Disclosure is the Essence of the Ethics Law
COMMENTARY: Steve Miller
Las Vegas Tribune
September 11, 2002

Disclose! Disclose! Disclose! This is the essence of the Ethics in Government Law. I should know. In 1990, I wrote and sponsored the law for the City of Las Vegas.

As to the form of a proper disclosure, I offer the following two imaginary examples:

"Mr. Rick Rizzolo, the owner of the adult business that will most benefit from the passage of this ordinance, has publicly stated that he is the best friend of Mr. Joey Cusumano. Mr. Cusumano was one of my most loyal clients when I was a criminal defense attorney. I am going to participate and vote on this ordinance because I sincerely believe that it's passage will prevent Mr. Rizzolo's business from being unfairly ruined by the eminent domain taking of its' front entrance and parking lot for the widening of Industrial Road. Though this ordinance is intended to benefit only Mr. Rizzolo's business since it is the only adult club affected by the road widening, I will include other nearby adult businesses just in case NDOT someday decides to widen their roads also. My longtime association with Mr. Cusumano and his association with Mr. Rizzolo will not influence me today in my discussing or voting on this matter."

If Mayor Oscar Goodman had made this simple statement over the microphone on August 21 before he voted to pass the ordinance, he would have been in full compliance with the ethics law and there would be no need for this column. Unfortunately he did not disclose, and I don't think the city ethics board would have the guts to fault him for his silence.

Goodman said he proposed the ordinance because of the state's plan to widen Industrial Road to six lanes. Only the Crazy Horse Too, a topless bar owned by Rizzolo, is located within the city limits on Industrial Road. With the new ordinance, Rizzolo, who is expected to have portions of his property shaved off, would be allowed to expand to make up the difference. The Industrial Rd. widening effects no other adult business in the city.

Here's another example of a proper and legal disclosure:

"During the years 1999 and 2000, I lived rent-free in a Canyon Gate Country Club villa owned by the family of Mr. Rizzolo's best friend and Mayor Goodman's former client, Joey Cusumano. I did not know at the time that the half-million dollar villa was owned by anyone associated with Mr. Rizzolo or the Mayor, and as soon as I read in the Las Vegas Tribune that it was owned by Mr. Cusumano's mother-in-law, Bobette Lee Tegano, I moved out. Since I no longer accept free rent on my domicile and because I was never aware that it was owned by the family of the major beneficiary's best friend, I believe I can vote on this ordinance without a conflict."

If Councilman Michael McDonald would have made this simple statement over the microphone on August 21, he would have also been in full compliance with the ethics law - the law is that simple!

As soon as the law was passed in January 1991, I was the first to test it. At a Council meeting, I fully disclosed over the microphone that my wife owned a beauty parlor in a shopping center located next to a liquor license applicant who was before us applying to build an upscale restaurant. I told the audience that I would personally profit by his success in drawing customers to the center, many of whom would patronize my wife's beauty parlor. I then said that it would be a benefit to the downtown neighborhood and that my vote was needed for its' passage since two councilmembers opposed it, therefore, I owed it to my constituents to participate in the discussion and vote on the application.

I was never criticized for my vote because I had fully disclosed my personal interests over the microphone, and yes, the popular restaurant did draw new customers into the older neighborhood and to my wife's business.

I later disclosed and voted on my cousin's application to build a dozen new homes for sale, and on numerous applications by a sign company who I leased land to. I disclosed over the microphone each time one of my personal friends, relatives, campaign contributors, lawyers, classmates, students, doctors, tenants, neighbors, and a few enemies appeared. I bored the audience with my disclosures, but I never had to abstain. I was also never taken before the Ethics Commission even though my enemies would have loved to prove me a hypocrite because I lived in a glass house and had authored the law. My drawn-out disclosures prevented that from ever happening.

As much as I respect and support Oscar, I believe he needed to give a public explanation why, in August, he fast-tracked a bizarre ordinance that was obviously designed to benefit only one person. Mike McDonald also needed to be more forthright before voting to support the ordinance, an ordinance sponsored by the Mayor that was obviously designed to allow Mr. Rizzolo to stay in business.

When I wrote the Tribune story about the Mayor's ordinance, I interviewed several owners of adult businesses - businesses that were included in the ordinance but were on city streets not effected by the widening of Industrial Rd. They told me that they did not request such an ordinance and called it "Christmas in July." Several now plan expansions.

From those interviews, I learned that the Mayor was doing only one adult business a special favor, and because that business was owned by the best friend of one of his most prolific clients, I felt that information needed to be disclosed over the microphone.

Coincidentally, Buffalo Jim Barrier, who for decades has leased businesses adjacent to the Crazy Horse, received an eviction notice five days following the passage of Goodman's ordinance.

At a July press conference in response to a question posed by Tribune City Hall reporter Frank Albano, Goodman pledged that he would not use eminent domain to remove Barrier so that Rizzolo can expand.

Goodman may have to reconsider his pledge because Barrier is fighting the eviction in court, and Goodman along with Mike McDonald seem intent on helping Rizzolo to expand at Barrier's expense. For example, city Parking Enforcement has recently begun patrolling the private shopping center where Rizzolo and Barrier's businesses are located. They are ticketing only Barrier's customers while allowing Rizzolo's customers to park anywhere they want.

Sorry Oscar, I support you on almost everything else, but on this one issue, your actions are speaking louder than words!

Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman and Clark County Regional Transportation Commissioner.