Familiar writer tries his hand at poetry and shows his hand


It is a thin tome,

Just 44 pages

Of 17 themed poems

Devoted to a road trip

To find love and commitment.

 

Devoured it in one sitting

With a plate of leftovers

And a goblet of Rioja.

A satisfying repast.

 

It is “Card Trick

By longtime Nevada writer,

Philosopher, commentator

And humorist John L. Smith.

 

John puts his heart on his sleeve,

Sticks it out the driver-side window

Of his high-milage Subaru

And sallies forth,

So to speak.

 

This is no platonic tonic.

While there are pecks on the cheeks

There are also ruffled sheets —

From Tonopah to Kingman,

From Santa Fe to Baltimore,

From Chloride to Goldfield.

 

Names, places and events

All sound quite authentic.

His canvass is splattered

With verbal impressionism

With dollops of winks and nods,

Elbows to the ribs

And a groaner or a dozen.

 

Like: “it’s not the roses that I love.

“If you’re searching for symbols,

“remember that bunch come April

“after the final snow melt,

“and know that spring hopes eternal.”

 

Like the actor who said

His face was like five miles

Of bad Irish country roads,

John says his is straight

From Rand McNally.

He exaggerates … a bit.

 

He hears songbirds sing.

He smells the sent of lilacs.

He feels “carnivorous tenderness.”

He drinks from the hose

And tastes the salad days.

 

He finds not just affection

But a blonde bond

With a lady who, too,

Is of the writerly persuasion.

Longtime Nevadans can and will

Unlock the secret from his hints.

 

It is no card trick, John.

Just shuffle the deck

And shuffle again

Until at last

You draw a pat hand.

 

Plug in “Card Trick” on Amazon,

Pony up $2.99 for Kindle

Or $6.99 for paperback

Plus shipping, of course.

 

Perhaps it will inspire you

To keep dealing the cards

Until you are dealt a pat hand, too.

Or to better appreciate the hand

You’ve already been dealt.

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When a teacher is accused of kicking a student, mum’s the word

What would happen to you if you were accused of assaulting someone at work and refused to talk to the police about it?

Perhaps nothing if you are married to the boss.

According to a column by Victor Joecks in today’s morning newspaper, but posted online two days ago, school teacher Jason Wright, the husband of Clark County School Board President Deanna Wright, was accused back in March of kicking the hand of a 10-year-old student and jerking him about. The teacher refused to talk to school district police and the police declined to press charges, even though Joecks quotes a police report as saying the boy’s pinkie finger was “swollen and bruised.”

The teacher has since been transferred to another school.

To add insult to injury, so to speak, Joecks’ former employer, the Nevada Policy Research Institute, points out that there is a clause in the county teacher union contract that requires all information about such incidents if the accused is “cleared” to be expunged from all personnel files. Is declining to press charges the same as cleared?

Article 12, Section 10 of the contract states: “In the event civil or criminal proceedings are brought against a teacher and the teacher is cleared of said charge, all written reports, comments or reprimands concerning actions which the courts found not to have occurred, shall be removed from the teacher’s personnel file. No reference to criminal charges as described above shall be included in the personnel file. Entries into said file as they relate to civil or criminal proceedings described above shall be limited to violations of School District policy or administrative regulations, which are known beyond a reasonable doubt to have occurred.”

The NPRI article cited a case on point in which a teacher, who eventually pleaded guilty to three felony counts of attempted lewdness with a child in 2015, had his file wiped clean of other allegations dating back to 2008. “Had those allegations been reported on his confidential personnel file when he was transferred to a different school after the 2008 incident, perhaps administrators could have taken necessary steps to prevent the later abuses to which Mazo eventually pleaded guilty,” the article suggests.

We suspect the transfer of teacher Wright was not resisted by his principal. The guardian of the child in question told Joecks that the principal urged her to file a complaint and mentioned that the teacher’s wife was the president of the school board. The principal declined to talk to Joecks.

Mum’s the word.

 

Teacher Jason Wright (R-J pix)

Editorial: Highway robbery on the Electric Highway

The state has released information on just how frequently those rural electric car recharging stations are being used, and it’s not exactly like those lines for gasoline back in the 1970s during the oil embargo.

The Nevada Governor’s Office of Energy reports that drivers have charged their expensive electric vehicles 274 times at the three charging stations built by the state in Beatty, Fallon and Panaca along Highways 95 and 93 since the first one opened in early 2016, according to The Nevada Independent. The donation-funded news website reports this usage saved a total equivalent to 395 gallons of gasoline and dispensed 3,150 kilowatt-hours of electricity. It was dutifully noted that the usage rate is growing.

