At the beginning of 2011, Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak did a gutsy thing: He called for the FBI and Metro to investigate the Clark County Fire Department. While other politicians laid low during months of negotiations with the perennially untouchable department amid allegations of sick-leave policy abuses, Sisolak relentlessly interrogated. He withstood political pressure and death threats—in 2010, a city firefighter posted on Facebook that she’d like to shoot him. In the end, the county fire department was held accountable for some outrageous salary abuses, and the political dynamic was changed—no longer would the department and its union go unchallenged. Taxpayers, it seemed, had an ally in Sisolak.
Sisolak has become something of a political daredevil, challenging entrenched powers and asking uncomfortable questions. Last year, he also confronted the Las Vegas Valley Water District—headed by the forceful Pat Mulroy—asking why the District used out-of-state businesses for services that could be provided locally. He spoke out against county employees’ large pension packages—which sometimes were as high as $12,000 a month. He urged cost-cutting and more aggressive bill collecting at the financially sinking University Medical Center. In all, he embodied the outrage taxpayers felt as the recession dragged on, even though it meant making a few enemies in the ranks of public employees and their unions—an awkward place for a Democrat to be.
“Right was on my side,” he said. “I think citizens appreciated the stance I took.”
Sisolak’s political high-wire act will become even more difficult now, as allegations of defamation and improper conduct from ex-girlfriend and former Henderson City Councilwoman Kathleen Vermillion have evolved into an ugly public battle.
The drama of the months ahead will concern not only how the dispute itself is resolved but whether it impacts Sisolak’s priorities on the Commission, where he is now vice chair. His political focus is on job creation, which he says means supporting the private sector by getting government out of the way. He wants to streamline business licensing processes and make sure local government contracts are spent on hiring local people.
“Local is it,” he says. “We’ve got to refocus our energy on local.”
That much seems uncontroversial.