favoring the tax (and another one in April)  and after testimony Tuesday from a parade of crazies who make the “Star Wars” bar scene look like a meeting of the Certified Public Accountants of America convention.

The parallels are eerie, with the exception that two commissioners, unlike 1997, signaled in December (and April) that they are opposed to the sales tax increase by .15 cents to infuse money into the valley’s police department. Steve Sisolak and Chris Giunchigliani said nine months they were  voting against the resolution, talking about the regressive nature of the sales tax and accountability at Metro.

Fine. But what about the rest?

Susan Brager, seen as the swing vote, told me just before Tuesday’s meeting that she was not going to vote before she has “all the information I need. The sheriff needs to do the public outreach.”

Oh? He does?

This issue is hardly new. It has been around for almost a decade, and lawmakers, twisting in their enabling agony, actually reduced the tax increase from a quarter-cent to .15-cent.

And Brager, who coincidentally is up for re-election and shares a political consultant with Sisolak, had enough information in December to vote for the tax, along with four of her colleagues. (You need five to pass the tax because a supermajority requirement was imposed.)

If one flew over the county’s nest Tuesday,  perhaps in a black helicopter, you would have heard all kinds of conspiracy theories that would embarrass most conspiracy theorists. Steve Sebelius outlined some of them in his Wednesday column.

Those folks are representative of a sliver of the populace, and I doubt many of them are even registered to vote – or would know how to do so. But this is exactly what happened in 1997, when the voices of lunacy prodded otherwise sane elected officials (no jokes, please) to abandon their senses and whatever principles they had.

This is about politics, and nothing more, practiced by a band of folks who are angry about being placed in this position by the sheriff and the Legislature. Gillespie acknowledged when I asked him Tuesday on "Ralston Reports" that the public backlash because of those recent resignations from an oversight board and high-profile shootings is clouding the issue and dampening the tax chances.

But do commissioners think it will help Metro’s trust issue if they renege on the word they gave in December, just as their 1997 counterparts showed their votes mean nothing on taxing issues?

Some of the facts are stubborn, too. There is a $30 million shortfall. Metro does have a below-average officers-per-capita ratio – and that doesn’t count the 40 million tourists, as the Sun’s Conor Shine pointed out. And leaving the sheriff in limbo because commission spines are going wobbly only exacerbates what could become a serious public safety issue.

“I need to know, as the sheriff of Clark County, how much money I will have to run my organization,” Gillespie told commissioners. But these brave souls refused go set a timeline.

Hey, wait: Couldn’t the commission just vote to put the sales on the ballot to get that political cover, as their predecessors did 16 years ago after signaling they would impose it?

If Gillespie needs a drink in the next 60 days, or just a shoulder to cry on, I’m sure Pat Mulroy will commiserate.

(Photo from