Nevada controller faces possible impeachment
The Nevada Ethics Commission on Wednesday fined Controller Kathy Augustine $15,000 for ethical violations during her 2002 re-election campaign and ordered its report forwarded to the Nevada Legislature for possible impeachment.
Augustine stipulated to three separate willful violations, including ordering members of her staff to spend significant amounts of time working on her 2002 campaign and using state equipment including computers, printers and copiers in her campaign.
Augustine admitted to the violations of state ethics rules, which begin by declaring public office a trust which “shall be held for the sole interest of the state of Nevada” and prohibits using state property or employee time to further a politician’s own interests.
Augustine is the first constitutional officer in Nevada history to be fined for ethics violations.
She was fined $5,000 for each of the “willful” violations, but one member of the ethics commission argued it wasn’t enough.
William Flangas said a total of $25,000 in fines would be more appropriate because not only did Augustine coerce former executive secretary Jennifer Normington into working on her campaign, she did the same with at least two other employees in the controller’s office and attempted to do so with two others who refused to go along. In Normington’s case, Flangas said, about 25 percent of her time was spent on re-election campaign issues rather than state business.
“She is not a novice and not a rookie,” said Flangas, noting Augustine’s six years as controller and six more years in the Legislature. He said her actions amount to “a flagrant, reckless and shameless abuse of authority.”
He was joined in voting against the stipulated settlement by Mark Hutchinson, who said the commission should hold an open hearing on all the charges against Augustine. But Chairwoman Caren Jenkins and members Jim Kozinski and George Keele voted for it. Keele pointed out that the fine is the severest penalty the Nevada Ethics Commission has ever imposed on a public official.
The case isn’t yet over because the stipulated agreement directs Ethics Commission Director Stacy Jennings to forward a copy of the report to the Nevada Legislature for possible impeachment proceedings.
Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Lorne Malkiewich said that report will be presented by the Chief Clerk of the Assembly to the Speaker of the Assembly but that it’s pretty much up to leadership how to proceed from there.
Augustine said after the Ethics Commission decision she has no intention of resigning. But she admitted she was responsible for the violations.
“I take full responsibility for the actions that occurred,” she said. “I will allow the process to run its course.”
Malkiewich said nothing will happen until the Legislature convenes in February unless Gov. Kenny Guinn sees the case as pressing enough to warrant calling a special legislative session. That would cost upwards of $30,000 a day. Guinn’s office said they are reviewing the stipulation.
Beyond the prospect of impeachment, the attorney general’s office is still considering the possibility of criminal charges against Augustine. The attorney general’s staff has been investigating Augustine’s conduct for more than a year and a spokesman said felony charges are a possibility in this case.
Augustine is half way through her second four-year term as controller.
Contact Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.