With the finish line in sight, Board of Regents District 9 candidates Ron Knecht and Michon Mackedon have turned up the heat in their race for the nonpartisan seat as they sparred this week over details of a recent political advertisement.
Mackedon, the challenger from Fallon, alleges in campaign ads that Knecht was fired from his position as senior economist by the state Public Utilities Commission for "violating policies that included falsifying his timesheet and conducting political outside employment activities during work hours, according to an investigative report."
Knecht, who was elected to the Board of Regents in 2006, was terminated by the state PUC in March but denies the allegations surrounding his dismissal that are raised in Mackedon's ad.
"I was given no reason why I was fired when I was discharged," Knecht said on Wednesday. "I requested numerous times, orally and in writing, a statement of reasons, and I was told there would be no explanation whatsoever. I was an at-will employee, they didn't have to give me a reason. To this day, they haven't communicated a reason to me."
Knecht was employed by the PUC for more than a decade. During that time, he also served one term as a member of the Nevada Assembly in addition to his term on the Board of Regents.
In July, The Nevada Appeal reported PUC Executive Director Crystal Jackson requested a criminal investigation. While no criminal charges were filed, she confirmed to investigators that Knecht was terminated from the PUC for the reasons she listed in her complaint.
"Basically, we filled out a two-week absence report that said, if you took sick leave, vacation days or furlough, you'd have to report that," Knecht said in responding to the timecard issue. "But the provisions of unclassified employment with the state were that you were required to finish your work on time and in good order, however much time it took. You expressly were not held to a 40-hour work week, and that you had scheduled flexibility."
"Their (PUC) complaint against me, and this is the complaint they made to the A.G.'s office, and the closure report they filed, found no basis for further investigation."
According to Knecht, the issue of conducting political activities during work hours stemmed from a regents' investment meeting on the morning of March 9. Knecht said he received no compensation for his participation in the meeting.
"I called into a Board of Regents investment meeting," Knecht said. "I stayed at my office instead of going to the meeting so that I wouldn't incur the travel time, and I could have the maximum time and presence at the office that day instead of attending the meeting up there. Calling into a committee meeting like that is not political activity; they falsely alleged that as being political activity. Secondly, calling into that committee meeting and using a state phone and doing it from my desk is fully sanctioned by state administrative code and by PUC protocol."
In the campaign ad, an Associated Press story is cited via the Las Vegas Sun.
Mackedon, asked to comment on the ad, cited a July story in the Nevada Appeal alleging violations that include abuse of equipment and falsification of time, conducting political and outside employment activities.
"This is from the case file from the Attorney General's investigation, according to what my lawyers have and what we said in the ad, these are not allegations, they are findings," she said.
Mackedon added she does not regard the ad as negative campaigning.
"I think it's not negative campaigning, it's informational campaigning," she said. "We felt it was important voters have a choice based on records of the candidates. We need impeccable records as public servants and we need to be role models for our community."
District 9 encompasses a new area that now includes Churchill, Carson City, Douglas, Lyon, Storey, Mineral, Lander and Esmeralda counties and the southern portion of Washoe County that includes Incline Village.