Shadowboxing Jello, yahoo kangaroos & Downsize This!

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.

Before raking this week's muck and dreck, let's reflect. I've often said it to university regent-elect Howard Rosenberg and many of his supporters. As you fight the good fight, remember the reason why we're spending all this time, taking all this heat, putting up with all this hassle, and blowing a few bucks.

Fast forward a long way down the road. Maybe, if we can keep the university administration from stealing Rosenberg's election, perhaps 20 years from now there will be an extra scholarship available for some bright but poor kid. The supply of such moneys will continue to shrink as our unrestricted market approach to civilization mass-produces poverty.

On some far off day, that little extra might be there because Howard Rosenberg passed that way before, because Howard Rosenberg worked to stem the now-amply documented hemorrhage of inefficiently spent cash in the university system.

Rather than years of phony pay raises for some incompetent suckup of a dean or his wife, perhaps that money will have stayed in an endowment earning interest. Rather than buy the dean a new car every six months, or hire somebody's relative, or settle one of the U's epidemic of bigotry lawsuits, perhaps those dollars will have gone toward educating the doctor who cures cancer.

When we grow tired of the heat, weary of being called liars and fools, dizzy from denunciations of damaging the institution, remember that it's the accusers who have done the damage and now inherit the wind. As with everything in life, you can never fully know how your actions may affect somebody you will never meet.

So focus on that perhaps unborn kid who will receive that scholarship money Regent Rosenberg reserved for him all those years before. Therein shall be the ample reward, return on investment, payment in full for all our very just labors of today.

THE UNDERBELLY OF THE NEWS: The only really bad news of the past week involved two major university scandals breaking on the same day. As a PR man of some experience, I know that the last thing you want is two stories competing with each other. Alas, last week, those who care about our mismanaged university system had to be two places at once. The Nevada Ethics Commission scheduled its hearing on the Rosenberg Affair the very same morning that the Legislative Counsel Bureau released its long-awaited audit of the university system.

Proper perspective on the financial report demands not only a thorough reading by me, but inputs from the many expert sources I've developed in revealing the university scandals of '96. Thus, a full skinning, curing and tanning of the audit must wait its turn for hanging on a future installment of the Barbwire.

Suffice it to say that the overpaid, underqualified university administration is not a happy fraternity right now. They should be overjoyed. The biggest area of abuse, the university foundations, was all but ignored in the report. (But certainly not here.)

Chancellor Richard Jarvis typified the oligarchy's attitude in one of his many defensive statements: "We regret the extent to which inflammatory and melodramatic language is used in the body of the audit report. While the recommendations are presented in reasonable terms, many statements in the text seem more designed for sound-bites (sic) and headlines than constructive criticism or rational argument," Mr. Jarvis wrote. "The extreme nature of several 'conclusions' are just not warranted by the scale or scope of the examples cited," uttered Sir Richard the Lyinhearted.

This is just the latest case of a very sooty pot calling the kettle black. Jarvis' filing against Rosenberg with the Nevada Ethics Commission is loaded with items for which the above-quoted description seems too mild. Our morally obtuse ethics commission is the venue chosen by the U to steal the election from Rosenberg. In his filing, Jarvis even raised the absurd specterof UNR President Joe Crowley committing a crime simply by signing Prof. Rosenberg's paycheck, and Rosenberg breaking the law for accepting it.

What was all that about seeking sound bytes and headlines?

FISHIN' AT THE INQUISITION: I don't know about Mr. Rosenberg, but after my run-in with our kangaroo ethics commission last week, I now know why university chancellor Jarvis, attorney Don Klasic and president Crowley chose it as their playing field. It's a very easy public body to manipulate and use for your own purposes.

Worst and foremost, the commission operates under no rules. They make them up as they go along. If a Nevadan goes to court or comes before any regulatory body, e.g., the Public Service Commission, he can be assured that they have adopted a set of rules to govern proceedings.

The Nevada ethics commission is likewise required by law to specify the rules of the game. Contrary to law, they never have. The whole shebang is thus just another illegal shuck. No wonder Ali Baba and the 40 stooges chose that particular playing field. They make you shadowbox Jello.

Nevada Revised Statutes 281.471 says "the commission shall adopt procedural regulations to facilitate the receipt of inquiries and prompt rendition of its opinions." I've been through a few administrative hearings, so I knew enough to ask the commission for a set of the rules of the game. They sent me nothing but the raw law, which says they have to establish rules, which they never have.

"I've become concerned about the use and abuse of bringing ethics charges against public officials," former Gov. Mike O'Callaghan recently stated. "This becomes especially vicious during election years. Some charges can easily be spotted as nothing but raw politics, designed to discredit a person serving in public office. Despite the ability to see them as nothing but politics, they go through a lengthy process and the elected or appointed official is embarrassed publicly," O'Callaghan wrote in his Las Vegas Sun column.

