Posts Tagged ‘nevada press association’

Survey Of State Lawmakers, Candidates Shows Support For Continued Government Transparency Efforts

By Sean Whaley | 2:00 am May 23rd, 2012

CARSON CITY – Sixty state lawmakers and legislative candidates who responded to a survey on government transparency largely favor new laws requiring the Legislature to follow the Open Meeting Law and mandating expanded reporting of spending on legislators by lobbyists.

The survey, sponsored by the Nevada Policy Research Institute and the Nevada Press Association, also saw broad support for imposing a 72-hour time frame so the public can read bills before they go to a floor vote, subjecting local government negotiations with public employee unions to the state Open Meeting Law and assessing penalties for government officials who violate Nevada’s public records laws.

Illustration by David Vignoni, Ysangkok via Wikimedia Commons.

The survey was sent to 153 candidates and eight state Senators who are not up for re-election this year. Forty-one Republicans, 14 Democrats and five minor party candidates responded.

This survey is intended to give the voters a chance to find out where candidates stand on transparency issues including public records, open meetings and campaign finance reforms.

“I think it ought to be a very important issue for voters,” said Barry Smith, executive director of the press association. “That’s why we do this; so that they know who has it on their priority list.”

Advocates of increased transparency in government say the responses suggest that further progress can be made on the issues in the 2013 session of the Nevada Legislature.

“We’ve been able to move forward with Open Meeting Law, Open Records Law; the campaign finance does show some improvement,” Smith said. “That’s another thing these surveys showed – there is quite a bit of work to do and there is quite a bit of work the Legislature can do.”

Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy policy director at NPRI, said at least 50 of the 60 responses were either in favor of or leaning in favor of the proposals, suggesting there is a good chance for further progress for increased government transparency in the upcoming session.

The new requirements for campaign contribution and expense reports adopted in the 2011 session were part of the 2010 survey, suggesting the effort is having some influence, he said.

“A lot of these other ideas were embodied into bills; they just never passed the Legislature,” Lawrence said. “So hopefully that will happen this time.”

The survey comes just as Republican Assembly caucus leader Pat Hickey, R-Reno, announced several transparency reforms he will seek in the 2013 session. Hickey responded to the survey, indicating support for the various proposals with a “lean yes” on applying the Open Meeting Law to the Legislature. He indicated some flexibility may be required for the proposal, given the 120-day time limit the Legislature has to finish its business.

While most survey responses were supportive without qualification, there were also a few “maybes” and some opposition to the proposals.

Former state Senator Sheila Leslie, a Democrat who resigned her seat in mid-term to run for the Senate 15 seat now held by Republican Greg Brower, did not favor subjecting collective bargaining negotiations to public scrutiny.

“I don’t think inviting TV cameras into negotiations with public employee unions is in the best interest of government,” she said. “There needs to be more transparency and communication but making everything subject to the Open Meeting Law is not necessarily good government. This is one of those instances.”

Leslie was not alone in expressing concerns about the proposal.

Reno Republican Assembly 31 candidate David Espinosa said: “Negotiations, by their nature, are sensitive matters that an open meeting inclusion would transform into an entrenchment of sides, and an opportunity for grandstanding and demagoguery. I would instead support all efforts to openly disclose the starting positions of both sides of the negotiation, and the final position of each of the representatives of the local government.”

Lawrence said the issue is more problematic for some candidates and elected officials because of the support they get from public sector labor unions, which generally oppose such proposals.

Others are more bipartisan in nature, such as the proposal to require reporting of spending by lobbyists on lawmakers all year round and not just during each legislative session.

Leslie sponsored the bill in 2011 that would have required lobbyists to report all spending on lawmakers, not just spending during a legislative session. Senate Bill 206 passed the Senate unanimously but died in an Assembly committee without a vote.

Smith said the goal is to keep moving forward with incremental successes.

“To me it should be obvious that open government is a bipartisan kind of thing that people can agree on that that’s what we want,” he said. “There’s not always agreement on exactly how you get there. But as long as people think it’s important and are willing to work on it, then we will move forward with some of these things.”


Audio clips:

Barry Smith of the Nevada Press Association says the survey results should be very important to voters:

052312Smith1 :12 their priority list.”

Smith says the surveys show a lot more work needs to be done in the areas of government transparency:

052312Smith2 :26 Legislature can do.”

Smith says open government is a bipartisan issue:

052312Smith3 :21 of these things.”

Geoffrey Lawrence, deputy policy director at the NPRI, says the survey has some influence with lawmakers:

052312Lawrence1 :24 happen this time.”

Lawrence says opening public employee labor negotiations to public scrutiny is one of the more problematic transparency issues:

052312Lawrence2 :29 that position, probably.”



Updated Public Employee Salary And Benefit Data Published By Nevada Think Tank

By Sean Whaley | 2:01 am July 19th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Anyone with an interest in what Nevada’s state and local government employees make in salary and benefits can review the 2010 data that has been posted today by a  Nevada think tank.

