Newspaper column: How to stop a charging bureaucrat? Take away his credit card

If you can’t get a bill passed in Congress telling a federal agency to stop doing something, just slip some language into the appropriate appropriations bill denying funding for doing it.

That’s what happened with wild horses. Though the law expressly says the secretary of Interior must destroy excess wild horses, for the past several years Congress’ appropriations measures for the department have just as expressly denied funding to do so.

Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents Nevada’s 2nd Congressional District covering most of northern Nevada, is following that game plan when it comes to heading off the economically crippling designation of greater sage grouse as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, as reported in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times, the Elko Daily Free Press and the Mesquite Local News.

He was successful in including language in the 2015 fiscal year Interior, Environment and Related Agencies appropriations bill, delaying any such listing for one year. Not only does it stop the listing of greater sage grouse, but also the bi-state sage grouse that live along the northern border of Nevada and California, as well as Columbia Basin grouse and Gunnison sage grouse.

Mark Amodei (AP photo)

“More time is needed to convince the Department of the Interior, which controls the vast majority of the sage hen habitat, to undertake the necessary work to conserve the resource and prevent the ESA listing,” said Amodei.

Not that the federal agencies have much solid proof that any of those grouse populations are truly threatened with extinction anytime soon.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service posted on the Federal Register a proposal to reopen the comment period on its decision to list the bi-state grouse, because their data was getting serious challenges from authoritative sources.

Back in October 2013 Fish and Wildlife reported there were only 5,000 bi-state grouse left.

In its Federal Register posting, FWS said it had found substantial disagreement regarding the interpretation of the best available data on the birds. “Some commenters stated that our science was flawed and that there are more sage-grouse in the Bi-State area today as opposed to the past, whereas other commenters (including peer reviewers) believe there is a declining trend and continuing threats. It is evident in the comment letters received that analysis or interpretation of data vary between state, agency, public, and peer reviewers,” the FWS concedes.

Before listing either the bi-state or the greater sage grouse, someone needs to do some sound scientific studies and realistically look at what truly is a threat to these birds — including the lack of wildfire prevention efforts on federally controlled land.

Read the entire column at Ely, Elko or Mesquite.

List of languishing public lands bills slip out of committee … again

Pardon us for not swooning in anticipation of the economic windfall about to be bestowed on rural Nevada by the seven public lands bills that have again been passed out of a House committee just before the August recess.

Both of Nevada’s congressmen who represent the rural areas — Mark Amodei in the north and Steven Horsford in the south — put out verbatim press releases heralding the passage out of theHouse Natural Resources Committee by unanimous consent a package of seven bills that could have major economic impact on several communities if ever signed into law.

Pumpkin Hollow mine shaft

The same set of bills passed the same committee in January by a vote of 29-14, though there reportedly has been some tweaking of the bills since then.

The press releases said the bipartisan support clears the way for the legislation to be brought to the House floor in September as a non-controversial suspension bill.

“Working to create jobs and strengthen the middle class has been my number one priority in Congress,” said Horsford in both releases. “Today, Democrats and Republicans unanimously moved a legislative package forward that will grow Nevada’s economy. Thanks to Congressman Mark Amodei and others, we have been able to find common sense bipartisan solutions that bridge the partisan divide. When we work together and put Nevada first, political posturing fades into the background, and our constituents benefit.”

For his part Amodei was quoted as saying, “These are community-driven lands measures that will create jobs without cost to the federal taxpayer. For the second time in two years, the eyes of Northern Nevada turn to the Senate.”

Wovoka

While the congressman from northern Nevada was not so gauche as to spell out what he meant by that remark, allow us.

The Senate is under the leadership of Nevada’s senior Sen. Harry Reid, who has not deigned it a priority to push various versions of these bills, including ones he and Sen. Dean Heller have sponsored over on the Senate side.

In fact, when last one of the bills in question progressed to the point of actually being voted on, Reid threw a monkey wrench in the works. What is now called H.R. 696, the Lyon County Economic Development and Conservation Act, would allow the town of Yerington to buy, at market value, 12,500 acres of federal land adjacent to the Pumpkin Hollow copper mine for an industrial park. It is estimated the project could create 800 to 1,000 permanent jobs and about 500 jobs during the construction phase.

Reid demanded that the bill include the set aside of 48,000 acres of wilderness, to be called the Wovoka Wilderness Area, a proposal the local residences had previously rejected.

