The Appearance of Impropriety

The public has a right to know if elected officials have conflicts of interest and stand to gain personally from their elected positions. When public service gives way to self-service, it’s time for a change.

Even the mere appearance of impropriety can call the integrity of the office into question in the public’s mind. It is an elected official’s ethical duty to avoid any situation in which their involvement could suggest that the office is being used for personal gain.

On his required Financial Disclosure filing, our current Washoe County Assessor declared he owns and actively manages three real estate related businesses – a large brokerage firm, a mortgage company, and a property management firm – WHILE serving as your Assessor. At minimum, there is clearly an appearance of impropriety.

Almost universally, and in accord with ethical standards of the profession, public Assessors are precluded from real-estate related outside employment. The reasons are obvious. It creates potential conflicts of interest and the appearance of impropriety. The Assessors’ work product is integral to real estate sales people, investors, developers, builders, appraisers, and home buyers and sellers.

While laws prohibiting such activities are rare, department policies and professional codes of conduct are common practice. For example, the Clark County Assessor Handbook devotes a whole section to “Conflicts of Interest” and begins:

“As employees of the Assessor’s Office, we need to be aware of situations that could conflict with our duties. One of the goals of this Office is to maintain the highest degree of ethical standards.”

It goes on to say:

“Second jobs could create a conflict . . . Even though a situation might not violate any ethical standards, the appearance might be such that it would be best to avoid it.”

The handbook also specifically cites “working part time for another employer and using County time or records as part of that work” among listed prohibitions.

I recently received an interesting letter from Michelle Shafe, Clark County Assessor, and I will share it with her permission here:

Chip, you make good points in your recent communication.

If someone came seeking employment in my Assessor’s Office who owned a real estate brokerage, or a mortgage company, or a property management firm, I’d tell them they would have to end that work before I would even consider them.

In our employee orientation process, we make clear these would be prohibited activities because they create potential conflicts of interest and, perhaps worse, the “appearance of impropriety”. Either would harm the credibility and trust of our Office by the public.

And if a current employee was found to be engaged in outside real estate work, they would be subject to termination.

I appreciate you standing up for accepted standards of conduct in the nation’s Assessing Officers community and wish you the best in your race.

As voters and taxpayers, you should not have to wonder whether your elected officials are ethical. It shouldn’t be your job to make sure they’re not abusing their offices. This situation should have never been allowed to arise.

And, if our current Washoe County Assessor is running three real estate related businesses, that also explains why you are getting part-time work from him for full-time pay.

As your next Washoe County Assessor, I promise to uphold the highest ethical standards, and I will never compromise the integrity of the office. I will be the #FullTimeAssessor and #NoConflictsAssessor you pay for and deserve.

If you’re ready for public service in the Assessor’s office again, please vote for me on November 6th.

Thank you,