The costs of these charging stations, which give away the power for free — dubbed the Nevada Electric Highway — has been a moving target. When the first one opened in Beatty in March 2016 the Governor’s Office of Energy said each would cost $15,000.

In the summer of 2015 press accounts said each would cost $30,000.

A June 2017 story in the Las Vegas newspaper quoted a spokesman for the governor as saying the cost of each station would range from $85,000 to $250,000, but he assured that “none of that comes from taxpayer dollars. The office is funding its portion of costs with federal grant money, and the electric utility covers the rest.” And we thought federal grant money came from taxpayers and utility costs were passed on to the ratepayers.

According to the Governor’s Office of Energy, NV Energy put up $30,000 in an upfront cost abatement payment. It also reports NV Energy is putting out $30,000 for three stations and Valley Electric Association is shelling out $15,000 for one.

Another station opened a month ago in Hawthorne. No usage for that outpost was mentioned yet. The press release announcing the opening was bereft of dollar signs.

The first three electric car charging stations have been open an average of about 540 days. Thus, according to the state, they are used about once every two days. The station in Panaca has been used only six times since opening in September, less than once a month.

Taking the low-ball cost per station of $15,000 each that means the 395 gallons of gasoline saved cost $114 per gallon in capital outlay alone, never mind maintenance and operating costs. The high-end of $250,000 per station translates to $1,900 per gallon.

Using the current retail power cost of about 12 cents per kWh, the stations have given electric car drivers less than $380 worth of power over two years. Now there’s a bargain.

The NVIndy website said Gov. Brian Sandoval sent it an email statement saying he was “encouraged” by the progress of the project.

“When the entire route is complete, range anxiety will be significantly reduced, giving more travelers the comfort required to travel between Reno and Las Vegas,” the statement reportedly said. “Moreover, as the number of electric cars increases, I am confident even more travelers will utilize the electric highway.”

When that Beatty charging station opened, Sandoval was on hand to demonstrate by charging up a Ford Focus from the state Department of Transportation fleet in Las Vegas. Since the car had a range of only 76 miles, it had to be hauled to the ceremony from Las Vegas. Most of the Beatty charging stations take four hours to recharge, though a couple can do an 80 percent recharge in half an hour.

According to that 2017 Las Vegas newspaper account, a spokesman for the governor said the office has identified 24 sites along five traffic corridors “where EV charging stations make sense.”

Depends on what one means by make sense.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Gov. Brian Sandoval plugs in an electric Ford Focus in the first electric car charging station along U.S. Highway 95 in Beatty in 2016.

How much of a bargain are those free electric car recharging stations in rural Nevada?

The state has released information on just how frequently those rural electric car recharging stations are being used, and it’s not exactly like the lines for gasoline back in the 1970s.

The Nevada Office of Energy reports that drivers have charged their electric vehicles 274 times at the three charging stations built by the state in Beatty, Fallon and Panaca along Highways 95 and 93 since the first one opened in early 2016, according to The Nevada Independent. The donation funded news website reports this usage saved a total equivalent to 395 gallons of gasoline and gave away 3,150 kilowatt-hours of electricity. It was dutifully noted that the usage rate is growing.

The costs of three charging stations which give away the power — dubbed the Electric Highway — has been a moving target. When the first opened in Beatty in March 2016 the Office of Energy said each would cost $15,000 and the would be paid for taxpayers and the ratepayers of NV Energy and Valley Electric Association. In the summer of 2015 press accounts said each would cost $30,000. A June 2017 story in the Las Vegas newspaper quoted a spokesman for the governor as saying the cost of each station would range from $85,000 to $250,000, but he assured its readers “none of that comes from taxpayer dollars. The office is funding its portion of costs with federal grant money, and the electric utility covers the rest.” And we thought federal grant money came from taxpayers.

According to the Office of Energy, NV Energy put up $30,000 in an upfront cost abatement payment. It also reports NV Energy is putting out $30,000 for three stations and Valley Electric $15,000 for one.

Another station opened a month ago in Hawthorne. No usage for that outpost was mentioned yet. The press release announcing the opening was bereft of dollar signs.

The first three electric car charging stations have been open an average of about 540 days. Thus, according the Office of Energy, they are used about once every two days.

