Ethics panel can’t see budget-cut plan | NevadaAppeal.com

Ethics panel can’t see budget-cut plan

After less than a month as executive director of the Ethics Commission, Patty Cafferata found herself between a rock and a hard place when the governor’s office ordered her not to tell her own commissioners what budget cuts she has recommended.

The issue came up when chairman Jim Kosinski asked her to send members copies of her proposed cuts and put the issue on the commission agenda. She said she couldn’t because Josh Hicks, legal counsel to Gov. Jim Gibbons, told her not to release the recommendations.

“He asked me to disclose it and put it on the agenda,” she said. “I did not believe I had the authority to do that.”

Kosinski said he has been a commissioner seven years “and I have reviewed the budget every time.” He said in the last Legislature, he presented the commission budget to lawmakers. He said he believes the commission has every right to be involved in making those recommendations.

Every state agency has been asked to make recommendations where and how they would reduce general fund spending by 8 percent because of revenue shortfalls – especially in the sales tax.

Hicks said Wednesday every board and commission director has been asked to treat those recommendations as confidential, not just Cafferata.

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Director of Administration Andrew Clinger said the Economic Development Commission was told the same when its director asked to share the recommendations with commissioners.

Ethics Commissioner Tim Cashman sided with Kosinski saying, “It’s my impression she works for the commission.”

“I’m concerned we have the potential of being precluded from the budget cuts to our agency.”

Cafferata said she has authority over the budget because her work performance standards state that she prepares the budget for the commission and presents it to the Legislature.

Commissioner George Keele responded that, “To me, that means prepare the budget and bring it forward to us.”

“You, I believe, are interpreting that just the opposite, saying I don’t require any advice from you, I’m going off on my merry way.”

Cafferata said she took the job after the first proposed budget cuts had already been submitted to the budget office.

“When I got here, I got the message: Don’t disclose.”

Commissioner Rick Hsu asked whether she and the commission could develop scenarios and submit a new set of recommendations to the budget office.

Cafferata said that might be a moot issue: “We had a deadline. We already submitted the cuts.”

She made it clear the commission doesn’t get to make the final decision.

“Basically we have no control. They’re going to cut our budget however they want.”

At Kosinski’s suggestion, the commission voted to hold another meeting next week and develop the commission’s recommendations on where and how to cut their budget if necessary.

He said they could submit their proposals to the governor and the budget office, asking they replace the recommendations sent in by Cafferata. But Kosinski had other issues as well, asking why Cafferata refused to put four different items – primarily dealing with the budget cut issue – on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting. He said in his seven years on the commission, the members and chairmen have had input into what goes on the agenda.

Keele suggested and other members agreed to hold a review of the executive director’s responsibilities and her role with the commission in January.

Finally, they decided to hold a closed-door meeting with commission legal counsel on the potential liability generated if budget cuts force cancellation or reduction of any contracts with providers such as court reporting services.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.