By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: An investigation into the conduct of the former executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, sought by a state lawmaker after questions were raised about salary increases he awarded himself on the job, remains unresolved after more than two years.
A Nevada News Bureau public records request sent to the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office generated a brief response saying the matter regarding Bob Loux was still under investigation and no information was available for release.
Assemblywoman Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, asked the Nevada Attorney General’s office on Sept. 11, 2008, for an investigation into Loux’s actions for “malfeasance in office and possible criminal activity.”
No results of any investigation have yet been reported by Haley’s office.
Gansert said she does not know why an investigation is taking so long but that it needs to be concluded in an effort to get the salary increases Loux awarded himself repaid to taxpayers.
“It is important that the taxpayers, at the minimum, get their money back,” she said.
Loux gave himself raises that were unauthorized, Gansert said.
The excess salary has not been returned to the state, although Loux’s retirement benefits were adjusted downward to account for the unauthorized pay hikes, she said.
Loux won a state Ethics Commission ruling on the matter, but Gansert said that ruling was based on a technicality.
Loux could not be reached for comment.
Gov. Jim Gibbons called in September 2008 for Loux’s resignation after learning of the salary overpayments, calling the level of mismanagement at the office “severe.” Gibbons said the salary overpayments, which went to other officials in the office as well, came to light when Loux sought funds to cover a shortfall in his budget.
Loux actually served at the pleasure of the Commission on Nuclear Projects, which accepted his resignation in September 2008.
Asked for a comment on the length of the Loux investigation, Gibbons said: “These are the types of situations that erode the public’s confidence in government. The progress of this matter should have been closely monitored by the attorney general to make sure the interests of the people of Nevada are protected.”
Gibbons’ comment prompted a response from Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto: “Unfortunately, the governor continues to want to play politics with this issue and ignore the facts. Based upon an internal conflict in my office, the case was referred out of my office to an independent law enforcement agency for investigation to protect the integrity of the legal process and the public’s confidence in that process. The very nature of the conflict requires that my office have no further involvement in the case.”
The salary issue went to the state Ethics Commission in March of 2009 based on a complaint also filed by Gansert. The commission ruled 3-2 that because Loux’s salary was actually set by the governor, the allegation he violated ethics laws by exceeding the legislatively approved salary for his office was not at issue.
Loux’s response to the ethics inquiry was that he acted within his authority and responsibility.
Information provided to Ethics Commission staff disclosed that the governor sets the salaries of the commission employees, not the executive director, and that they can be set at any level as long as the total amount in the salary budget category for the agency is not exceeded.
The two dissenting commissioners said the Legislature did set Loux’s salary by reviewing and approving the governor’s recommended budget for the office. They said the question of whether he violated the ethics laws should have been reviewed.
Gansert said the Ethics Commission decision never got to the issue of whether Loux gave himself unauthorized raises at taxpayer expense in violation of the state ethics laws.
According to an Ethics Commission investigator’s report approved Nov. 7, 2008, Loux’s salary was set by the Legislature at $104,497 in 2006 but he was paid $120,537 that year. His salary was set at $108,677 in 2007 but he was paid $125,355. He was authorized a salary of $114,088 in 2008 but received $145,718.
Gansert said the excess pay should be returned by Loux.