Salerno fined in Nugget ethics dispute

Sparks City Councilmember Phil Salerno has been fined $5,000 for violating state ethics law by failing to disclose his business relationship with the Sparks Nugget before voting on a project opposed by the casino.

The Nugget opposed a competing hotel-casino called the Lazy 8 planned by lobbyist/developer Harvey Whittemore. The Nugget also helped fund a citizens group to oppose the project. In a Sept. 20, 2006, vote on a legal settlement that would have allowed the project to go forward, Salerno voted against the Lazy 8. Before the vote, the city attorney warned councilmembers to examine their private business dealings and disclose any that caused problems, and to err on the side of caution. On March 6 this year, Whittemore filed a complaint against Salerno with the Nevada Commission on Ethics. The complaint alleged, “Prior to voting against the settlement agreement, Salerno failed to disclose his relationship with the Nugget.”

Salerno responded that he was unaware of the Nugget interest in Lazy 8.

However, a commission investigator found that among those speaking against the Lazy 8 project at a City Council hearing “were representatives of the Nugget. … The public comment was heard prior to the vote. According to press releases and media sources, the opposition was well known.” Salerno’s private business, Nevada Forms, had—according to Salerno’s response to the Whittemore filing—earned an annual average of 12.61 percent of its revenue from the Nugget.A second part of the Whittemore complaint against Salerno was dismissed. Salerno is term-limited and so can’t seek another term.