Posts Tagged ‘Caren Jenkins’

Long-Awaited Ethics Opinion Published, Attorney Hired To Reduce Backlog

By Sean Whaley | 4:21 pm February 14th, 2012

CARSON CITY – A long awaited opinion regarding the conduct of former Lyon County manager Dennis Stark has been published by the state Ethics Commission.

Stark appeared before the commission on an ethics matter in November 2010 and January 2011, and had been waiting for a published opinion in his case. Stark was found at the hearing to have committed one willful ethics violation.

In a Nevada News Bureau story highlighting his case in November 2011, Stark said  he wants to appeal the Ethics Commission decision but could not do so without the published opinion. Not having a resolution to his case has made it difficult for him to find a new job, he said.

Stark could not be reached today for comment on the publishing of the decision in his case.

Stark’s case was just one of about 60 backlogged opinions that had not been published because of staff limitations at the Ethics Commission.

The publication of the Stark opinion coincided with Ethics Commission representatives appearing before the state Board of Examiners today for approval of a $65,000 contract with an attorney to eliminate the backlog.

The board, made up of Gov. Brian Sandoval, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller, approved the contract with JMB Consulting after previously supporting a request by the agency to seek money from a legislative contingency fund to hire an attorney to erase the backlog.

Attorney Janette Bloom, operating as JMB Consulting, was hired on a temporary contract through June 30 to get the opinions published.

Ethics Commission Chairman Erik Beyer said the commission is working to find ways to ensure the backlog does not continue into the future.

“I think we’re already implementing some streamlining of the preparation of the opinions,” he told the board. “I am convinced that once this is behind us that we will be able to catch up and stay on track.”

Ethics Commission Chairman Erik Beyer with Executive Director Caren Jenkins. / Nevada News Bureau file photo.

Ethics Commission Executive Director Caren Jenkins said the contract with Bloom is based on her eliminating the entire backlog.

The Stark matter involved allegations that he used his position as the county manager to influence matters affecting the county library system’s budget to save his wife’s job with the library.

The commission determined that Stark violated the state ethics laws by initiating and participating in a private meeting with a library board member to discuss matters affecting his wife’s employment. He was fined $1,000.

Stark has called the infraction minor and the result of fabricated testimony.

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Audio clip:

Ethics Commission Chairman Erik Beyer says the commission is making changes to streamline the process so a new backlog does not develop:

021412Beyer :11 stay on track.”

State Lawmakers OK $65K For Ethics Commission To Hire Staff To Reduce Backlog Of Unpublished Opinions

By Sean Whaley | 4:29 pm December 15th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee today approved a funding request from the state Ethics Commission to hire a full-time attorney for six months to reduce a two-year backlog of unpublished opinions.

The request for $65,000 from the Legislature’s contingency fund provoked little comment from the panel, which is made up of the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees.

The funding will allow the commission to catch up on about 60 ethics matters in which decisions have been rendered but the opinions have yet to be published.

Ethics Commission Chairman Erik Beyer told lawmakers that the funding is not the complete answer to the workload issues facing the panel.

Ethics Commission Chairman Erik Beyer testifies before lawmakers today as commission Executive Director Caren Jenkins looks on. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau

“We also need to provide direction for our staff to be more efficient in putting out opinions,” he said. “We have discussed this in our commission meetings on several occasions and we have a subcommittee that has reviewed various ways in which we can efficiently get our opinions out to the public.”

Caren Jenkins, executive director of the Ethics Commission, said the panel is facing many more requests for opinions than in past years. Because the emphasis has been on hearing and ruling on cases, the publishing of the opinions has fallen behind, she said.

The cases are also becoming increasingly complex, and attorneys now are frequently brought into the process by those facing hearings, Jenkins said.

Without some assistance, the backlog will not likely be addressed anytime soon, potentially creating due process delays that could become a liability for the state, she said.

“The backlog is not getting caught up, it is simply being added to with the current load,” Jenkins said. “We have a 300 percent increase in our caseload since the number of employees of the commission was increased in 2005.

“I don’t think it’s good business, and no court would be allowed to be two years behind in issuing its opinions without a huge outcry,” she said. “And the Commission on Ethics, I hope, never finds itself in this circumstance again.”

While not mentioning him by name, Jenkins referred to the case of former Lyon County Manger Dennis Stark, who appeared before the commission on an ethics matter in November 2010 and January 2011, and who is still waiting for a published order in his case. Stark was found to have committed one ethics violation.

In a Nevada News Bureau story highlighting his case, Stark said he wants to appeal the Ethics Commission decision but cannot do so without the published opinion. Not having a resolution to his case has made it difficult for him to find a new job, he said.

Jenkins said that while the temporary staff is needed, the commission is looking at ways to streamline its processes to improve efficiencies without additional funding. The commission is not required to issue published opinions in all cases, and it may be time to change that practice, she said.

