Will voters hold Reno city attorney accountable?

Reno City Hall sign

Rishma Khimji is the Director of Information Technology for the City of Reno.

If you’re like most people, this item of information is utterly meaningless and swiftly forgotten. Even for me, as someone who has worked in Information Technology for a decade and a half, this piece of information is only mildly interesting and, honestly, swiftly forgotten. If you asked me whether someone should vote for or against Rishma for Director of Information Technology, the best I could do is offer a confused shrug and an anecdote or two from people I know that know her (she’s apparently very nice and professional). If you asked me what criteria should be used to elect a director of Information Technology, I’d do a little better than that: find someone passionate about backups and information security and, whatever you do, don’t elect Baltimore’s - but if you asked me to tell you conclusively which director of Information Technology candidate met those criteria based on their campaign mailers, I’d probably start shrugging again. 

This is all as it should be and goes a long way toward explaining why we don’t elect directors of Information Technology. There’s just no way for any of us to know enough about any individual director to make an educated decision about who we should vote for.

In theory (more accurately, “in hypothesis” or perhaps even “in conjecture”), elected officials are more accountable to the people they represent than appointed or hired officials, who are accountable to those who appointed or hired them. In practice, appointed and hired officials, like directors of Information Technology, can be fired for non-performance, criminal misconduct or just a general unwillingness to work with their coworkers. Elected officials, on the other hand, can retain their jobs through all sorts of otherwise fireable offenses until their next election and sometimes well past that. 

Just ask President Trump, former Sheriff Joe Arpaio or current Reno City Attorney Karl Hall. 

Reno’s first introduction to Karl Hall’s blessedly unique approach to representing his constituents was when City Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus revealed that he surreptitiously hired a private investigator to visit every strip club in town. This was unusual for a couple of reasons. First, Reno has a police department, already paid for by the taxpayers, so why the city attorney would use its own resources (also paid for by the taxpayers, to be clear) to hire a private investigator without even contacting the police chief was, at best, a mystery. Second, the city attorney’s office deemed the private investigator’s report confidential under attorney-client privilege (namely, the city attorney’s office’s privilege as a client; the private investigator was the attorney), even though the product of that report guided Karl’s recommendations to the City Council regarding new laws he wanted the council to pass against strip clubs — laws that would potentially force strip clubs away from their properties downtown. 

If that smells like a too-clever-by-half workaround around Nevada’s Public Records Act, you’re not alone in thinking so. The local news, the Reno City Council and the strip clubs all agreed, which is why the report is now available for public view and why the strip clubs sued the city for invading their dancers’ privacy without cause. 

Now, conjecturally — and I say “conjecturally” as the idea is clearly based on guesswork — electing city attorneys ensures that they represent the city as a whole, not an unaccountable city bureaucracy. In practice, that accountability ship sailed far enough past the horizon to escape orbit, heliopause, and the galactic rim when Karl Hall, after his clandestine strip club investigation, decided the best way to defend Reno’s city manager against allegations of sexual harassment in 2018 was to demand a list of workplace lovers from one of the plaintiffs and accuse a member of the City Council of attempting to remove the offending city manager in a court filing. 

It doesn’t take a legal expert to know that sexual harassment complaints are not conditional on whether the person making the complaint has sex with their coworkers. Just because someone is having sex with my coworker, for example, that doesn’t give me the right to make a pass at them, especially if I’m their boss. It also doesn’t take a juris doctorate to know that complaining in a court filing that a city councilwoman took an allegation of sexual harassment more seriously than one’s office would have liked is, as the youths say these days, cringe. Given the level of unconscionable legal malpractice that went into asking such questions and making such complaints on paper, it was only mildly surprising of Reno’s City Council to ask Hall to step down from the case

I say “mildly surprising” because, in a rational political system where city attorneys can be hired or fired at will, the City Council wouldn’t have had to ask the city attorney to step down from the case. Instead, the council members could rightly fire the incompetent attorney, preferably into the Sun or the nearest sustained nuclear reaction, and hire an attorney with some actual sense. Nevada’s political system, however, has been irrational by design for more than 155 years now, so it should come as no surprise that Karl Hall adamantly refused to step down from the case. It should also come as no surprise that the city ultimately settled the case, nor should it come as any surprise that former City Manager Andrew Clinger was subsequently hired as a senior advisor for then-Gov. Brian Sandoval, then hired as the chief financial officer for the Nevada System of Higher Education after a “nationwide search” that apparently did not involve typing his name into a single search engine. 

Naturally, the citizens of Reno punished Karl Hall’s attempted end-run around Nevada’s public records laws, his duplication of existing city resources, his lawsuit-triggering covert private investigation, his accusations against a city councilmember and his attempt to slut-shame city employees by re-electing him.