H.R. 696, now has a section that states “the area designated as the Wovoka Wilderness by this section contains unique and spectacular natural resources, including — (A) priceless habitat for numerous species of plants and wildlife; (B) thousands of acres of land that remain in a natural state; and (C) habitat important to the continued survival of the population of the greater sage grouse of western Nevada and eastern California …”

The Yerington bill now has languished in Congress for six years.

Other bills in the package include:

H.R. 433, the Pine Forest Range Recreation Enhancement Act, which also has been sought by Humboldt County officials for years, would create a 26,000-acre wilderness area.

H.R. 1167, the Restoring Storey County Act would transfer the surface rights to 1,750 acres of federal land in Virginia City to Storey County to resolve conflicting ownership and title claims.

H.R. 1168, the Carlin Economic Self-Determination Act would let Carlin buy federal land surrounding the city at fair market value for multi-use development.

H.R. 1169, the Naval Air Station Fallon Housing and Safety Development Act would transfer 400 acres to the Navy, allowing it to build 200 new military family homes. The transfer was first requested in 1991.

H.R. 1170, the Fernley Economic Self-Determination Act would allow Fernley to buy 9,000 acres of federal land within the city limits at fair market value for a multi-use development.

H.R. 2455, the Elko Motocross and Tribal Conveyance Act would provide 275 acres for the Te-moak Tribe of Western Shoshone to construct a motocross recreation area.

Harry Reid should take a little time between rants about the Koch brothers to put these bills to a Senate vote.

 

 

 

 

The incredible shrinking newspaper company sheds more jobs

Stephens Media, the parent of the Las Vegas newspaper, announced today that it is shutting down its press operations at its newspapers in Fort Smith and Van Buren, Ark.

Actually, this is how the company spun the layoffs of 37 people in the Southwest Record Times:

“Stephens Media announced today it would be expanding printing operations by moving all printing and mailroom operations from the Fort Smith and Van Buren production facilities to Northwest Arkansas Newspaper production facilities in Springdale and Lowell.

“The move will increase the color capacity of the newspapers and improve packaging and mailroom efficiency.”

Ed Moss, president and CEO of Stephens Media who is not-so-affectionately known as Boss Moss, was quoted as saying, “With our partnership in northwest Arkansas, and the newer production equipment in use there, we saw this as an opportunity to upgrade production capacity of the Times Record.”

The Record Times in Fort Smith reported the 37 canned employees will be given severance packages and job placement assistance.

Fort Smith’s other famous person, “Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker

Mike Miller — an illustrated life

Las Vegas centennial painting by Mike Miller

Las Vegas centennial painting by Mike Miller

I don’t read the obits. I’m afraid of how many names of people I know will be there.

Besides, a lot of the people I know wind up in the news pages for one reason or another upon their passing.

So, it was a bit of a punch to the gut to pick up this morning’s paper and read the one thing I always read — John L. Smith’s column — and find the name of longtime Review-Journal coworker Mike Miller, still among the living but coping with what is likely to be a terminal stage of cancer. According to Smith, Miller, 74, has opted to not go through the agony of chemotherapy now that his colon cancer has returned.

Mike Miller (R-J file photo)

Miller — a lifelong artist, cartoonist, illustrator, sketcher and scribbler — recently had a meet-the-artist event at Collective Souls Fine Art at Tivoli Village.

Thanks to Smith, we now know that Miller started his life of art at Disney Studio as an apprentice on “Sleeping Beauty” and “101 Dalmatians” for the princely sum of $62.50 a week and that he created the Hey Reb! logo for UNLV for a dollar. He also did commissioned pieces for Elvis Presley, Louis Prima and Wayne Newton.

In 2005, the newspaper had him do a series of paintings depicting the city of Las Vegas’ centennial. The paper sold numbered and signed prints of the series and gave employees a ridiculous discount. The frame of the one I have hanging in my living room cost 20 times what the print did.

I believe we have all of his popular “Tomas the Tortoise” children’s book series, which is set in and around the Las Vegas Valley.

As is his wont, Smith picked a telling Miller quote to close out the column: “I have a great family. We’re Christians. We always have been Christians. We have a belief in God. I’m OK with this. I accept that this is God’s will, anyway. When he wants me, he will take me. In the meantime, I was to feel as good as I can and be happy and enjoy as much of life as I can.”

