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George Knapp: The $155,000 foregone conclusion

The first must-read publication of the fall is due any day now. No, it isn’t a sequel to that book about orgasms, or a long-lost Harry Potter prequel, though it is likely to be real hot property.

I’m talking about a much-anticipated report by something called the ICMA (the International City/County Management Association), which was hired by the City of Las Vegas back in June to conduct a 90-day study of our local fire department. ICMA employees have been poring over records and files that the city had already collected, and for this analytical prowess, city taxpayers are paying through the nose — $155,000, plus expenses.

There’s no question the report will be a real potboiler. Some who read it will laugh. Some will cry. But no one — and I mean no one — will be surprised by the ending. No one will ever mistake this for a cliffhanger. Anyone who knows anything about the ICMA could write the final report right now. In fact, the city could have saved itself 150 large by having a lowly staff member type up the inevitable recommendations, because an expensive study sure as hell wasn’t needed to reach the conclusions ICMA will reach in a couple of days.

See, ICMA has a lengthy track record when it comes to these kinds of reports. The organization is known to be friendly to city and county managers, and when those managers need someone to come in under the guise of conducting an “independent study,” but where the outcome is already predetermined, ICMA is the one to call. I’ve yet to find any other town where ICMA has failed to argue for cutting expenses, consolidation and privatization. Heck, they could practically use the same report for every city but just change the name here and there on the pages.

Among the changes ICMA is known to champion is the use of small pickup trucks instead of large fire engines. The smaller, cheaper pickups could be sent to fire scenes, armed with foam retardant, and then if larger resources are needed, a call for additional help could be made. Local firefighters think that bringing ICMA into Las Vegas is a ploy meant to give political cover to those officials who want to slice and dice the department, cut the level of service that has made the department one of the very best in the country, and to put a hurt on the firefighters union (which has opposed ICMA in cities all over the country).

Union president Dean Fletcher says the decision to hire ICMA was made behind closed doors, and then city leaders went through the formality of pretending to approve it in a public meeting. Fletcher says there is no question whatsoever about the contents of the upcoming report.

I can see how the use of little pickups might make sense for certain fire calls, but any politician voting in favor of such a plan should be prepared to leave town the first time one of those pickups cruises up to a fire scene where people are trapped inside a burning building and need to be rescued. Foam isn’t going to prevent those people from burning to a crisp.

I can’t wait to read this blockbuster, but please, if you know how it ends, don’t ruin it for the rest of us.


I had no idea when I wrote last week’s column about former prosecutor David Schubert that he really was hiding out on a beach. In this space, I argued that Schubert is being treated unfairly for a minor crime — possession of $40 worth of cocaine. For that, he was sentenced to nine months behind bars. Ridiculous. Schubert took off for parts unknown, and two days after I wrote a column and imagined that he might be on a beach somewhere, damned if Schubert didn’t post a photo online of himself on a beach. He is now back in custody, and his unauthorized departure means the same people who slapped him with an over-the-top sentence of nine months now have the chance to put him away for 40 or more months. That’ll show him, right? And it will show the public just how tough we are on hardened criminals, such as a nonviolent first-time offender. Oh yes, we’re so tough. … Rumble at City Hall? Here’s a situation that has the potential to either (A) erupt into a bloodbath, or (B) inspire the next great reality TV show. The Vegas Viking chapter of the Sons of Norway organization managed to get the Las Vegas City Council to declare Oct. 9 as Leif Erikson Day, in honor of the Scandinavian explorer who discovered North America some 500 years before Christopher Columbus arrived. Not wanting to totally alienate local Italian-Americans, especially with Columbus Day scheduled for Oct. 8, City Councilman Bob Coffin thought it would be a good idea to invite some Sons of Italy to join the Oct. 3 council meeting at which the Viking commemoration will be observed. Is it just me, or does anyone else foresee the possibility of a violent confrontation in council chambers over the issue of which culture deserves credit for finding the New World? Chief Viking Erik Pappa says his group of marauders will be wearing chain mail and carrying swords and at least one battle axe during the council meeting. Wonder if city marshals will have extra personnel on duty?

GEORGE KNAPP is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8. Reach him at