SEIU political corruption in desert bloom

This week is dominated by Nevada’s Jan. 19 caucus, and because most commissioners are active in one presidential campaign or another, it’s probably a good thing that fewer items are scheduled for their Tuesday meeting than we’ve ever seen here at Week in Review.

But that doesn’t mean the wheels of county government stop turning. In fact, Commissioner Tom Collins is hard at work on an interesting proposal this week. What’s the proposal? If you’ve been around long enough to know a little about Collins, then you probably guessed it has something to do with a rodeo or organized labor. This time, it’s the latter.

First some background:

The county’s rank and file workers are represented by the Service Employees International Union Nevada. The union’s old collective bargaining contract with the county expired at the end of June 2006. The two sides didn’t reach a new agreement until eight months after that, in March 2007.

The new contract gave workers retroactive pay increases of 3 percent for those eight months. Some workers, however, left the county workforce during that time. The new contract took those folks into account: It gave them 30 days to request the retroactive pay increase from the county.

That sounds boring. What’s the point?

Well, Collins wants to scratch all that. His plan: Just give the raise to all former workers who quit after the old contract’s expiration but before the signing of the new contract. Pretty bold.

Collins didn’t want to talk about the item Friday. He would say only: “Come to the meeting.”

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said the problem is that the county never set up a procedure through which former employees are supposed to request the retroactive pay hike. She said one former worker tried to hand-deliver a request to the county, but it was rejected.

“They said he had to mail it,” Giunchigliani said.

What’s the price tag on this proposal?

It’s estimated at $130,000. More than 100 former workers requested the pay increase during the 30-day period, but 150 others did not.

It will be interesting to see what the commissioners do. We’re guessing that county management isn’t a big fan of the proposal. They’re probably thinking, hey, a deal’s a deal.

But Collins and Giunchigliani are close to the SEIU. The union played a key role in helping Giunchigliani knock off incumbent Commissioner Myrna Williams in last year’s primary. Collins was the only commissioner to attend Giunchigliani’s victory party.

What else is going on?

A committee of stakeholders is expected to winnow the field of candidates seeking the chief executive position at University Medical Center within the next week or two, according to county spokesman Erik Pappa.

Whoever steps into the position will have a huge task stemming the public hospital’s massive financial losses and restoring a reputation tarnished by former Chief Executive Lacy Thomas. District Attorney David Roger is expected to ask a grand jury to indict Thomas on public corruption charges this week.

What’s the latest with the county’s proposed heliport in Sloan?

Much to the relief of those beneath the flight path of the 100 daily helicopter tours leaving McCarran International Airport for the Grand Canyon, the county is moving forward with the plan.

Commissioners are expected to approve a $2.3 million contract this week for the design of the heliport, which county officials hope will draw noisy helicopter traffic away from residential areas. Residents have been asking for relief for years.

Paying for the design work is a somewhat risky move because the project needs to gain approval through an environmental assessment that probably won’t be completed until spring. The county could wait to invest the money in design work until the project gets a thumbs up, but officials are eager to move the project forward as quickly as possible.

But don’t throw away your earplugs yet. Airport officials don’t expect the new heliport to be up and running until late 2010.


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