HOWARD ROSENBERG: the most powerful man in Nevada

Expanded from the 12-1-96 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

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.

"When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."
—Humpty Dumpty

Each week, the attempt to keep university regent-elect Howard Rosenberg from taking office takes a new series of increasingly bizarre twists. However, the principal question remains unanswered: what's the big deal?

Try this: If he gets seated on the University and Community College System of Nevada Board of Regents, he may affect who becomes the next governor of Nevada. That's a very big deal and effectively makes UNR Prof. Rosenberg the most powerful man in the state.

On the face of it, Mr. Rosenberg would become just one of 11 university regents upon taking office next January. Why train all that publicly financed firepower on one poor teacher who just wants to direct more spending toward his students?

Even if you're running why sweat Rosenberg? Couldn't the servants of the jockocracy simply shun him as just another crazy person, exactly as they've done for four years with dissident Las Vegas regent Nancy Price? Granted, it may be a bit of a stretch to ask the public to swallow that two certifiably crazy people have been elected to serve simultaneously on the prestigious board of 11, but everybody thinks you've got to be nuts to hold public office anyway.

Nutcases seem to abound in academia. Judging by recent events, whatever the university administration has been paying for legal and PR advice is insanely too high. By filing actions against Rosenberg before he ever takes office, they've made his story bigger than the governor's prostate surgery. And much more complicated.

UNR president Joe Crowley, system chancellor Richard Jarvis and learned counsel Don Klasic have elevated the Rosenberg affair to national prominence for no apparent gfilings, first to the state ethics commission, then with the attorney general, Ali Baba and the 40 stooges seem merely concerned that Nevada law does not allow a professor to sit on the board of regents and still get paid for teaching.

However, if they were really so hung up, why have they never asked for an ethics or legal opinion on the status of 10-year Sparks Regent Jim Eardley? If you put lawyer Klasic's one-pound Rosenberg filing into a computer and instruct it replace "Rosenberg" with "Eardley," you'd find that identical charges can be made.

Eardley, former president of Truckee Meadows Community College, receives retirement income based upon his long tenure with the university system. Now, read part of the law the university power structure is using against Rosenberg, quoted directly from Chancellor Jarvis' November 18 letter to the ethics commission: "A member of the Board of Regents shall not be interof Regents or in the profit thereof...a state officer or employee shall not be interested, directly or indirectly, in any profit or compensation resulting from a contract in which the employing state is interested or affected."

With all due respect to Humpty Dumpty, the ethics commission must primarily look at the legal wording as meaning exactly what it seems. The legislative pedigree of some of the above may undercut the university hierarchy's case, but that's for lawyers to fight out.

The statute first martialed against Rosenberg by Assembly Speaker Joe Dini (D-Yerington) was passed in 1975, seemingly to regulate relationships with university vendors. A June letter to Dini from his minions at the legislative counsel bureau was released just before last month'sby Rosenberg's big money opponent, Mary-Ellen McMullen. It serves as the fuel with which university system lawyer Klasic has lit his torch to fire Rosenberg.

But why Rosenberg, and why now? Former Sparks city councilman Eardley was elected regent 11 years ago and nobody has yet peeped a squeak. But is Eardley's retirement contract from the U any different than Rosenberg's teaching contract? When is a contract not a contract? When is a rose not a rose? When will Humpty Dumpty come out of retirement to settle the issue?

Not even learned lawyer Klasic is sure that the ethics commission has jurisdiction to fully address the issues. In his letter asking Atty. Gen. Frankie Sue Del Papa to also issue an opinion on the matter, Klasic writes "I am not clear whether the ethics commission may render its opinion on other conflict of interest statutes which may affect the issue of whether Mr. Rosenberg can serve on the board of regents while employed at UNR."

The ethics commto Klasic, asking her honorableness to address additional conflict of interest laws. The strategy misses one very obvious point: Howard Rosenberg is not yet a public officer subject to any of the laws brought forward. He is not due to be sworn in until January. However, Louis Ling, Del Papa's deputy assigned to the ethics commission, told me that the commission intends to jockey its January agenda to fast-track the Rosenberg affair before he can take office.