Taking the low-ball cost per station of $15,000 each that means the 395 gallons saved cost $114 per gallon in capital outlay alone, never mind maintenance and operating costs. The high-end of $250,000 per station translates to $1,900 per gallon.

Using the current retail power cost of about 11 cents per kWh, the stations have given electric car drivers less than $350 worth of power over two years. Now there’s a bargain.

The NVIndy website said Gov. Brian Sandoval sent it an email statement saying he was “encouraged” by the progress of the project.

“When the entire route is complete, range anxiety will be significantly reduced, giving more travelers the comfort required to travel between Reno and Las Vegas,” the statement reportedly said. “Moreover, as the number of electric cars increases, I am confident even more travelers will utilize the electric highway.”

When that Beatty charging station opened, Sandoval was on hand demonstrate by charging up a Ford Focus from the state Department of Transportation fleet in Las Vegas. Since the car had a range of only 76 miles, it had to be hauled to the ceremony from Las Vegas. Most of the Beatty charging stations took four hours to recharge, though a couple could do an 80 percent recharge in half an hour.

According to that 2017 Las Vegas newspaper account, a spokesman for the governor said the office has identified 24 sites along five traffic corridors “where EV charging stations make sense.”

Depends on what one means by make sense?

Governor announces Nevada Electric Highway (Photo from governor’s office)

 

 

 

What shall it profit a man to own a newspaper?

Newsprint heading to the presses. (R-J pix)

The print edition of today’s Las Vegas newspaper direly warns that this country’s newspapers could become thinner or even disappear altogether because of tariffs as high as 32 percent being placed on newsprint imported from Canada. For some inexplicable reason the story cannot be found on the paper’s website, but has been replicated at the PressReader website.

“It’s very possible that inadequate newsprint reserves will affect the page counts of the Review-Journal and perhaps that of our partner in the joint-operating agreement, the Las Vegas Sun,” Review-Journal Publisher and Editor Keith Moyer was quoted as saying. “We’ll do everything possible to keep popular features in the print edition every day, and if we have to cut some content, we’ll publish the newspaper in full for our e-Edition.”

He did not mention that the paper already has cut pages this year, dropping the Sunday opinion section from six pages to four and cutting out op-ed pages on Wednesdays and Fridays. It also appears the paper is being printed on thinner newsprint stock, possibly down to 30-pound stock from 32-pound stock. The tell tale is the curling of the pages.

That was before the tariffs.

Today’s poor mouthing comes after the newspaper recently reported that its owner, billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson’s annual salary at the Las Vegas Sands was doubled in 2017 to $26.1 million. Adelson purchased the paper two years ago for $14o million — $38 million more than the previous owner had paid nine months earlier.

As for that joint-operating agreement “partner” feeling the pinch of newsprint prices, the Sun for a month earlier this year ran a daily front page announcement saying that it is now charging for access to its online content, the Sun contracted to get a percentage of the R-J’s profits, but there are no profits, the article said.

Today’s article notes that, while putting news online is an option, it is print advertising that is the primary source of revenue and profits, if any, for most newspapers. But, if it comes down to it and print pages have to be reduced, the article said the paper is considering adding pages to its  e-Edition, an electronic replica of the paper available online for print subscribers.

The morning paper ran an editorial a couple of week’s ago bemoaning the tariff hike.

Today’s front page print story mentions that the News Media Alliance is conducting a propaganda, er, education campaign about the newsprint tariffs. The organization encourages people to contact Congress through a website: stopnewsprinttariffs.org. The campaign has the snappy title of Stop Tariffs on Printers and Publishers (STOPP) and warns that the tariffs threaten an estimated 600,000 jobs across the U.S. printing and publishing industry.

Now, don’t you feel sorry for Sheldon?

 

 

 

 

Case law did not create a public records balancing test for bureaucrats

The morning newspaper today began a series of articles marking Sunshine Week, which was created to shine a light on the need for governmental transparency.

That is a laudatory endeavor. The lede story quotes  attorney Maggie McLetchie, who has represented the paper in a number of lawsuits seeking public records, as saying, “We could file one of these lawsuits everyday (sic) … But, fundamentally, you shouldn’t have to pay a lawyer to get access to records of taxpayer-funded agencies. The whole point is that the government works for us, the people, and we should be able to evaluate the work of the government.”

Or as I wrote in this past week’s newspaper column: “The point is that for the public to be able to perform its democratic role in voting into or out of office the most suitable personages, they must be kept informed as to how well or ill the current office holders and their minions are doing their jobs.”

But today’s story contained a fundamental misstatement of case law.

