A community activist working with a Southern Nevada organization that monitors local government has filed a complaint against the Nevada Taxicab Authority’s administrator with the Public Integrity Unit of the state attorney general’s office.
Southern Nevada Watchdogs, which most frequently looks in on actions of the Las Vegas City Council, the Clark County Commission and the Metropolitan Police Department, recently turned its attention to the Taxicab Authority by assisting with the filing of a complaint against Charles Harvey, the administrator of the small state agency that regulates the taxi industry in the county.
The year-old libertarian-leaning group co-founded by Tasha Heath and Melissa Letourneau, became interested in the Taxicab Authority after Harvey disciplined one of the agency’s police investigators.
The group’s latest effort was to assist on the complaint, which seeks Harvey’s termination.
Shannon Gould, who said she is not a member of the organization, filed the complaint against Harvey on June 18 and is awaiting a response from the attorney general’s office.
The public integrity unit takes complaints from citizens about public officials and routinely takes two to 12 weeks to generate a response.
OFFICE WON’T CONFIRM PROBE
A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office would not confirm or deny the initiation of an investigation of Harvey in an inquiry from the Review-Journal.
Harvey, who was appointed administrator of the Taxicab Authority in 2011, said he has not been contacted by the attorney general’s office and was unaware of any investigation.
The six-count complaint accuses Harvey of failing to investigate alleged misconduct by the authority’s chief investigator, Ruben Aquino, and alleged misconduct by a cab company certificate holder, Desert Cab Co. owner George Balaban.
The complaint also accuses Harvey of failing to conduct annual employee evaluations for three years, allowing taxi company owners to assist in the training of Taxicab Authority officers, and failing to enforce regulations against the illegal long-hauling of customers.
The complaints are based on media reports in February and March and from a taped conversation between Aquino and one of his subordinates.
The filing of the complaint coincides with increased tensions within the enforcement division of the Taxicab Authority, some of whom believe Harvey is not qualified to oversee law-enforcement personnel.
TAXICAB AUTHORITY BACKS HARVEY
The five-member Taxicab Authority board has stood behind Harvey when reports were published in March and April by the Review-Journal and a broadcast was aired in February by KLAS-TV Channel 8.
In addition to the board’s support, cab company owners have defended Harvey and his actions.
The board rebuffed members of the Southern Nevada Watchdogs group at its June meeting. During a public comment period, several members of the group tried to air their concerns, but board Chairwoman Ileana Drobkin asked the group to schedule a meeting with administrators to air their concerns instead. In July, Drobkin said the group hasn’t met with the agency.
The watchdog organization, which doesn’t keep track of its membership numbers and accepts no donations in its efforts to inform the public about government dealings, was one of the groups that led the fight against this year’s more-cops tax proposal before the Clark County Commission.
“Our goal is to get people involved and be aware,” Heath said in an interview. “Too many people are apathetic and we want to do something about that.”
Gould’s complaint filed with the Nevada Public Integrity Unit lists six concerns, citing violations of Nevada Revised Statutes in each:
▶ “Harvey was made aware of misconduct committed by Chief Investigator Ruben Aquino in which he inappropriately discussed the details of a confidential internal investigation that was conducted against Officers Joe Morgan and James Dudley from November 2012 to February 2013.
“Harvey failed to ensure the investigation was fairly and ethically conducted in reference to Aquino’s improper governmental actions … Harvey failed to conduct an investigation into the admission of wrongdoing by Investigator Chris Rivers in which Rivers states, ‘The certificate holders (taxicab company owners) oversee our (Taxicab Authority’s) day-to-day operations.’ When it was brought to Harvey’s attention, he retaliated against Morgan, Dudley and Officer Mike Kelly by ordering them investigated by the Nevada Department of Public Safety and the Nevada Attorney General’s Office.”
Part of Harvey’s concern about the accusation involved how the transcript of Aquino’s conversation with Rivers was obtained — Aquino failed to hang up his phone after a call and his conversation with Rivers was recorded without their knowledge.
CONCERN ABOUT COMPANY’S POLICY
▶ “Harvey failed … to investigate a possible act of misconduct that was publicly admitted to by George Balaban, the certificate holder-owner of Desert Cab Co. in an article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal dated March 16 in which ‘Balaban said his drivers routinely ask tourists whether they want to go to the Welcome to Las Vegas sign to have their pictures taken or whether they want to stop at a liquor store to dodge the high cost of minibar alcohol in a hotel room.”
The complaint questions whether Balaban’s policy is in violation with taxi diversion laws that say “a driver shall not convey or attempt to convey any passenger to a destination other than the one directed by the passenger.”
▶ “It has been reported that Harvey, acting as appointing authority for the Nevada Taxicab Authority, violated Nevada law in not having prepared or filed evaluations of Taxicab Authority employees for three years.”
The law says each appointing authority shall “file a report annually on the performance of each of the employees of the appointing authority who holds a position in the classified service and has attained permanent status. The report must be filed at the end of the 12th month next following the attainment of permanent status and at the end of every 12th month thereafter.”
But the law also says, “If the report is not filed on or before the required date, the performance of the employee shall be deemed to be standard.”
TRAINING BY CAB COMPANIES
▶ “It has also been reported that Harvey and Aquino entered into a verbal contract that permitted taxicab companies to train Taxicab Authority sworn peace officers in how to perform their regulatory responsibilities.”
▶ “It has been reported that Harvey and Aquino have forbidden Nevada Taxicab Authority officers from issuing citations into local courts and/or arresting taxicab drivers for committing misdemeanor crimes.”
Taxicab Authority officers have the discretion of ordering a cabdriver accused of violations to local courts or to the authority’s administrative hearing officers. The complaint accuses Harvey of taking that discretion away from officers, who believe he wants to steer cases to the administrative hearing officers so that the Taxicab Authority can collect any fines. It’s also being cast as a favor to taxi company owners since local courts have higher fines than the administrative court on some violations.
▶ “Harvey has deliberately directed taxicab drivers and certificate holders to violate Nevada law in relation to taking passengers on longer routes than necessary.
“Harvey has stated that taxicab drivers can ask a passenger which route they wish to take. … Nevada law specifically forbids this practice.”
Battling long-hauling has been one of Harvey’s top priorities since he became administrator. The number of citations issued in long-hauling cases has fluctuated over the years with more than 100 issued in some months and none in others.
INVESTIGATOR CONFIRMS PROBLEMS
A Taxicab Authority investigator told the Review-Journal that the claims in the complaint have merit and are a source of concern among colleagues.
For example, having taxicab companies play a role in training investigators is “completely inappropriate,” said the investigator. The investigator declined to be named, as doing so would put his job in jeopardy.
That’s the equivalent of gaming control agents being trained by a casino, the investigator said.
State law, not the authority’s internal policies, requires annual evaluations, and no record of an officer’s performance exposes the authority and the officer to unnecessary liability, the investigator said.
“If he’s willfully violated the law, why hasn’t he been terminated?” the investigator said.
The investigator also said that officers are discouraged from writing tickets into the Las Vegas Justice Court system or the municipal court. Instead, tickets are routed through the authority’s non-criminal administrative hearing process, which keeps the infraction from going on a cabby’s driving record, even if a fine is levied.
That process benefits cab companies because it keeps insurance rates from going up, the investigator said.
“It’s always been an unwritten rule, but primarily since Harvey has been here,” the investigator said. “If you do that, the company will complain.”
Contact Richard N. Velotta at email@example.com or 702-477-3893. Find him on Twitter @RickVelotta. Contact Ben Botkin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-405-9781. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1.