Now, thanks to the miracle of podcast journalism, it turns out there might be a good reason why Karl Hall hired a private investigator to find mischief at strip clubs. As others noted at the time, private investigators are accountable to their customers, not the public, and Karl had a surprisingly good reason to get one strip club in particular shut down. 

He had money on the outcome.

It turns out that, while Karl Hall’s office wasn’t disclosing that it conducted a private investigation to the public, it also wasn’t disclosing that Karl Hall was selling an office building of his wife’s across the street from the Wild Orchid at the same time as his office was writing legislation to force the Wild Orchid out of property it has occupied for over two decades. When confronted with this glaring conflict of interest, Karl responded with the same tact and equanimity he responded to the City Council with when they politely but firmly asked him to stop representing the city in its sexual harassment case a couple years ago. 

In other words, he denied everything, became defensive and announced that he was “offended.” 

The good news is that the voters will get to hold Karl Hall accountable for his consistent lapses in ethical and legal judgment. The bad news is that the voters won’t get to do that until 2022. Given that even the more politically attentive of us have enough on our plates to remember (did you know that President Trump tried to buy Greenland only three months ago?), the odds of Reno’s voters actually holding Karl Hall accountable for anything are, speaking conjecturally, null. 

Perhaps term limits will hold Karl Hall accountable in 2026. 

David Colborne has been active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he has blogged intermittently on his personal blog, as well as the Libertarian Party of Nevada blog, and ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate. He serves on the Executive Committee for both his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is the father of two sons and an IT professional. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at david.colborne@lpnevada.org

Brothel owner Hof upsets incumbent Oscarson in rural Nevada Assembly district; caucus-backed candidates largely coast to victory in legislative races

Democrats are still expected to keep control of the Legislature come November, but exactly who will fill some of those seats became clearer after the results started trickling in early Tuesday night.

In the night’s biggest upset, brothel owner Dennis Hof unseated incumbent Assemblyman James Oscarson in the Republican primary for Assembly District 36, despite Oscarson raising major funds and accusations of unwelcome sexual contact from some of Hof’s former employees.

But candidates backed by party caucuses largely emerged unscathed after the primary results came in on Tuesday night, with nearly all caucus-endorsed candidates emerging victorious after the results came in. The notable exception was in Assembly District 24, where the caucus-backed former head of the Department of Taxation, Deonne Contine, lost to the labor-supported candidate, Sarah Peters, in their race to represent the heavily Democratic Reno area seat.

In the 42-member Assembly, 21 total candidates (16 Democrats and five Republicans) are guaranteed or almost assured to win the general election, either because only one candidate has declared for the seat or because only one candidate from a party is running and that party has such an overwhelming voter registration advantage in the district it would be unlikely for another party to win it. Six more candidates (two Democrats and four Republicans) are almost assured to be headed up to Carson in February after tonight’s results.

It’s the same case in the 21-member state Senate, where 15 seats are considered safe either because the office-holder isn’t up for re-election or because other candidates declined to file. Overwhelming party registration advantages mean than Democrat Sens. Yvanna Cancela and Assemblyman James Ohrenschall are considered locks to win their November elections after easily winning their primary contests. (Cancela, for instance, will be the only candidate on the ballot in the general election.)

Here’s a look at the the major legislative primary election results:

State Senate District 8

Valarie Weber narrowly came out in top in this three-way Republican primary to replace state Sen. Patricia Farley, a Republican turned independent who caucused with the Democrats during the 2017 session. The district, which includes portions of Summerlin on the western border of Las Vegas, has an almost even number of registered Democrat and Republican voters.

Weber won with 40 percent of the vote while former state Sen. Elizabeth Helgelien secured 22 percent of the vote and former professional wrestler Dan Rodimer secured 38 percent. Rodimer had pumped $200,000 into his bid for the seat, with more than three-quarters of the total coming from personal loans, where Weber raised a little less than $102,000 and Helgelien had raised $36,000.

Weber will face off against former Democratic Assemblywoman Marilyn Dondero Loop in the general election. Dondero Loop beat her only primary opponent — Stephanie Alvarado, who didn’t raise any money for her campaign and was arrested in March for allegedly assaulting two police officers — by 66 percent to 34 percent.

State Senate District 9

As expected, two political newcomers backed by their party caucuses will advance to the general election in this swing state Senate district, formerly held by Republican state Sen. Becky Harris.

Deputy Clark County District Attorney Melanie Scheible easily emerged from her four-way primary race, winning 69 percent of the vote. She’ll face off against bakery owner Tiffany Jones, who lost a primary race to former Assemblyman Brent Jones in 2016 and has been endorsed by the Senate Republican caucus.

