State could use its own ethics theme |

State could use its own ethics theme

Barry Smith

What happens in the state Controller’s Office, stays in the state Controller’s Office.

Catchy, huh?

Maybe we can adopt some variation of Las Vegas’ hit marketing theme for Nevada state government.

I’ve been trying out some ideas, but they all seem dated.

Monkey see, monkey do.

See no evil, hear no evil ….

Remember when Las Vegas was promoting itself as “family entertainment” and trying to put on a happy face? Go ahead, bring the kids, it’s a great place to spend a warm, comfortable week in the desert with Mom and the kids. Heck, bring the pets, too.

Nobody was fooled for a minute. We all said, uh, that’s nice. But isn’t Las Vegas about gambling and staying up all night and free drinks and letting yourself be naughty?

Well, yes, as a matter of fact.

So that’s when advertising copywriters Jason Hoff and Jeff Candido at R&R Partners thought Las Vegas should get back into the swing of things and came up with the “What happens here, stays here” slogan.

Sin City, baby.

The slogan leaves much to your imagination. There’s the suggestion widespread debauchery is going on. The details, of course, are better left unsaid.

Well, good ol’ Carson City can’t really compete with Las Vegas on most of the seven deadly sins. Greed, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony and sloth – we’re pretty much getting our butts kicked by Southern Nevada.

But we’ve got pride in the capital city. And pride, in case you haven’t been keeping score lately, is the seventh sin. It’s the opposite of one of the great virtues: humility.

Oh, yes, there’s a good amount of humility in Carson City – especially during the holiday season. It’s a wonderful place for the people who live here, who donate their time and money to good causes.

But the supply of humility got about as thin as oxygen on Mount Everest last week when the Nevada Senate made its unplanned visit to town and held a “trial” of state Controller Kathy Augustine.

Augustine’s been pummeled pretty regularly now for a few months, so I’ll pass on her. It’s no fun kicking somebody when they’re down.

Instead, let’s go to some other stars in the Nevada state government universe, such as Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, who was quoted as saying things like this on the Senate floor:

“We have put the stain of impeachment on Controller Augustine for the rest of her life.”

He kind of has a point there, except that he may not have been paying attention when Augustine admitted violations to the Ethics Commission, forcing an impeachment hearing in the Assembly, where she didn’t present a defense, leaving the Assembly no choice but to vote to send the whole mess to the Senate.

I don’t know what we did to her, Sen. Coffin, because it looked like she was mostly doing it to us.

“I can’t think of a reason to remove (Augustine from office). I can’t even think of a reason to censure,” Coffin also said.

And true to his word, Coffin voted each time for Augustine’s innocence. So did Bob Beers. So did Dean Rhoads. So did Sandra Tiffany. So did Maurice Washington.

But it was only Coffin who voted even against censuring her. He couldn’t think of a reason.

What happens in Carson City, stays in Carson City. Where it’s promptly forgotten.

I hate to bring up unpleasant memories, but about the same time Las Vegas was passing itself off as family entertainment, Carson City was hitting a low point for ethics with what was known as the Whitehead case, a tangled web of judicial intrigue that made the Nevada Supreme Court famous. Except in a bad way.

Eight years later, that stain has faded. Now there’s a new one on the carpet.

It not only soiled Augustine, but spattered much of state government. The idea of widespread ethical violations was, like the ads for naughtiness in Las Vegas, only a suggestion. We’re left to fill in the details with our own imaginations.

Coffin certainly reinforced the idea that some elected officials don’t see anything wrong with using resources of their taxpayer-funded offices to get re-elected. Quite a few of them left the impression that state workers exist for their bosses’ own personal amusement.

It’s not just a perception, either. Sen. Bill Raggio now has an opinion from the Legislative Counsel Bureau that says filling out campaign contribution and expenditure reports isn’t a campaign activity.

Usually, such sleight of hand is reserved for the magicians on stage along the Strip.

But in Carson City, hey, we’ll take what we can get.

Nevada’s Capital City: Ethically challenged.

Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at or 881-1221.