"It is important...that an opinion concerning whether there is a conflict of issued before Mr. Rosenberg takes office," Jarvis wrote to the ethics commission and reiterated to the attorney general. Oh really? Why? What's the big deal?

What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Accordingly, I am asking by means of this column and a followup filing to the ethics commission, that Regent Eardley's situation be reviewed simultaneously with that of regent-elect Rosenberg. I am furtdisclosure reports of all retiring, remaining and incoming regents. In addition, I am requesting disclosure reports for all six members of the ethics commission and any replacements who may sit on this case. I am also asking that any replacements be intensively criticized for potential conflicts of interest.

Half of the ethics commission already stands disqualified from sitting on the Rosenberg matter, leaving less than a quorum. Reno member Jud Allen has informed Rosenberg that he will recuse himself because he views Rosenberg as a personal friend. A look at the multifarious conflicts of interest of two other members puts them permanently on the sidelines. I will quote directly from the text of my ethics commission filing:

"Please consider this memo a citizen request or formal complaint asking that the State of Nevada Commission on Ethics take the following actions. (1) Join University of Nevada Regent James Eardley as a party...(2) Add additional members of the board of regents as Disqualify ethics commission vice-chair Helen Chisholm and member Scott Scherer from acting in the aboventitled matter and any expansion thereof.

"Ms. Chisholm is an employee of Southland Corporation. According to the lobbyist disclosure list of the 1995 Nevada Legislature, Southland retained attorney Harvey Whittemore as its lobbyist, as it had done in previous legislative sessions. Mr. Whittemore served as campaign treasurer for Mr. Rosenberg's opponent, Mary-Ellen McMullen. Southland contributed at least $2,000 to the 1996 re-election campaign of Assemblyman Joe Dini (D-Yerington), through the 21 October 1996 disclosure period.

"Mr. Scherer, a former Clark County Republican assemblyman, is an employee of International Game Technology (IGT). According to the lobbyist disclosure list of the 1995 Nevada Legislature, IGT retained attorney Harvey Whittemore as its lobbyist. IGT is a major sponsor of the American Gaming Summit scheduled December 4 and 5, 1996, at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. Mr. Whittemore's law firm, Lionel Sawyer and Collins, acts as co-producer of the American Gaming Summit. IGT contributed $2,500 this year to the campaign of Mr. Rosenberg's opponent, Mary-Ellen McMullen. IGT contributed at least $2,000 to the 1996 re-election campaign of Assemblyman Joe Dini (D-Yerington), through the 21 October 1996 disclosure period.

"In the 1993 and 1995 legislative sessions, lawyer Sam McMullen, husband of Rosenberg election opponent Mary-Ellen McMullen, registered as a lobbyist for $3,000 to Mr. Dini's 1995 campaign through the 21 October 1996 reporting period. Barrick contributed at least $750 to the campaign of Mrs. McMullen.

"Through October 21, 1996, Mr. Dini received at least

* $2,000 from Philip Morris Management Corporation. Philip Morris USA is listed as a 1995 Sam McMullen lobbying client.

* $1,500 from the Tobacco Institute, of which RJ Reynolds Tobacco USA, a 1995 Harvey Whittemore lobbying client, may be a member; of which Philip Morris USA or Philip Morris Management Corp. may be members.

* $2,000 from Sierra Pacific Power, a 1995 Sam McMullen lobbying client.

* $1,000 from ARCO, a Whittemore lobbying client.

* $1,000 from Station Casinos, Inc., which may be a member of the Nevada Resort Assn., a 1995 Whittemore lobbying client.

* $750 from the Utility Shareholders Assn. of Nevada, made up largely of stockholders in Sierra Pacific Power, a 1995 Sam McMullen lobbying client.

* $2,000 from Nevada Resort Assn., a 1995 Whittemore lobbying client. Circus Circus President Glenn Schaeffer is advertised as a keynote speaker at the American Gaming Summit, an event co-produced by Mr. Whittemore's law firm.

* $1,500 from the Nevada Mining Association PAC; Barrick Goldstrike, a Sam McMullen client, may be a member of that association.