Scheible has raised more than $78,000 thus far in her bid for the seat, while Jones has raised just over $41,000. Democrats hold a 6,100 lead in the number of registered voters in the district, or a 38 to 31 percent difference.

State Senate District 10

State Sen. Yvanna Cancela handily won her Democratic primary against animal rights activist Bryce Henderson by 60 percent to 40 percent in this heavily Democratic Las Vegas district, which stretches from downtown Las Vegas south to McCarran Airport. Cancela has represented the seat since she was appointed to it by the Clark County Commission in December 2016 after former state Sen. Ruben Kihuen was elected to Congress.

Cancela, the former political director of the Culinary Union, raised nearly $193,000 in her bid for the seat, compared to only $9,000 raised by Henderson. However, he dogged her throughout the race, criticizing her over several trapping bills that came up during the last legislative session.

No other candidates from any other parties filed for the seat, meaning Cancela’s name will be the only one to appear on the general election ballot in November.

State Senate District 16

Republican state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer again survived a primary challenge from perennial candidate Gary Schmidt, winning on a 56 to 44 percent vote.

Schmidt was initially found to not live at his listed address in the district and was initially barred from seeking the office, but the state’s Supreme Court ruled in May that his name could appear on the ballot during the appeals process.

State Senate District 20

Freshman Rep. Keith Pickard won the Republican primary against political newcomer Byron Brooks carrying 59 percent of the vote to 41 percent.

He’ll face off against Julie Pazina, backed by the state Senate Democratic caucus and who garnered 73 percent of the vote against former Assemblyman Paul Aizley, who received 27 percent.

State Senate District 21

Assemblyman James Ohrenschall easily bested two Democratic opponents, retired fire captain Jay Craddock and working mother Christine Glazer, securing 59 percent of the vote Tuesday in his bid to represent this Democratic-leaning East Las Vegas district. The seat currently has no representative after state Sen. Mark Manendo resigned from the seat last summer after a two-and-a-half-month investigation into allegations of sexual harassment revealed witness-tampering and multiple instances of misconduct dating back years.

Craddock secured 15 percent on Tuesday, while Glazer ended up with 27 percent. Democrats have a nearly 2-1 voter registration advantage in the district over Republicans, which means Ohrenschall is almost essentially guaranteed a victory over the one Republican candidate in the race, Ron McGinnis.

Assembly District 2

Republican Assemblyman John Hambrick defeated his sole primary opponent, Jim Small, by eight points in his re-election bid to this Summerlin area district. On the Democratic side, journeywoman electrician Jennie Sherwood defeated UNLV health and constitutional law professor David Orentlicher by 54 percent to 46 percent.

Hambrick will face off against Sherwood in the general election in November to represent this district, in which Republicans have a narrow voter registration advantage.

Assembly District 4

Republican Assemblyman Richard McArthur defeated insurance agent Ken Rezendes in the primary on a 46 to 30 percent split. McArthur previously defeated Rezendes in the 2016 Republican primary for this district by 107 votes.

McArthur will go on to face Democrat Connie Munk, a retired mental health professional who defeated her primary opponent Tony T. Smith by 72 percent to 28 percent.

The district has a fairly even number of registered Republicans and Democrats, meaning that it could swing either way in November.

Assembly District 12

The Democratic caucus-backed candidate, Susan Martinez, came out on top in the six-way Democratic primary on Tuesday night, taking home 46 percent of the vote.

She bested lawyer Anat Levy (25 percent); businessman Brandon Casutt (6 percent); small business owner Cinthia Moore (11 percent); Walter Lee Seip II (2 percent); veteran Gabrielle D’Ayr (6 percent); and communications scientist Gregory York (4 percent), who has raised about $1,000.

Martinez is likely to coast to victory in the general election since Democrats have a roughly 5,000-person voter registration advantage in the district. Republican Richard Fletcher and Independent American Mary Elizabeth Boyer Martinez did not face primary challenges.

Assembly District 13

Las Vegas Metro Police Department Assistant Sheriff Tom Roberts beat out primary challenger Steve Sanson to represent this northwest Las Vegas Assembly seat. Roberts secured 66 percent of the vote, while Sanson brought in 20 percent. A third primary challenger, James Kemp, received 14 percent of votes.

Roberts is essentially guaranteed a victory come November, as the Independent American candidate in the race, Leonard Foster, has raised no money.

Assembly District 15

Political activist Howard Watts came out on top in this five-way Democratic primary to replace retiring Democratic Assemblyman Elliot Anderson, securing 46 percent of the vote. Juan Manuel Chavez received 31 percent, Michael Gandy 7 percent, Lou Toomin 8 percent and Andrew Spivak 8 percent.

