Supervisor candidate says treasurer unethical

Carson City Treasurer Al Kramer said a lapse in judgment led to his City Hall phone number being on a letter he wrote endorsing Verne Horton for Ward 4 supervisor.

However, that lapse of judgment has caused supervisor candidate Frank Sharp to question Kramer's ethics and integrity.

"I'm going to the Ethics Commission with it," Sharp said. "It's unethical. He shouldn't use taxpayers' dollars to help run a campaign. Don't work against me at City Hall. Do it at home. Don't do it with my money, or the taxpayer's money. He's got a job to do, not run a campaign."

Sharp said his concern does not stem from the fact that Kramer supports a different candidate, rather that he considers the use of Kramer's telephone at work to campaign for someone a violation of public trust.

"This does not affect my campaign," Sharp said. "It's about an elected official using taxpayers dollars to run a campaign. He's the treasurer. He's supposed to be protecting our money, not spending it. I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him."

Kramer said he didn't give much thought to putting his work phone number on the letter. As an elected official, he often gives his city phone number to people as a point of contact. He said he often receives phone calls from people that aren't related directly to what he does as treasurer.

"I invite people to call about any question," Kramer said. "My name is in the phone book. The treasurer's number is in the phone book.

"Having thought about it, it was probably inappropriate to put my work number on it. I didn't think enough about it. I'm not going to beat myself up over it."

Kramer said he sent 240 of the letters and has received no phone calls regarding the matter.

"If (Sharp) submits a claim to the Ethics Commission, they'll listen to it," Kramer said. "I don't know what he hopes to gain from it."

While Sharp questions the ethics of Kramer's decision, it may not be a legal concern, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Forsberg.

State ethics law does not prohibit the limited use of government equipment for personal purposes if:

-- The public officer is authorized to use the property.

-- The use doesn't interfere the the performance of public duties.

-- The cost related to the use is nominal.

-- The use does not create the appearance of impropriety.

"Using those four criteria, it's at worst, arguable," Forsberg said.

He said the city has a policy that says city employee shouldn't engage in political activity during work hours. Because Kramer is an elected official, however, he is accountable to voters, not to the Board of Supervisors as other employees are.

"The spirit of the rules of the city is that our employees don't spend their time on political activities," Forsberg said. "It's a campaign issue. The law doesn't make it illegal to do that. If it's disagreeable to somebody, it's the voters who are holding these officials accountable for their actions."

Kateri Cavin, deputy attorney general for the Secretary of State's Office, said Kramer's actions were not illegal under election law.

Nancy Lee Varnum, counsel for the State Ethics Commission, said it would be up to the eight-member commission to decide if ethics laws had been violated.

Richard Staub, the third candidate for the Ward 4 supervisor seat, said he agreed that Kramer shouldn't use his work phone number in support of a campaign. However, he said the issue wasn't worth pursuing to the Ethics Commission.

"It's an issue voters need to address with Mr. Kramer in the next election," Staub said.

Horton, the candidate for whom the letter was written, called Sharp's charge "ludicrous."

"I don't think that it's a problem other than he maybe made a mistake," Horton said. "It's a case of where you get to giving out your phone number, and you give out your phone number. It wasn't intentional as if he was using (the phone number) to some kind of end.

"It was a simple mistake. If the endorsement letter were endorsing Frank, I wouldn't have made an issue of it."


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