Opinions are only required in decisions that go against the individual appearing before the commission, Jenkins said.

Even so the commission may still seek an additional staff attorney when it comes to the Legislature in 2013, she said.

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Audio clips:

Ethics Commission Chairman Erik Beyer says the panel is looking at ways to become more efficient:

121511Beyer :28 to the public.”

Caren Jenkins, executive director of the Ethics Commission says the backlog is not getting caught up:

121511Jenkins1 :15 increased in 2005.”

Jenkins says the cases that come to the commission are increasingly complex:

121511Jenkins2 :09 they’re lawyering up.”

Jenkins says it’s not good business to be so far behind in issuing its opinions:

121511Jenkins3 :14 this circumstance again.”

 

State Board OKs $65K For Ethics Commission To Hire Staff To Reduce Backlog Of Unpublished Opinions

By Sean Whaley | 2:20 pm December 13th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A state board today approved a $65,000 request from the state Ethics Commission to hire an attorney to help reduce a two-year backlog of unpublished opinions.

The Board of Examiners, made up of Gov. Brian Sandoval, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller, approved the request submitted by Caren Jenkins, executive director of the state Ethics Commission.

Caren Jenkins, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, spoke at the Board of Examiners meeting today. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

The request to tap a legislative contingency fund to pay the salary of an attorney for six months must now be approved by the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee, which meets Thursday.

“I know that it’s unusual to fund a position at this level, but I fear that without immediate attention to the backlog we’ll never catch up,” Jenkins told the board.

The Ethics Commission is adding to the backlog as it hears and decides more cases, she said. There are approximately 60 opinions that need to be written.

The emphasis for the commission has been hearing matters and rendering decisions, Jenkins said. The backlog has been an issue for some time, but has recently hit a critical stage, she said.

The commission sought two additional positions from the 2011 Legislature but the request was not funded due to other demands on scarce tax revenues.

Gov. Brian Sandoval asked if there systemic issues with the operation of the commission that could help reduce the backlog.

Jenkins said such changes are being considered. But even with the implementation of successful streamlining efforts, the agency will not be able to catch up with the backlog, she said. The commission has a meeting set for Wednesday where the issue will come up for further discussion, Jenkins said.

“It’s not just money, I guess is the bottom line,” Sandoval said. “I’m going to vote to support this today but I would like to see some demonstration by the commission that it is seeking to improve its efficiencies and efficacy as well.”

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Audio clips:

Caren Jenkins, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, says that without the funding, the backlog may never be addressed:

121311Jenkins :11 never catch up.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval says the issue isn’t just money but creating efficiencies as well:

121311Sandoval :29 efficacy as well.”

State Ethics Commission Seeks $65K To Hire Staff To Reduce Backlog Of Unpublished Opinions

By Sean Whaley | 5:34 pm December 7th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Faced with a two-year backlog of unpublished opinions, the state Ethics Commission is seeking $65,000 from a contingency fund to hire an attorney to help deal with the situation.

Photo by Tom Ventura via Flickr.

The request for funding from the Legislature’s Interim Finance Contingency Fund would allow the commission to contract with a temporary full-time attorney for six months beginning in January 2012 to help in getting the backlog of opinions written and published.

The funding request will first go to the state Board of Examiners on Tuesday. If approved by the board, made up of Gov. Brian Sandoval, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller, the request will be considered by the Interim Finance Committee at its Dec. 15 meeting.

Caren Jenkins, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, reported the backlog at an Ethics Commission meeting earlier this year. In an interview with the Nevada News Bureau in November, Jenkins said the agency has fallen behind in issuing written opinions because of a major increase in public officials seeking guidance.

There were 67 requests for opinions in 2004, and she expects 172 this year. Jenkins said she has one investigator for the entire state who must review each case.

“The demands on our staff have become almost laughable,” she said in the interview. “We have three-times the workload for when they thought we needed five full-time staffers.”

As a result, the publishing of its formal opinions in the cases has fallen about two years behind with 50 opinions yet to be written, Jenkins said.

The agency sought two new positions in the 2011 session to help address the backlog, but the Legislature did not approve them, given all the other critical demands on the budget, she said.

The opinions, when written, are published on the agency’s website to provide guidance for others, Jenkins said.

The inability of the commission staff to get the opinions written has had real word consequences.

Former Lyon County Manger Dennis Stark, who appeared before the commission on an ethics matter in November 2010 and January 2011, was still waiting for a published order in his case when interviewed by the NNB last month.

Without it, Stark said he has been unable to pursue a court appeal on the one charge for which he was found to have violated state ethics laws. With no final record of the hearing, Stark, who called the one infraction minor and the result of fabricated testimony, said he cannot successfully seek employment either.

