BARBWIRE

Clark Santini: still watching over his university
by
ANDREW BARBANO


This is an edition of the University Scandals 96-97 series, selected installments of which were submitted for Pulitzer Prize consideration. Click here to access the archive.


"One man plus the truth constitutes a majority" — Las Vegas Israelite

Back when I lived down in Gomorrah South, Jack and Bea Tell made that the motto of their feisty weekly newspaper. More than 25 years ago, I moved to Reno. One of the first people I ever met here, in the brand new Peppermill Coffee Shop, was a Nevada Gaming Control Board investigator named Clark Santini. He was having lunch with his two young children at the next booth.

I don't recall whether a mutual acquaintance introduced him, or if he introduced himself after overhearing the conversation at my table. By the end of our meals, I had a friend named Clark Santini.


"What an aggressively gregarious guy," I thought to myself. Clark Santini would be part of my life, as he was part of so many others, till the day he died on the banks of the mucky Truckee last Thursday. His tireless labor for the community, for little people having tough times, for the university he loved, for Rancho San Rafael - all will have been recounted many times before you read this. Clark Santini's good work will always be with us. He will forever remain a man of the majority made by the truth.

The last time I saw him, earlier this year, I was airing up my tires at a gas station near downtown Reno. He rode up on his bicycle, dressed in shirt and tie. We talked about some political outrage or other. "I'll send you some stuff on it," he promised as he rode away. Clark was always sending people some stuff on something that needed public attention.

Much of the stuff he sent was well worth saving. When I started digging in to the ongoing outrages perpetrated by the hierarchy of the University of Nevada system, I went to my file and found it filled with messages from Clark Santini. I can write no better tribute to the man than to use his own words of warning from several years ago.

In his own sprawling longhand, dated June 12, 1993, he wrote "Andy, I'd appreciate your sharing this information about the crisis in leadership (lack thereof) at UNR. (President Joe) Crowley should follow Chris Ault's example resigning as football coach. Crowley should give the regents notice that 93-94 is his last year so that they can start a nationwide search for a president to lead UNR into the 21st century. He got the presidency via a political fix which Rollan Melton admits to in his June 16 Reno Gazette-Journal column."

Santini went on to accuse Crowley of putting his own stooge in as vice-president of development, a position which automatically makes that person boss of the UNR Foundation. It's been a standing joke at the U for years that Crowley changed the job description so that no experience was necessary. Paul Page has proven disastrous in the position. The UNR and UNLV foundations stink to high heaven. Missing moneys are measured in increments of $2 million, as I have been reporting for a month. The hiring of Page caused Santini to resign from the UNR Alumni Council.

"Reliable information has come to my attention regarding discriminatory employment practices personally involving President Joe Crowley and Vice-President Paul Page," Santini wrote in his letter of resignation dated on Martin Luther King's birthday, January 15, 1993. "My resignation is tendered as a specific protest of a major act of employment discrimination which, in good conscience, makes it personally impossible to any longer support the current president or current vice-president of development," Santini stated.

In his resignation, he told the story of his famous uncle's departure from the U many years before. "Forty years ago, the distinguished author ("The Ox Bow Incident") and educator Walter Van Tilburg Clark resigned to publicly protest actions by then University of Nevada President Minard Stout." (Stout fired a professor because of what the man had written in an article.)

"As Clark stated at the time," Santini wrote, "he could no longer abide by any association with a university president whose only administrative purpose was to create a 'manageable mediocrity' and to do it with the economic terrorist tactics of summary firings for the most basic freedom - freedom of speech. Recent trends in the Crowley-Page administration have encouraged a climate of censorship of any opposing viewpoints or positions," Santini stated.

Because it dares dissent from the party line, the independence of UNR's student newspaper, Sagebrush, is once again under attack. The bad guys want to move it under the authority of the school of journalism, where it will become a puff newsletter for the Jarvis-Crowley-Ault regime. It can't happen here? Read on.

The university is "a very toxic place to be," a current victim told me recently. Those who go along, get along. The underqualified get overpaid and promoted. Those who question the money wasting, corrupt system are shunned like lepers.

Joe Crowley's regime is chillingly similar to the Washoe County Airport Authority under Bob White and especially the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority under Jay Milligan. Like Crowley, Milligan lobbied his way into a top job for which he had no qualifications. This column was the first to point out his shortcomings as far back as 1988. I have long criticized Milligan for hiring and overpaying the underqualified, but the situation remained unaddressed until matters got so bad that Milligan finally stepped down. He'll retire a wealthy man at the end of this year. Reno richly rewards the incompetent.

The area's principal promotional entity is now stuck in neutral while the gambling-industrial complex laments continuing flat business. It's their own damned fault. UNR is no different.

"Employment practices at UNR based on cronyism and good-ole-boy favoritism inevitably reward inferior personnel and punish superior candidates," Santini wrote almost four years ago. "These two trends, if unabated, will set UNR, again, on the narrow-minded, freedom squelching path to a campus of 'manageable mediocrity.' My prayer is that we can still just learn from the past, not repeat it," Santini concluded.

The man once named outstanding alumnus sent his letter to the entire board of regents. Apparently, it was disregarded. In life, many people took Clark Santini lightly. In death, Clark comes off clairvoyant as Cassandra.

It is irksomely ironic that the UNR Foundation is headquartered in venerable Morrill Hall, where Walter Van Tilburg Clark's chair, donated by Clark Santini, once sat until some ill-advised remodeling. As I have documented in the last three installments of this column, the literally countless (even Chancellor Richard Jarvis could not tell me how many currently operate) foundations infecting the university system are used to shield activities from public scrutiny and allow some people to live like kings.