* $2,500 from NSEA/TIP. The Nevada State Education Association is a 1995 Whittemore lobbying client.

* $2,500 from Mirage Resorts, which has been a member of the Nevada Resort Assn., a Whittemore client. Mirage Resorts donated at least $756.50 worth of services to the campaign of Mary-Ellen McMullen. Mirage Chairman Steve Wynn is advertised as a keynote speaker at the American Gaming Summit, an event co-produced by Mr. Whittemore's law firm.

"A letter to Mr. Dini from legislative counsel Brenda J. Erdoes, dated 19 June 1996, released to Nevada newsmedia on 25 October 1996, acts as the starting point for Mr. Jarvis' complaint in the aboventitled matter. Ms. Erdoes first deployed many of the legal citations later employed by UCCSN attorney Donald Klasic for Mr. Jarvis'least the appearance of conflict of interest for Ms. Chisholm and Mr. Scherer, both of whom should recuse themselves from any participation in this matter," my filing with the commission concludes. I have no information at presstime about other commissioners. The chair is held by Reno lawyer Mary Boetsch. Other members are retired Washoe District Court Judge James Guinan and former Nye County sheriff Joni Wines.

The current method by which commission members step aside totally cripples the fast-tracking of the Rosenberg case. Normally, they rise to announce their conflicts at the beginning of the affected hearing. However, four commissioners are required for a quorum. This necessitates Gov. Bob Miller nominating a replacement for his appointee, Ms. Chisholm, and the legislature, if in session, replacing their appointees, Mssrs. Allen and Scherer. If the ledge does not go into session in time, the Legislative Commission, which has long acted as a mini-legislature, can fill the slots.

However, a long-discussed legal challenge to the power of interim legislative committees is finally in the works. In other states, courts have held unconstitutional the actions of interim committees functioning as mini-legislatures. If all of this goes past the time of Rosenberg's swearing in, so much the better. Then the issues can be joined and Mssrs. Eardley and Rosenberg, and possibly other regents, can get a fair hearing. Other regents?

The more, the merrier. Retiring Las Vegas regent Carolyn Sparks has an interest in an insurance company with the U as a client. I understand that Elko regent Dorothy Gallagher sits on the board of Blue Cross-Blue Shield, which provides contract services to the university system. I could not reach her for comment by deadline.

Incoming regent Tom Wiesner holds gaming licenses. Other regents are eyeball-deep in the gambling business. Board chair Madison Graves II, who without approval from his fellow regents asked Jarvis to make the preemptive strike against Rosenberg, sits on the board of directors of the Primadonna gaming and Primm City development corporation. Las Vegas regent and former Democratic assemblywoman Shelley Berkley is corporate counsel for the Las Vegas Sands Hotel-Casino. As I reported earlier this year, she was placed in the unenviable position of firing her own father in the process of closing the venerable property for renovation. His work as a longtime Sands waiter put his daughter through law school. Carolyn Sparks has an interest in the Las Vegas Showboat Hotel-Casino, which has a major advertising contract for UNLV sporting events.

Nevada gambling interests are licking their chops over secret moves to allow wagering on UNR and UNLV sporting events. The NCAA tournament is more lucrative than the Super Bowl, but the way it stands today, if UNLV or UNR gets in, all bets are off. The university board of regents has the power to authorize the wagering.

Finally, I am asking the ethics commission to review the propriety of Mrs. Richard Jarvis holding a high position at the Desert Research Institute, part of the university system, thus making her husband the boss of her boss. The above list of potential conflicts will probably expand as I gather more information. Had I not raised these issues, I doubt anyone would have. I can recall no one challenging a regent's fitness to serve in my three decades of raking muck here in the Outback of the American Dream. Certainly, by challenging two commissioners, I may have placed Mr. Rosenberg in greater jeopardy. Perhaps Ms. Chisholm and Mr. Scherer would have treated him more fairly than whomever replaces them. While standing silent might have helped Rosenberg, my purpose remains what it has always been - equal opportunity harassment.