State Ethics Backlog In Publishing Opinions Having Real Consequences For One Former Public Official

By Sean Whaley | 3:25 pm November 4th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A two-year backlog in publishing opinions rendered by the Nevada State Ethics Commission is having tangible and detrimental consequences for at least one former state public officer.

Former Lyon County Manger Dennis Stark, who appeared before the commission on an ethics matter in November 2010 and January 2011, is still waiting for a published order in his case.

Without it, he cannot pursue a court appeal on the one charge for which he was found to have violated state ethics laws. With no final record of the hearing, Stark, who called the one infraction minor and the result of fabricated testimony, said he cannot successfully seek employment either.

Photo by Tom Ventura via Flickr.

Stark said he is in limbo, unemployed while waiting for final resolution to his ethics matter.

“I can’t move on with my life, personally or professionally, without that final order,” he said in a telephone interview this week. “And that is basically keeping me out of employment. I cannot make an income to support my family or pay my bills.”

Stark said he is living on unemployment.

“I’m dying on the vine here,” he said.

In an Oct. 19 letter to Ethics Commission Chairman Erik Beyer, Stark urged the panel to find a way to address the backlog: “In my case, for example, the ‘lack of opinion’ or ruling seriously impacts my well-being on a number of levels: financially, emotionally, and physically. I have been essentially ‘blocked’ from gainful employment and other constitutional rights and now teeter on the brink of bankruptcy.”

Caren Jenkins, executive director of the state Ethics Commission since 2009, agrees that Stark deserves to have the written decision in his case. He is one of many waiting for a written determination, she said.

Jenkins said the agency has fallen behind in issuing written opinions because of a major increase in public officials seeking guidance.

With the last increase in staff – from three to five – coming in 2004, the commission has focused its limited resources on investigating and hearing ethics cases so oral decisions can be rendered at meetings, she said.

There were 67 requests for opinions in 2004, and she expects 172 this year. Jenkins said she has one investigator for the entire state who must review each case.

“The demands on our staff have become almost laughable,” she said. “We have three times the workload for when they thought we needed five full-time staffers.”

As a result, the publishing of its formal opinions in the cases has fallen about two years behind with 50 opinions yet to be written, Jenkins said.

The agency sought two new positions in the 2011 session, but the Legislature did not approve them, given all the other critical demands on the budget, she said.

The Ethics Commission, a panel of eight appointees who render decisions in cases, authorized Jenkins to approach the executive and legislative branches with an interim funding request to hire the two staff. But without any significant change in the agency’s situation that was not considered in the 2011 session, there is no support for such a request, Jenkins said.

The backlog, first reported by the Las Vegas Sun, is a significant concern, she said.

“We have all of the elected public officers, all of the appointed public officers, and every public employee in the state of Nevada under our jurisdiction,” Jenkins said. “Everybody in the state of Nevada who is paid by a government or serves the government is under the jurisdiction of the commission. So our client base, if you will, is huge.

“The long-term effect of being underfunded is that the public simply is not on notice of where the line is between a violation and a non-violation,” she said. “And at some point, due process is going to be deemed to have been affected.”

The opinions, when written, are published on the agency’s website to provide guidance for others, Jenkins said.

The Nevada Attorney General’s office has offered some assistance, which is appreciated, she said. But the commission has to tread carefully since the agency has jurisdiction over the attorney general’s office as well on ethics matters.

Stark’s ethics troubles began when Deborah Aquino, now a former member of the Lyon County library board, filed a complaint in June 2010 alleging he used his position to attempt to preserve his wife’s employment with the Lyon County Library System as budget cuts were being considered. A dozen allegations were forwarded to the commission for a hearing.

The complaint was filed after he resigned as county manager.

At the conclusion of his hearing in January, Stark was found to have violated ethics laws in one instance, when he met with a library board member to preserve his wife’s job. He was fined $1,000. He called the finding by the commission “ludicrous” and “miniscule in nature.” He also called the initial commission investigation skewed and biased against him.

Jenkins said the commission doesn’t characterize violations as major or minor.

“Mr. Stark was found to have willfully violated a provision of the ethics in government laws and a monetary sanction was imposed,” she said.

Stark said: “We do plan on appealing the decision that they made during the last day of the hearing based on the information contained in the transcripts. But until we have the final order we really don’t have a good handle on what we’re looking at. And this is crimping and stymieing my life and my ability to move out and earn an income.”

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Audio clips:

Former Lyon County Manager Dennis Stark says he can’t move on with his life without the final order:

110411Stark1 :29 pay my bills.”

Stark says he plans on appealing the decision but can’t do so without the order:

110411Stark2 :27 earn an income.”

Ethics Commission Executive Director Caren Jenkins says the client base of the panel is huge:

110411Jenkins1 :34 to continue increasing.”

Jenkins says the effect of the inability to finalize the backlog of decisions is that public officers won’t have the guidance they need on ethics matters:

110411Jenkins2 :15 have been affected.”