"Wasn't the original intent of the Nevada Commission on Ethics to provide guidance to public officials seeking to steer clear of conflicts of interest and abuse of power? I know the original intent wasn't to provide a political club for scoundrels to beat up on public officials they dislike or want to have their friends defeat in the next election," O'Callaghan asserted.

"The 1997 legislature should seek ways to strengthen the commission on ethics with a larger staff so decisions can be rendered quickly. The legislators should also seek ways to slow down the use of ethics charges as a cheap campaign tool," he concluded.

I submit that the attempt to undo Howard Rosenberg's election presents the best possible illustration as to why Mike is right. Ethics commissioner Scott Scherer seems to agree. During discussion on the Rosenberg case, Scherer argued for narrow focus on the statute in question, on the law as it is, not "what ifs." The whole case against Rosenberg is nothing but a string of what-ifs. He has yet to be sworn in and has not had a chance to do anything, let alone anything wrong. Scherer argued that requests from third parties (not the officeholder involved) could set a dangerous precedent for the future.

Like overturning elections, as O'Callaghan warned.

THOU PROTESTETH TOO MUCH: I placed a protest on the record in the Rosenberg docket, strongly disagreeing with two commissioners who refused to step down. Commissioners Scherer and Helen Chisholm are shot through with business and political associations which create the appearance of conflict of interest. Mr. Scherer read the law applying to actual conflict, refusing to address the equally important appearance of conflict, the basis of my complaint. Ethics commission chairwoman Mary Boetsch quickly agreed with Scherer and both commissioners stayed in the game.

I don't have enough space to delineate all the power players connected to Chisholm and Scherer through their employers (get the December 1 installment, instructions below). When Scherer and Chisholm made their decisions, the ethics commission lost any moral or ethical authority. The worst was yet to come, all aimed at me.

STRIKES TWO AND THREE: After the commission in its wisdom decided that it would proceed to try Rosenberg, it heard two cases brought by me. Citing the entirety of Chancellor Jarvis' filing against Rosenberg, I had asked that the commission join Sparks Regent James Eardley to the case. My motivation was simple. If Rosenberg hangs, he should have company. The same law with which Jarvis attacks Mr. Rosenberg also applies to Mr. Eardley. I also think that the law in question is blatantly unconstitutional and unenforceable. After what I've put the good gentleman through, I have a hunch Mr. Eardley might agree.

On the face of it, their cases seem different. One gets an active university salary, the other a university pension. However, the law according to Jarvis as expressed by Klasic refers to "any contract," thus impaling both.

Still, the commission in its wisdom has not decided whether or not to accept the Eardley case. Retired Washoe district judge and commission member James Guinan wanted the Eardley matter immediately blown out. He said he had researched the law and found that it does not apply to Mr. Eardley, who did not attend the hearing or send a representative.

Judge Guinan said Eardley is not a university employee, so end of case. Sorry, judge. Nevada Revised Statutes 616A.190 says Eardley is just that, exactly like Rosenberg. When the learned judge started putting evidence on the record on behalf of Eardley, I got a little queasy. This wasn't supposed to be an evidentiary hearing, only a jurisdictional one. Remember, this commission makes up its own rules as it goes along. Matters went downhill from there.

URIAH HEAPS: When the commission got to my filing against Chancellor Richard Jarvis and university vice-president Mrs. Jarvis, a Las Vegas lawyer chimed in via long distance. Jim Wadhams chuckled about being present only via speakerphone but nonetheless representing Mrs. Jarvis from 450 miles away. This guy was on hand so that university system mouthpiece Klasic could say he was not really representing Mrs. Jarvis, who sat right next to him throughout.

As Commissioner Guinan did for Regent Eardley, Mrs. Jarvis was allowed to present evidence on the record in her own behalf. Lawyer Klasic submitted additional evidence on how she was hired to her high position, three months after her husband got the job as boss of her boss. Again, I protested. Boetsch had allowed the hearing to go from one of jurisdiction to one of evidence on the facts of the case.

All I had with me was a copy of the law which, to this non-lawyer, says Mrs. Jarvis can't work for the U while Mr. Jarvis is her boss' boss. Lawyer Klasic's filing against Rosenberg even bolsters that assertion. Alas, the law is not enough when you're dealing with Nevada's arbiters of ethical rectitude.

Several credible people who had evidence to present did not attend. They were in Carson City at the audit hearing. They had no notice that evidence would be taken on the Jarvis case. The public meeting notice said last Wednesday's three items were about jurisdiction. I think the open meeting law was broken and trampled, and will file a protest with the attorney general - where the guy in charge of open meeting law violations happens to be the direct supervisor of the ethics commission's lawyer who sat silent as I protested.