Three open slots means a home game for the likes of Sam McMullen and Harvey Whittemore. They've got clout, chits, checks and chips they can cash to rig the contest. The defenders of the shaky university financial empire have chosen the turf from the start. The ethics commission can at best provide a non-binding excuse for the U not to seat Rosenberg. If he doesn't like it, he can go to the state court system, another place where politics supersedes law and justice.

Rosenberg's only hope lies in a preemptive strike of his own, an action on constitutional grounds in federal court. There is simply too much money and power at stake to risk playing this game on a field already demonstrably far from level.

THE END GAME: Rumbles from Gomorrah South relay this scenario as explaining the Rosenberg pogrom: Justice Cliff Young will retire by 1998. Gov. Miller will appoint Atty. Gen. Del Papa, taking her out of the race to replace his lame duck self. This leaves the Democratic nomination to Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones, already proven an abominable statewide campaigner against Miller in the 1994 primary. Tall, rich, handsome, "don't forget I've got a PhD" Dr. Kenny Guinn becomes the unopposed Republican nominee and anointed governor by default. The gambling industrial complex wins again. Hallelujah.

The only monkey wrenches in this well-greased machinery are two little people, Howard Rosenberg and Nancy Price, Diogenes and Cassandra seeking honesty and predicting doom if no one listens. Rosenberg may provide a second to embarrassing motions made by the maverick Price. Much of the embarrassment may involve longtime U-groupie Guinn, UNLV's Mr. Fixit.

The university system is a financial black hole making a lot of very powerful people very rich. This column marks six in a row documenting expanding scandal, favoritism, discrimination, illegal contracts, IRS shenanigans, missing millions, hidden legal settlements, ghost professors getting paid $100,000 a year who never show up for work. Things are so out of control that a new move is afoot to take over the UNR student newspaper, Sagebrush, because it has dared to print a small portion of what I have revealed over the past six weeks.

The literally countless university foundations act as white collar money laundries, making fellow travelers very successful at the bank. When regents follow orders from the administration they supposedly control, everybody gets a piece of the action and nobody says nuthin'. Show that you may not be a good ole boy and you're looking down the barrel of the entire system's legal apparatus, paid for by the taxpayers you purport to serve. It stinks.

PROPAGATE THE FAITH DEPT. A Growing number of taxpayers statewide have expressed interest in forming a dual purpose citizens committee. Their twin goals will involve keeping the public's vote for Rosenberg from being stolen and investigating the wholesale corruption in the university system. If you're interested, e-mail me or write P.O. Box 10034, Reno, NV 89510.

Due to popular demand, reprints of the first five installments of this series can now be obtained at three Reno-Sparks outlets. They are available for the cost of copying at both Reno locations of Office Depot next to Costco on Plumb Lane or in the new Fire Creek Crossing Center on Kietzke Lane extension west of S. Virginia Street. You might want to call ahead so they'll have copies ready. Ask for the Barbano file at the business services desk. The Plumb Lane Office Depot can be reached at 829-2582. Kietzke Lane's number is 823-9099.

In Sparks, copies are available at Nevada Instant Type, 508 Victorian Avenue, 359-4835. They're located east of Pyramid Way going toward McCarran. You can also pick up back issues of the Tribune for 35 cents each while they last at 10th and "C" streets in Sparks, next to the Silver Club tower. I'll also make all columns of this now six-part series available to anyone with e-mail download capability, but the hard copies are more fun, not becaget Jody Lindke's killer political cartoons as a bonus.

BAR WARS. The State Bar of Nevada must address the ethical propriety of U-system lawyer Klasic working to prevent a duly elected future boss from becoming same. Guess I'd better prepare another complaint.

The UNR Foundation broke the public records law by preventing the Tribune from inspecting documents made public by law. Appropriate legal action is under review.

FULL COURT PRESS: Rosenberg has retained former Nevada Assembly Speaker Bill Bilyeu (R-Elko) as his legal counsel. All I can say is...

Be well. Raise hell.

Andrew Barbano is a Reno-based syndicated columnist and 28-year Nevadan.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988.
This column originally published 12/1/96. Copyright © 1996, 2006, 2010 Andrew Barbano

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