It said the case of Donrey v. Bradshaw “allowed governments to withhold records not deemed confidential if officials decide secrecy is in the best interest of the public.”

No, as I wrote in 2013, Donrey v. Bradshaw was a victory for the media.

A Reno television station, which was then owned by the same company that owned the Las Vegas newspaper, requested a police investigative report on brothel owner Joe Conforte. The Reno city attorney had dismissed charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor against Conforte even though police opposed the dismissal. Such reports are by law confidential.

The Nevada Supreme Court applied a balancing test and found that “weighing the absence of any privacy or law enforcement policy justifications for nondisclosure against the general policy in favor of open government” that the scales tipped in favor of release of the records.

But, ever since then local governments have been applying the balancing test to argue that records clearly public should be confidential, even though there is no specific law saying so. That argument has been used to deny access to everything from employee evaluations and salaries to cell phone records of county commissioners.

Judges, not  bureaucrats with vested interests, should be the only ones who may apply a balancing test to determine whether a record is open for inspection.

The case of Donrey v. Bradshaw did not allow government bureaucrats to do so. The courts or lawmakers should make this clear, though we suspect lawmakers would opt for less transparency.

Let the sun shine in.

 

 

 

Newspaper column: Let the public see the work of public servants

Next week is Sunshine Week, March 11-17. The annual observation was created by the American Society of News (formerly Newspaper) Editors to spotlight the importance of public access to government information in a democratic republic, allowing citizens to be the watchdogs over their elected and appointed representatives.

The sunshine label was derived from a quote by Justice Louis Brandeis, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

The point is that for the public to be able to perform its democratic role in voting into or out of office the most suitable personages, they must be kept informed as to how well or ill the current office holders and their minions are doing their jobs.

Which brings us to the current tension between the right to know and the right to privacy.

Earlier this year a district court judge ruled in favor of a request from The Associated Press and the Las Vegas Review-Journal to obtain copies of the autopsies of the 58 victims of the Oct. 1 Route 91 country music show shooting. The judge did require that the names of the victims be redacted.

A few weeks later another judge, at the behest of the widow of off-duty police officer Charleston Hartfield who was killed at the concert, ruled that his autopsy report was private and demanded the news outlets return it. How they were to determine which one was his is unclear.

A three-justice panel of the Nevada Supreme Court quickly stepped in and basically ruled that once the cat’s out of the bag it can’t be put back. It left unsettled the question of whether autopsy reports are public records under the law in the first place.

The court opinion, penned by Justice Kris Pickering, relied on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a 1989 case involving a Florida newspaper called the Florida Star. The paper published the name of a rape victim, even though Florida law makes it “unlawful to ‘print, publish, or broadcast … in any instrument of mass communication’ the name of the victim of a sexual offense …”

That court ruling said the Star’s intern reporter lawfully copied the information from records made available by the local sheriff’s office and the paper could not be punished because the sheriff’s office failed to follow its own policy of redacting the names of rape victims.

Pickering wrote, “For purposes of our analysis we assume, without deciding, that the Hartfield Parties had a protectable privacy interest in preventing disclosure of Mr. Hartfield’s redacted autopsy report.” The key phrase is “without deciding.”

The question remains: Are records prepared by a public official using public funds to determine a public safety matter covered by the state’s strong public records law that states records are available to the public “unless otherwise declared by law to be confidential …”?

Back in 1982 then-Attorney General Richard Bryan issued a non-binding opinion that they are not, writing, “An autopsy protocol is a public record, but is not open to public inspection upon demand, because disclosure would be contrary to a strong public policy …”

That public policy was described as the expectation that “the secrets of a person’s body are a very private and confidential matter upon which any intrusion in the interest of public health or adjudication is narrowly circumscribed.”

But does that privacy expectation carry over beyond death and supersede the public’s right to observe how well their public servants are serving them?

The closest the state Constitution comes to addressing this question is when it states that victims of crimes are to be “treated with fairness and respect for his or her privacy and dignity” and defines a victim of a crime as including a deceased person’s family members.

All the Nevada high court panel did was say the media obtained the records legally and prior restraint would be unconstitutional. It did not say whether in the future the coroner could refuse to release autopsies.

We believe the courts or lawmakers should make a final determination in favor the public’s right to know and let the sun shine in.

It is analogous to the debate currently underway in Florida over what information should be made public about what law enforcement did prior to and during the tragic high school shooting that killed 17.

The public needs to see how well public officials are doing their jobs … or not.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Nevada Supreme Court