My filing against the chancellor and his vice-presidential spouse came from the same motivation as with Mr. Eardley: if the university is going to be ethically pure, it's time to start at the top with those now in power. Crocodile Dundee and her rockin' kangaroos did not agree and dismissed the case against the Jarvises. I think they broke the law.

ELECTRIC KOOL AID DEMOCRACY TEST: If you are interested in helping form a citizens committee to preserve Rosenberg's election and investigate the financial mismanagement of the university system, write P.O. Box 10034, Reno, NV 89510. You may also e-mail me. We'll schedule January meetings, so stay tuned.

In addition to letters to local papers, please consider writing southward about all this: Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125-0070; fax (702) 383-4676. The Las Vegas Sun's address is 800 S. Valley View Blvd., Las Vegas, NV 89107; fax (702) 383-7264. You can e-mail the Sun in care of Tribune alumnus Bryan Allison. Tell him you heard about it from Barbano on the Barbwire.

THE ENVELOPES, PLEASE. Nominations are now open for the Barbwire 1996 Chia Deadhead and Chia Butthead awards. If you know a good guy for a golden deadhead (as in Grateful Deadhead) award, send it in. Ditto for Chia buttheads.

BARBWIRE FOR CHIA WEBHEADS: My fingers are sore from e-mailing copies of this series across the country to an ever-widening circle of interested parties. I even sent one set to Europe. Gold Hill publisher David Toll has come to my rescue with his new Internet site. The author of The Compleat Nevada Traveler and the Nevada Industrial Directory is busily configuring this now-nine part opus for electronic retrieval. You can find it at

Nevada history buffs will love Toll's website, especially the "Encyclopedia Nevadaca." He has even posted his Nevada Magazine article on Edna Purviance, the rural Nevada girl who became one of Charles Chaplin's most frequent leading ladies. Toll also offers free ads and news postings on a page that's sure to increase in popularity now that the Rosenberg Affair is on the marquee. (You can take that to the bank, if the public response so far is any indication.)

Mr. Toll can't afford to provide the stuff free forever, and would like a sponsor for the service. I told him I would pass the word along.

XEROX STOCKHOLDERS BENEVOLENT DEPT. For merely the cost of copying, you can afford to send reprints of this series to your friends and enemies alike just in time for the holidays. (One guy said he's mailing the entire legislature.) Ask for the Barbano file at the business services desk of either Reno Office Depot location, next to Costco on Plumb Lane or in the new Fire Creek Crossing on Kietzke Lane extension west of S. Virginia Street. I suggest calling ahead. The Plumb Lane number is 829-2582. Kietzke Lane's is 823-9099.

In Sparks, copies are available at Nevada Instant Type, 508 Victorian Avenue, east of Pyramid Way going toward McCarran; call 359-4835. The hard copies are more fun because you get Jody Lindke's hilarious political cartoons as a bonus. (Please don't assume that this ninth installment you now hold in your hand will be immediately available. I need a day or two to make the rounds.)

If the hundreds of copies already sold by local providers are any indication, Nevadaweb is about to be a very busy place.

DOWNSIZE THIS! Join me on the streets of Reno next Saturday as local workers protest corporate downsizings. Reno Hilton security guards, all friends of mine, are in the process of being fired. Their crime: refusal to take a pay cut from $11.83 to $7.75 an hour. Hilton stands to make more than $500,000 in additional profit by firing these experienced workers, some of whom are in their 60's and have been with the hotel since 1978.

United Plant Guard Workers Local 1010 has also invited fired employees of Wells Fargo/First Interstate Bank and the Virginian Hotel-Casino to join them. At a recent news conference announcing 9,000 layoffs due to the bank takeover, Wells Fargo Chairman Paul Hazen was asked if fired workers would be retrained to avoid fast food jobs. "I don't think McDonald's is necessarily a bad place to work," Hazen said. Because of generous treatment by your government and mine, banking industry profits have set records for the last half-decade or so. What a guy.

The Downsize This! March will form on public sidewalks at Center and Fourth Streets, across from the Citifare bus transfer station at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, December 28th.

Wiseman Michael Moore, the father of Emmy award-winning TV Nation (Comedy Central cable, 7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday) and author of the bestseller "Downsize This!" last week issued this call to arms: "As I have seen in my travels on this book tour, many people have begun to realize that the corporations which have destroyed the American Dream must be reined in." The award-winning director of "Roger & Me" and "Canadian Bacon" also said "we must descend on our state and national capitals to push for legislation to control corporate America. No more getting rich at our expense. A tax on all profits made off downsizing, a prohibition on moving assets overseas, alimony payments to communities that companies abandon."

Join me on the streets with the workers.

Be well. Raise hell.

Andrew Barbano is a Reno-based syndicated columnist 28-year Nevadan.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988.
This column originally published 12/22/96. Copyright © 1996, 2006, 2010 Andrew Barbano | U-News Archives

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