The searchable database at Transparent Nevada does not yet contain all the local government salary information because not all cities and counties have responded, said Victor Joecks, communications director for the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

But most of the major cities and counties, as well as the state colleges and universities and the state of Nevada, have provided the data as requested, he said.

The Clark County School District provided its data as well, although NPRI is still waiting on the Clark County information, Joecks said.

“We certainly appreciate all the jurisdictions that were helpful and sent the data as we requested and as they are obligated to by state law,” he said. “We will continue with some of the places that haven’t sent us the data; we’ll continue following up and looking at that data as the year goes on.”

The data can be searched by name, occupation or in order of highest pay. Salaries and benefits, when provided, are listed separately, along with a column showing total compensation.

A Nevada think tank has added 2010 public employee salary information to its website.

Joecks said some jurisdictions only provide base pay amounts, even though benefits, which can be as much as 40 percent or more of a public employee’s salary, is important information as well.

Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, said the site is useful for the press and the public. NPRI is a member of the association.

“It goes beyond just being there and being available,” he said. “Government websites post a lot of information, but NPRI collects the data, exposes it and promotes it.”

The site allows the public to view the information and draw their own conclusions about public salaries and benefits, Smith said.

A search of the site shows that many of the top paid public officials in Nevada work for the Nevada System of Higher Education, including University of Nevada, Reno head football coach Chris Ault, who earned nearly $527,000 in compensation in 2010.

For some higher education employees however, the salaries can reflect alternate sources of income that do not come from state taxpayers.

In some other cases salaries were inflated because employees were retiring and received unused sick leave and vacation pay.

One example is Joseph Forti, who took a buyout last year and retired as North Las Vegas chief of police. His 2010 salary is listed at just under $76,000, but total compensation is listed at $733,000. His compensation in 2010 included $333,000 in sick leave pay, $43,000 in annual leave and nearly $231,000 in a category called “Premium, Certification, Bonus and Other.”

Pay for fire fighters, which has been a hot button issue in Southern Nevada, is included in the database as well, but only for North Las Vegas and Henderson so far. The data does show that benefits make up a big part of a fire fighter’s pay.

More than 30 North Las Vegas firefighters earned in excess of $140,000 a year in pay and benefits, according to the information provided by city officials and posted on the site.

“It’s just kind of incredible all the ways that government employees get paid,” Joecks said. “It’s not just about their salary, it’s not just about their benefits, it’s not just about their salary, benefits and retirement. All of a sudden you’re getting $200,000 when you retire and that’s something that doesn’t happen in the private sector.”

Audio clips:

NPRI spokesman Victor Joecks says most large jurisdictions have provided the requested information:

071911Joecks1 :23 year goes on.”

Joecks says compensation for public sector workers is more generous than found in the private sector:

071911Joecks2 :20 the private sector.”




Psst: They’re Always Watching: New Lawmakers Get Education On Dealing With Media

By Andrew Doughman | 6:05 pm January 21st, 2011

New state legislators got the low-down this past Friday about how to deal with the press. The theme woven throughout the legislative training seminar was one of transparency.

“They’re lurking,” said Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association, while addressing about 20 new legislators in the Assembly chamber. “Being able to watch all the (legislative) hearings and click through the channels, there are eyes on you all the time.”

Smith pointed out that while many new lawmakers probably encountered the media during their campaigns, the press at the capitol is a different beast.

Ben Kieckhefer, a newly-elected Republican senator from Reno, noted that reporters were using Twitter at that very moment to comment on the goings-on at their seminar.

With reporters able to tune in and Tweet out the news, the press at the capitol could be more omnipresent.

“It’s a different world with Twitter and Facebook and all the jazz,” said Bob Fisher, president of the Nevada Broadcasters Assocation.

Smith also cautioned legislators that they should remember the cameras that broadcast hearings are always running.

“They can tell whether you’re playing solitaire or not,” he said.

During these next few weeks, new legislators will be getting used to new homes, new offices and hundreds of new faces. The training session regarding the press was the last class for the newcomers; they’d been in various classes for three days straight. All of this to ensure that they’re ready for day one.

As the last day wore down, Fisher told legislators they should be aware of the different types of journalists they’re likely to encounter.

“There’s a spectacular difference,” he said. “It is so far between a journalist who has the opportunity to write opinions and share opinions … from a reporter who is coming in and asking you a question about a legislation that you are supporting.”

Like all relationships, Smith explained, the relationships between legislators and the press must be built on trust.

The national reporter who calls a legislator about a bill and is only looking for a good quote doesn’t care about trust. That reporter will never talk to that legislator again.

It’s a different situation when the local reporter sees and talks to legislators everyday, Smith said.

In that situation, legislators were taught about the various gradations between “on the record” and “off the record.”

When the session ended late Friday afternoon, legislators turned out for dinner. Walking out of the Assembly chamber next to this reporter, one new legislator jokingly said that he would have to be “careful” after listening to all that advice.