Charles Held should resign

One of the modern hazards of government is the growing and unaccountable power of staff people.

In legislatures, staffers provide the continuity and institutional memory, and as term limits kick in, this factor is enhanced.

In the executive branch, staff people often know more about an agency’s mission than the transient appointees at the top.

In local governments, we have such distortions of democracy as a Washoe County Airport Authority bylaw that tells the WCAA governing board that its members can’t inquire into issues before the board and must vote based solely on information provided by staffers.

Last week, we saw another instance of a staffer run amuck. Nevada Board of Medical Examiners executive director Louis Ling called on a veteran member of the board, author and former Washoe County commissioner Jean Stoess, to resign. The members of the board are his superiors, yet after a series of machinations, he succeeded in forcing her off the board. He was joined in calling for her resignation by the board chair, Charles Held.

What offended Ling and Held was the fact that Stoess gave a copy of a board memorandum to Las Vegas Sun reporter Cy Ryan, who was fully entitled to have it—as is any member of the public.

Yes, by supplying the document to a reporter, she violated a policy adopted by the board permitting only Ling to speak to reporters. But so what? If the board had adopted a policy to recognize Hamas or mandate rain on Thursdays, we wouldn’t pay attention because the board has no authority to take those actions. Nor does it have the power to muzzle its members. Quite the contrary—by voting for such a policy, the members of the board showed their contempt for members of the public who have every right to expect their medical board members to be open, candid and forthcoming to the public about all matters before the board. Each and every member of the board has those obligations, not just a designated staff mouthpiece with no responsibility for policy.

The governor, as usual, didn’t know what he was doing. He first supported Stoess, then withdrew his support, all the time avoiding a clear statement of his views.

It is disappointing that Stoess resigned. “I don’t think I should resign, but who wants to stay on a board dealing with people like that?” she said.

Stoess was appointed as a representative of the public on the board, as opposed to representing interest groups like physicians. She should have stayed where her long service on the board and her body of knowledge would have been useful to the citizens she, unlike other board members, represents.

In addition, members of the board are given fixed four-year terms expressly to insulate them from the kind of political pressure that Gibbons, Ling and Held subjected her to, and she should have resisted that pressure and served out her term.

But that is a secondary issue. We originally planned this editorial to call for the resignations of Held and Ling. Ling, who during his service on several state boards has become the poster child of out-of-control staffers, has already resigned. Now Charles Held should step down for exceeding his authority and engaging in a cabal against a fellow member of the board. Then the board should start following policies of openness to the public.