Edison “Ed” Vogel, a member of the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame and recently retired state capitol bureau chief for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, died at his home at Minden on Sunday. Vogel, 66, had covered the Nevada Legislature every session from 1985 until his retirement last year, and was an authority on state government.
Vogel had been treated for cancer for many months, and on Feb. 11 suffered a stroke brought on by the disease. His caregiver was his wife, Carol, a reporter and political columnist who has worked for every major daily newspaper in Nevada. In addition to his wife, Vogel is survived by daughters Annabelle Rose Vogel, of Minden, and Powell Boyer, of Los Angeles; a son, David Boyer, of New Hudson, Mich.; and four grandchildren. Also by three brothers: Tracy Vogel of Las Vegas, Russ Vogel, of Woodbury, Tenn., and John Vogel, of Seattle; and a sister, Robin Vogel-Wells, of Port Orchard, Wash.
He began his four-decade career in journalism writing sports stories in his native Michigan, but for 37 years until his retirement last march Vogel was an R-J reporter in Las Vegas and in Carson City.
For in-depth stories, Vogel sometimes used unorthodox research methods. Once, to accurately describe the difficulties faced by Las Vegas’ homeless, he dressed in rags and spent a day and a night dumpster-diving, panhandling, and dodging policemen. Because of his especially strong interviewing skills, he was chosen to write a weekly front-page column of human interest profiles.
Although Vogel could coax moving personal stories from modest, even inarticulate, people, he preferred to keep a low profile himself. His wife recalled a time when the celebrity journalist Dominic Dunne wanted to interview Vogel at length, on camera.
“It takes a long time just to set up the lighting and camera angles for an interview like that,” Carol Vogel noted, “and a lot of journalists would have given him unlimited time, just to get the publicity. But Ed told him, ‘You know, I’m still working today, so I can only give you 45 minutes at most, and if a call comes in with a story I’ll have to cut you off right then.’ Ed wasn’t a ‘look-at-me’ kind of guy.”
Review-Journal Editor Michael Hengel said Vogel was “a great journalist and was among the very best statehouse reporters Nevada has ever produced. We’ll not see another like Ed. Our thoughts and prayers are with Carol, Annabelle and the rest of Ed’s family.”
When Vogel was inducted into the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2012, Hengel noted that Ed was fiercely competitive about getting the details of a story first.
“Ed gets as giddy about a scoop as a kid out of J-school,” said Hengel.
But the editor didn’t realize competition extended even to the Vogel living room.
“Sometimes I had stuff Ed didn’t have for a story, and he wanted to know what I had,” Carol Vogel remembered. “And I’d say, ‘Well, I have to give it to my own newspaper first!’ He’d get pretty frustrated about that.”
Carol thinks their competitiveness drew them closer “because we had the same values, we respected them in one another.”
The Vogels met while both worked at the Review-Journal, and were married 30 years. It was the second marriage for each.
LOBSTERS IN THE DESERT
Co-workers, politicians and competitors alike respected Vogel.
“Ed Vogel spent a long and luminous career as a reporter covering politics and government in (Nevada),” Gov. Brian Sandoval wrote in a Twitter post Sunday afternoon. “He leaves a lasting legacy and will be dearly missed.”
Thomas Mitchell, the R-J’s editor during much of Vogel’s tenure, said, “Ed was the leading voice of journalism in Northern Nevada. He was adept at asking tough questions of the governor or anybody else. He not only covered the Legislature but got out in the boonies and came back with great feature stories.”
More than one peer recalls Vogel’s national story about a livestock man raising “lobsters” — really Australian crayfish — in the middle of the Nevada desert. State wildlife officials ultimately raided the farm and destroyed all the crayfish because biologists feared some might escape and prey on native species.
Chris Chrystal, former city editor of the Las Vegas Sun, said that story happened because Vogel was curious about a roadside “Lobster Crossing” sign.
“I had seen that sign more than once, and I guess other journalists had, and didn’t do anything about it, she said. “But Ed got out of his car and looked into it.
“Ed’s news coverage never left you muttering that you didn’t get what really happened,” Chrystal said. “When you read a story by Ed Vogel you read it all the way through, and when you got to the end, you understood exactly what it was about. He was a gutsy reporter of sterling integrity, accuracy and caring whose superior news judgment and writing ability drew readers into his stories and informed them completely.”
RJ Capitol Bureau reporter Sean Whaley, who worked with Vogel for years, said “Ed was a great reporter because he loved talking to people and learning about their lives. He had a genuine interest in what they had to say. He might take a phone call from somebody he’d never heard of, and talk with them 30 or 40 minutes. That’s how he got a lot of those great stories… . He never ran out of ideas.”
Vogel “knew more about Nevada than anybody else I ever knew,” Whaley said. “He loved Nevada history and he kept it all in his head. He didn’t need a computer file.”
Barry Smith, who now heads the Nevada Press Association but formerly competed with Vogel as editor of the Nevada Appeal in Carson City, said “Every time I thought I had discovered something new and interesting about Nevada, I found out that Ed had already done a story about it. I wonder if people even realize how much they know about Nevada, state government and politics has come from reading Ed’s reporting over the past 30 years.
“Ed embodied the spirit of Nevada journalism,” Smith said. “He even looked a little like Mark Twain. The difference, of course, is that Twain made things up. Ed didn’t need to, because he’d done the reporting to get the real story.”
Sandra Chereb, who retired from The Associated Press in Carson City and now covers the Legislature for the Review-Journal, had an office down the hall from Vogel’s.
“I used to hear him chuckling to himself while he was writing a story,” Chereb said, ”and it would make me jealous, that somebody could enjoy his work so much.”