Miller, whenever he is “taken,” will leave a legacy on walls and bookshelves and movie screens.

Tomas the Tortoise book

Tomas the Tortoise book

House subcommittee hears tales of federal land managers abusing their power

(Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber begins at about 50:00 and again at 2:30:00.)

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream
The House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation picked up with part II this past week with its hearing on “Threats, Intimidation and Bully by Federal Land Managing Agencies.” Previously Nevada rancher Wayne Hage testified in Part I.

Grant Gerber testifies before Congress.

Grant Gerber testifies before Congress.

Elko County Commissioner Grant Gerber testified federal managers used to be “friendly, they came to the ranch, we worked with them, but over the years that’s changed. …

“They’re predominantly from outside the area and do not develop connections with the locals,” said Gerber. “Many start out with a belligerent attitude, even a commanding presence. They’re especially offended if anyone opposes any federal government actions.”

He told one officer who ticketed some men for illegally cutting firewood, even though the men had a permit. The officer thought he was in a wilderness study area, but he was on the wrong mountain.

Gerber also pointed out that the livelihoods of ranchers rest on the “whims” of BLM managers who are not even following their own rules. He also noted rancher Cliven Bundy tried to cooperate with the BLM but they denied him and other ranchers the right to profitably graze the range as they had done for generations.

Time to make an example of open meeting scofflaws

Nevada’s open meeting law has been widely flouted and largely ignored by numerous public agencies across the state who find it inconvenient and unseemly to conduct the public’s business in public, and the attorneys general over the years have been loath to mete out anything stronger than a mild rebuke and a gentle reminder to obey the law in the future.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

But the actions of the Washoe County School Board two weeks ago mark a new nadir in officials trammeling the open meeting law.

Six of seven members of the board met in a secret session without deigning to give a moment’s notice of the purpose of their deliberations, much less the legally required 72 hours. Nor was there any hint as to what was to be discussed, though the law clearly demands the posting of a detailed agenda of all potential deliberations and actions.

What emerged from under the rock — or from behind closed doors — was an ultimatum to School Superintendent Pedro Martinez that he resign or be fired.

Pedro Martinez (RGJ photo)

The bone of contention, though it hardly matters, is that Martinez padded his resume by claiming to be a certified public accountant. For his part, Martinez says he passed the CPA exam but never claimed to be a licensed, practicing CPA.

Atop the lack of public scrutiny afforded their constituents, the school board members ignored the section of the open meeting law that prohibits them from holding a closed meeting “to consider the character, alleged misconduct or professional competence” of an appointed public officer, such as “a superintendent of a county school district.”

Additionally, the law dictates that no actual deliberations or action or vote may occur behind closed doors.

There was no public vote to fire Martinez or place him on administrative paid leave, whichever story the school board is sticking to at the moment.

A Reno Gazette-Journal editorial called the board members’ claim that no vote was taken unbelievable. “Six members of the board … took part in a news conference Tuesday evening; none protested President Barbara Clark’s announcement that Martinez had been let go. It simply strains credibility that a decision as momentous as the firing of the top official in the school district was made without the full participation — and, yes, vote — of every member of the board of trustees,” the newspaper editorialists correctly deduced.

The first words of the open meeting law clearly state: “In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that all public bodies exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.”

The question is not whether the superintendent should be fired or not, but whether the board members’ constituents have adequate access to their deliberations and actions to be able to evaluate whether their representatives performed at their behest and in their best interests.

The law says, “Each member of a public body who attends a meeting of that public body where action is taken in violation of any provision of this chapter, with knowledge of the fact that the meeting is in violation thereof, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

The attorney general has narrowly defined the “knowledge of the fact that the meeting is in violation” by letting them escape if their deeds complied with “advice of counsel.”

The board’s attorney was reportedly present during the secret and illegal meeting, and acquiesced in the shredding of the open meeting law, board members now claim.

We thought ignorance of the law was no excuse.

Frankly, the violations of the Washoe County School Board are so numerous, so blatant, so obviously outside the broadest and most generous interpretation of the law that the attorney general should for once set a stern example, no matter what the board attorney might have said or advised.

The attorney general must stop treating such flagrant defiance of the law with a wink and a nod.

Each of the six board members should be subject to maximum fines and, as the law dictates upon conviction, removed from office. That would set an example for others to follow.