I broke the story of how $2 million in proceeds from the university-owned Marigold Mine are missing in action. Construction on a new mines library, scheduled to begin tomorrow, has been delayed because the money is missing. The delay endangers almost $10 million in federal funds. Earmarked federal money has in the past been illegally diverted to the wrong purposes and covered up, as in the case of the $187,000 Lawlor Events Center basketball floor and backboards, which are apparently necessary to our national defense.

UNR Foundation Treasurer Jenny Frayer told me I was wrong, that she could show me that the Marigold Mine money's all present and accounted for. We were to have met last Wednesday to review records. I was going to call the acting dean of the Mackay School of Mines with the good news and offer to pick up a check.

On Tuesday, I got a call from a UNR PR man named Terry Maurer, who notified me that my meeting had been canceled. Ms. Frayer had scheduled it before seeing the third installment of this series which ran last Sunday. After reading it, the administration now knows that everything they tell me "will be misconstrued," Mr. Maurer said. I guess the first two installments, by contrast, were deemed fair and factual by the Crowley boys. Nonetheless, because of intallment three, they were canceling my appointment and would henceforth only respond to written questions.

This came just days after Maurer's boss, Paul Page, assured me that everything was open to inspection. I asked Mr. Maurer who gave the order to chicken out on the Tribune. He refused to say.

Mr. Maurer then faxed me forms to fill out. All documents would cost 50 cents per page, plus $5.00 per hour search time, plus any other costs related thereto. Ms. Frayer had been readying copies of tax returns for me without my even asking. She never mentioned a fee.

Outrageously, Maurer's form requires a signature and the number of a "Nevada driver's license or other valid i.d." Remembering the above quote about the university as "a very toxic place to be," what is the real message of the PR man's form? I submit it says "we know where you live." Any fool knows that once he has procured a Nevada driver's license number, application of a publicly available decoding formula can produce the licensee's Social Security number. Then, it's a simple matter to run credit and background checks to learn how to destroy the dissenter.

It can't happen here? I've disclosed legal settlements over just such harassment issues, hidden by the Crowley regime as salaries of ghost professors who never show up for work. At least one currently makes $100,000 a year. He or she has been employed at another university for quite some time. More disclosures will soon appear here and in other Nevada media.

Maurer stated, in writing, that all requests would be handled as prescribed under Nevada Revised Statutes 239.010. He knew not of whence he spoke. That section states "all public books and public records of a public agency, a university foundation or an educational foundation, the contents of which are not otherwise declared by law to be confidential, must be open at all times during office hours to inspection by any person." The only exemption under Nevada law is for foundation donors. Ms. Frayer made it quite clear that she would disclose no donor information.

In calling me a liar in last Sunday's Tribune, UNR Foundation Board of Trustees Chairman Luther Mack stated "mining royalties have never been recorded as donations to the Foundation." This means that all Marigold Mines records at the Foundation are public records and thus open to inspection under the same law Mr. Maurer quoted as governing future dealings with the Tribune. Mr. Maurer's bosses refused me permission to review documents at Ms. Frayer's office in Morrill Hall last Wednesday, thus blatantly breaking the Nevada public records law. Monetary sanctions and legal fees are available to myself and the Tribune through the court system. Stay tuned.

It should be noted that local McDonald's mogul Mr. Mack is a highly respected member of this community. He sits on the board of the Washoe County Airport Authority, and has been a board member of the convention authority, two bodies which operate in a fashion curiously similar to the UNR Foundation. Mr. Mack further stated in his letter that "we have no mining officials on our 56-member public board."

Notice his use of the present tense. On November 3, I wrote that an executive with Rayrock Mines, the company operating the Marigold claim, "has held a seat on the foundation board, raising more conflict of interest questions." Longtime university system treasurer Janet MacDonald resigned last summer, questioning the use of the foundation as an accounting gimmick to give Rayrock a $75,000 per year tax deduction rightfully belonging to the university.

The first rule of cross-examination is never ask a question for which you don't already know the answer. I asked Jenny Frayer if Elko attorney John C. Miller had ever sat on the foundation board. She was truthful and admitted it. Filings with the Nevada secretary of state show Mr. Miller as resident agent of Rayrock Mines from 1983 to 1994, during which time the tax shunting scheme was cooked up.

I don't believe Mr. Mack wrote that letter to the Tribune. I think Joe Crowley or Paul Page did and Luther just signed it. He really needs to re-evaluate the loan of his excellent reputation to public bodies of questionable character.

SMOKING GUN DEPT. The last item on the UNR board of regents agenda last week was a request "for a loan in the amount of approximately $2 million to complete the Mackay School of Mines Library." Ms. Frayer says the money's there, but her bosses illegally kept me from reviewing the records before the regents meeting and vote. We'll see what the lawyers say next week.

MY FINAL WORDS TO CLARK SANTINI. My Tribune colleague in columny Jake Highton visited Clark at St. Mary's hospital, not long before he died. Clark had his friend Mike Robinson call me and ask for a copy of my writings. Here's part of my final message to Santini in this lifetime:

"Clark, you have certainly not left the university in her hour of need. The research you sent me three years ago has been very useful in my current series. A citizens committee needs to be formed, and it needs Clark Santini. Get well, old friend, and quick. We need your experience, your wisdom and your courage."

I was trying to give him a little additional will to live. Nothing pains a writer more than knowing his words have failed. But the fighting spirit of Clark Santini will not fail us as we fight to right the wrongs infesting the institution he and his family loved so much.

Be well. Raise hell.

Adios.

-30-
Andrew Barbano is a Reno-based syndicated columnist and 28-year Nevadan.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Daily Sparks Tribune since 1988.
This column originally published 11/3/96. Copyright © 1996, 2010 Andrew Barbano

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