Sparks Tribune columnist Andrew Barbano this week threw a spotlight on the economics of the Sparks City Council’s recent vote to eliminate licensing standards of electricians and plumbers.
“Councilmember Ed Lawson failed to disclose a glaring conflict of interest and voted with the 4-0 majority to allow just about anybody with a pulse to plumb and wire buildings,” Barbano wrote. “Councilmember Charlene Bybee did the right thing by abstaining, so advised by legal counsel because her nephew is executive director of the Associated Builders and Contractors. The city website lists Mr. Lawson as vice-president of business development of Sierra Builders of Nevada which has 60 building permits on file, some involving plumbing and electrical work. Cutting labor costs certainly develops a business.”
In an interview, Lawson said he is merely an employee of Sierra Builders.
“I don’t have a financial part of that, so I can’t see a conflict of interest there,” he said. “No, I just work for them. … I’m not gaining financially whatsoever, and neither is Sierra Builders.”
The state code of ethical standards, in Nevada Revised Statutes chapter 281, reads in part, “A public officer or employee shall not use the public officer’s or employee’s position in government to secure or grant unwarranted privileges, preferences, exemptions or advantages for the public officer or employee, any business entity in which the public officer or employee has a significant pecuniary interest, or any person to whom the public officer or employee has a commitment in a private capacity to the interests of that person. As used in this subsection, ‘unwarranted’ means without justification or adequate reason.”
In 2006, Sparks Councilmember Mike Carrigan voted to approve a casino project after disclosing his friendship and association with a consultant on the project. Carrigan, who said he did not benefit financially from the project, asked the city attorney if he should vote and was told to go ahead. Five state ethics complaints were subsequently filed against Carrigan—feelings on the casino were running high—and the Nevada Ethics Commission voted to find him in violation of the law.