Videotape shows lawmaker took active role in debate on Tahoe pier bill
CARSON CITY – Sen. Mark James’s conflict over a bill that could help casino lobbyist Harvey Whittemore build a private Tahoe pier didn’t keep him from actively participating in debate on the measure.
A legislative videotape shows that James, during an April 9 Judiciary Committee hearing on the homeowners’ association measure, advocated term limits, residency requirements and operating rules for the associations.
But James, R-Las Vegas, said Wednesday that state ethics laws don’t prevent him from debating elements of SB192 – other than the pier provision. And he said his earlier comments on staying out of the debate were limited to the pier.
Asked Monday about Judiciary’s handling of SB192, James said, ”The committee voted without my participation.” He had declared a conflict because he worked as a lawyer for Glenbrook clients who favor SB192.
When asked whether he had an ethical problem, James added Monday, ”Absolutely, positively not. My thing was to stay uninvolved and not vote, which is exactly what I did.”
In the April 9 hearing, the videotape shows James got so involved in the 25-minute discussion that at one point the acting chairman, Sen. Jon Porter, R-Boulder City, reminded him who was in charge.
James said repeatedly during the hearing that he had a conflict and wouldn’t vote or even take a position on matters being discussed. The pier proposal, opposed by the Glenbrook Homeowners’ Association, never came up.
Whittemore and James have been involved in legal fights with the Glenbrook association over the pier plans by Whittemore and Larry Ruvo and other issues. James has represented Ruvo, and also successfully won a court case involving a Glenbrook maintenance facility dispute.
When term limits for officers of homeowners’ associations came up and other Judiciary members opposed the idea, James flatly said, ”I think we should have term limits.”
Then James said he wanted to be recorded as voting for the limits, adding, ”That’s not for any client. That’s for everybody.”
After the limits were rejected, the panel considered a proposal pushed by Whittemore to require that executive board members of homeowners’ associations live in Nevada for at least 270 days a year.
Whittemore said that’s aimed at out-of-state types who are able to run Nevada homeowners’ associations from afar because they own homes here simply for tax purposes.
Sen. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, first questioned the residency requirement. After James spoke quietly to her, she joked about hearing ”some voice from heaven” and moved to approve the 270 days.
James also pressed for a provision to ensure meetings of homeowners’ associations are conducted according to proper rules, telling about a woman at a Glenbrook association meeting reduced to tears after being ”told to sit down and shut up.”
Critics of SB192 include Reno lawyer Bud Hicks, who has a Glenbrook home and has been helping the homeowners’ group fight the pier. He says the community was ”blindsided” by the measure.
”This is purely private-interest legislation and there was no notice to anyone,” he added. ”There’s a pretty serious abuse of the legislative process here.”
Others questioned why the bill ended up in James’ Judiciary Committee in the first place, since all other bills dealing with homeowners’ associations have gone to Commerce and Labor panels in the Senate and Assembly. After clearing the Senate last Friday, it was routed to Assembly Commerce and Labor.
The lawmakers’ ethics standards say a legislator ”shall not vote upon or advocate the passage or failure of … a matter with respect to which the independence of judgment of a reasonable person in his situation would be materially affected by his acceptance of a gift or loan; his pecuniary interest; or his commitment in a private capacity to the interests of others.”
James said the word ”matter” in the law can mean any part of a pending bill. He said he didn’t vote on the final version of SB192 because by that time it included the pier plan – and in committee he was involved in the other elements.
”I did absolutely, positively nothing wrong. I did everything right,” he said.
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