Shortly before he retired, Vogel was named one of the nation’s best state capitol reporters by the Washington Post. But the honor he most cherished was the Conservation Communicator award presented to him in 1984 by the Nevada Wildlife Federation.
Born July 23, 1948, in Saline, Mich., Ed Vogel grew up in Clinton, Mich., on his father’s dairy-and-chicken farm. He retained his love for country life, and raised heirloom apples in the yard of his home at Minden. Ed kept horses for his children and continued to care for one personally long after his terminal illness was diagnosed. He also collected baseball cards and was an authority on them.
“He followed the Oakland As, and the Giants, even though he held some lingering allegiance to his Detroit Tigers,” Whaley said.
Vogel attended the University of Michigan on a full scholarship and was graduated in 1970. A conscientious objector, he worked in a hospital as alternative service to the military during the war in Vietnam, and on his own initiative counseled others who opposed the controversial war. Before embarking on a full-time newspaper career, he was a public information officer for the state of Michigan.
His daughter, Powell, said Ed listened to music to unwind from particularly stressful days. “One of my earliest memories is of him being in our garage playing a Bob Dylan album for me. Later he took me to my first Bob Dylan show.
“So the last night he was alive, I played “The Essential Bob Dylan” for him. The last song he ever heard was ‘Feel My Love.’”
Funeral arrangements are pending, but donations in Vogel’s memory may be made to the Carson Valley Community Food Closet/Homeless Shelters, (775) 782-3711, or to Food Bank Northern Nevada (775) 331-3663
Taxation Department losing tens of millions of dollars a year, ex-employees say
CARSON CITY — The state is losing tens of millions of dollars a year in tax revenue because of an inefficient computer system that prevents department auditors from reviewing the tax records of companies in a timely manner, according to two former Nevada Taxation Department employees.
They place the blame primarily on a computer system that, while not antiquated, is slower and not user friendly, saying that a new system is needed.
The department’s annual report, released Jan. 15, shows 1.24 percent of businesses in the state were audited during the past fiscal year, almost half the total in the 2006-07 year, just before a new $40 million tax accounting system went online.
They also said that mismanagement by former Taxation Director Dino DiCianno has contributed to the department’s inability to perform more audits and that he deliberately stopped audits of the mining industry. DiCianno closed the agency’s Elko office in June 2010 as part of a cost-cutting plan by former Gov. Jim Gibbons, though the mining industry was booming and the auditor there could have recovered millions in unpaid mining taxes, they said.
DiCianno, who did not return a phone call seeking comments Tuesday, abruptly retired from state government in March, a day after telling legislators that mining companies had not been audited for two years because he lacked qualified auditors to check their records.
Taxation Department executives told legislators that the mining industry operated on a “self-reporting” tax system.
After DiCianno’s departure, new Gov. Brian Sandoval required the department to undertake mining industry audits.
That work produced $1.2 million in additional revenue from audits in the fiscal year that ended June 30, although the employees said much more could have been secured except for a three-year statute of limitations on unpaid taxes.
Still the employees and their union representative said far more revenue could be secured if the number of audits returned to the total of past years.
“It is our members’ assertion the total number of audits is down because of the computer and software system,” said Vishnu Subramaniam, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 4041. “Individuals have to pay their fair share of taxes. We should expect the same from Nevada businesses.”
Although no one was critical of his performance, new Taxation Director William Chisel did not return three messages left by the Review-Journal on his office phone over the past week and a half.
Sandoval, however, expressed support Tuesday for Chisel, adding it is the director’s plan to concentrate audits on companies where the returns can be greater.
“I will have a conversation with the director,” Sandoval said. “Mr. Chisel’s background is as an auditor. They are developing systems to go after the higher returning entities.”
Subramaniam arranged for the two former Taxation Department employees to speak with a Review-Journal reporter. They both requested anonymity.
One is still employed in state government. He said he told legislators before the meeting in March that DiCianno was not having the department audit mining companies.
He said he previously worked for a mining company and is proficient in auditing their records. Instead, he was assigned to audit businesses where the return for the state was far less.
This employee said no net proceeds of minerals audits were performed for 10 years.
“We did sales tax audits. We did business tax audits. We did everything but net proceeds of minerals,” he said. “I was stifled by Dino (DiCianno).”
The other source, who said he is familiar with the computer system, said, “It wasn’t right from the beginning. It has been completely dysfunctional.”
The system will not even properly add up numbers, he said.
As an example, he said the system software would show a 990 answer for adding up a group of numbers with an actual sum of 1,000. Replacing it with a new system would cost $100 million, he added.
Auditors for the Taxation Department do not need accounting degrees but can take a couple of night courses to qualify for the job, according to the former taxation auditor. He said pay is too low to attract highly qualified people.
According to the state Personnel Division, tax auditors are paid $39,108 to $69,029 a year, depending on their experience.
A person with a high school degree with previous auditing experience who has completed six credit hours of college accounting classes can be an auditor.
“I would always collect or recover five times or more what I earn,” he said. “The jobs pay for themselves.”
The annual report shows salary expenditures by the Taxation Department increased by about $450,000 to slightly more than $20 million a year in the past fiscal year.
Subramaniam said Sandoval needs to take the leadership to ensure the Taxation Department does more audits and businesses know they are being watched so they will pay their taxes, but with a 1.24 percent audit rate, businesses realize they can fudge their taxes with impunity.
“The least we could be doing is to ensure that Nevada businesses are paying their fair share in taxes — that they are paying what they’re supposed to be paying,” Subramaniam said.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 775-687-3901.