93.1 F
Reno

Council’s Devon Reese to report conflicts of interest to state after being hit with ethics complaint

Date:

Reno City Council member Devon Reese must comply with a handful of orders handed down by the Nevada Ethics Commission this month after cause was found in a complaint filed last year alleging he violated a handful of state ethics laws. 

The complaint, filed in September 2022, alleges Reese did not disclose business relationships with several employee union groups, and he did not recuse himself from contract negotiations with those groups or votes to approve those contracts. 

Reese works as an attorney for the Hutchison and Steffen law firm. 

The commission’s review panel determined that two of the five violations noted in the complaint were valid.

As a result, Reese has to participate in ethics training, develop a process to disclose and abstain from council activities related to his office’s clients, and submit Reno City Council meeting minutes referencing issues or clients related to the law firm for the next two years.

If Reese doesn’t meet these requirements, or has another ethics violation within the next two years, the commission will repeal the deferral agreement and may pursue additional action. 

The early 2022 collective bargaining negotiations at the center of the complaint were with the supervisory and non-supervisory groups of the Reno Protective Police Association and the supervisory group of Reno Professional Administrative Group – all represented by Hutchison and Steffen.

Reese’s biography on the law firm’s website states, “Devon is proud to represent labor unions on the entire range of labor law matters…Devon had a long history of successfully representing labor unions in a broad range of claims on behalf of the union’s members,” including on labor contracts.

The complaint, which is redacted to remove the complainant’s name, says “Council member Reese participated without disclosing his law firm represented these groups on a vote for the city to obtain outside legal representation to assist in the bargaining process… The Reno Charter requires that six of the seven members vote affirmatively to hire outside legal counsel. With one member in opposition, his [vote] was material to the outcome.”

Reese is also alleged to have participated in contract negotiations during closed door council deliberations and advocated for the interests of his firm’s clients. 

“Council member Reese deliberated in closed door sessions during which the public was not able to view his role, nor were meeting minutes adopted, so it is difficult to gauge the input he provided to the city staff negotiating team, but he was present and gave input both on general city positions related to all agreements and to specific terms related to the groups his firm represented,” the complaint alleges.

During the City Council’s June 8, 2022 meeting Reese disclosed that an attorney in his office represents a number of collective bargaining units. He said he had not been a part of the discussions. 

“One of the attorneys in my office does represent a number of collective bargaining units within the city. I’m actually not sure which ones they are because I’m walled off from that,” he said. “Although I receive no benefit to it, and certainly have not been a part of those discussions, I disclose it for the record.” 

Reese voted in favor of approving all of the union contracts. 

The five ethics laws cited in the complaint include using a government position to favor an entity with which he has a financial interest, participating in those negotiations for which he has a financial interest, insufficiently disclosing his interests in those negotiations or discussions, and not abstaining from the discussions and votes. 

The Ethics Commission ruled there was sufficient evidence that Reese violated state ethics laws for failing to disclose financial interests when representing or counseling in an official matter — and for failing to abstain from an official matter in which he has a financial interest.

Reese’s law firm was also hired by then-Council member Oscar Delgado, who is also executive of the Community Health Alliance. Hutchison and Steffen’s Alex Velto, who also sits on the city’s planning commission, as well as Reese’s law partner and friend, Jason Guinasso, sued a former CHA employee on behalf of CHA and Delgado. 

They settled the case out of court to keep the former employee from making complaints about CHA online.

Read the complaint and decision

Direct link here.

Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth is a freelance editor and communications professional with more than 20 years’ experience working in marketing, public relations and communications in northern Nevada. Kristen graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in photography and minor in journalism and has a Master of Science in Management and Leadership. She also serves as director of communications for Nevada Cancer Coalition, a statewide nonprofit. Though she now lives in Atlanta, she is a Nevadan for life and uses her three-hour time advantage to get a jump on the morning’s news.

TRENDING

RENO EVENTS

MORE RENO NEWS