Watts will have an easy path to victory in November in the heavily Democratic district. The one Republican candidate in the race, Stan Vaughan, has not filed required campaign finance reports.

Assembly District 22

In the race to replace Republican Assemblyman Keith Pickard, businesswoman Melissa Hardy has come out on top beating her opponent Richard Bunce by 14 percentage points.

Hardy, who has run a Port of Subs franchise in Henderson with her husband since 2005, received 57 percent of the vote to Bunce’s 43 percent.

Assembly District 23

Regional Transportation Commission analyst Glen Leavitt easily defeated primary challenger Matt McCarthy by 10 percentage points, meaning he will likely be seated in the state Legislature if he defeats longshot Independent American Party candidate Ralph Preta on the November ballot. Leavitt won 55 percent of the vote, compared to 45 percent for McCarthy.

Assembly District 24

Environmental engineer Sarah Peters, who ran with the support of labor including the Nevada AFL-CIO, won the primary for this Reno-area district with 47 percent of the vote, almost double of any other candidate.

Retail store owner Tom Stewart — who ran with the backing of several notable locals including former legislator Sheila Leslie, former Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa, Reno City Council Member Jenny Brekhus and Washoe County Commissioner Kitty Jung — ended up with 23 percent of the vote.

The former head of the Department of Taxation, Deonne Contine, came in third place in the Democratic primary, securing 22 percent of the vote. Contine was endorsed by the Assembly Democratic Caucus in January.

A fourth candidate, state employee Edward Coleman, came in last with 8 percent.

No candidates from any other party entered the race for this seat, meaning Peters will be the only candidate to appear on the November ballot.

Assembly District 32

The wife of the district’s current assemblyman, Alexis Hansen, will advance to the general election after defeated former Humboldt County Commissioner Tom Fransway. Hansen, whose husband, Ira, is running for the state Senate, received 58 percent of the vote while Fransway took in 42 percent of the vote.

Hansen will face off against Democrat Patty Povilaitis, who didn’t face a primary, in the general election. The district has 9,000 more registered Republican voters than Democrats.

Assembly District 33

Incumbent Assemblyman John Ellison easily survived a primary challenge from Elko Mayor Chris Johnson, winning the heavily Republican district with 78 percent to 22 percent for Johnson. Because no other candidates filed to run in the race, Ellison will return to Carson City in 2019.

Assembly District 35

Republican David Schoen will face off against Democrat Michelle Gorelow in the general election in the race to replace Assemblyman Justin Watkins, who decided not to run for re-election. Schoen received 59.5 percent of the vote, with primary opponent Aimee Jones taking in 41.5 percent.

Gorelow defeated Democratic primary challenger Paul Nimsuwan on a 53 to 47 percent margin.

Assembly District 36

Brothel owner Dennis Hof defeated Assemblyman James Oscarson in their Republican primary battle in this rural Nevada Assembly district as of late Tuesday night.

Hof won 42.8 percent of the votes, while Oscarson secured 36.5 percent. In terms of raw votes, Hof had 2,921 to Oscarson’s 2,489. In Nye County, Hof had bested Oscarson by about 907 votes, while Oscarson eked out a narrow 384-vote victory in Clark County.

Oscarson, who was first elected in 2012, has faced primary challenges from Republicans in Nye County after he voted in favor of the contentious Commerce Tax proposal backed by Gov. Brian Sandoval in the 2015 session. He survived a difficult primary in 2016 and then defeated Hof, then running as a Libertarian Party member, in the general election.

Hof changed his party registration to run in the Republican primary this year and has attracted significant support, including from President Donald Trump’s informal advisor Roger Stone, and has funneled more than $210,000 of his personal money into the campaign.

Hof will face off against Democrat Lesia Romanov in the general election, though the seat is almost a sure lock for Republicans. There are about 7,800 more Republicans registered in the district than Democrats.

Assembly District 42

Small business owner and Ethiopian refugee Alexander Assefa will replace Assemblywoman Irene Bustamante Adams in the state Legislature, after he defeated two primary challengers on Tuesday. Assefa, who was endorsed by the Assembly Democratic caucus, received 55.3 percent of the vote, while Kathleen Lauckner received 34.1 percent. A third candidate, LaDon Henry, received 10.6 percent of Democratic primary votes in the district.

Assefa is the only candidate who will appear on the November ballot since no Republicans or third-party candidates filed to run for the seat.

Disclosure: The Culinary Union, Howard Watts and Patricia Farley have donated to The Nevada Independent. You can see a full list of donors here.

Updated 6-13-17 at 8:49 a.m. to include final vote totals from the Secretary of State's website.