Columnist George Knapp: complaints by Boulder City police chief shake up sleepy town’s power elite
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For seven years, Boulder City police chief Thomas Finn has done a pretty good job of maintaining the peace in his green, clean, and mostly quiet community. But kiss the peace goodbye. Finn has just uncorked a huge vat of worms and has essentially called out the city’s power structure.
It’s tough for those of us who don’t live in Boulder City to follow the intricacies of its incestuous political structure because it gets so little coverage here. But Las Vegas media might want to set up B.C. bureaus because, according to Finn’s allegations, that bedroom burg is a seething cauldron of intrigue, revenge and discrimination, ruled by a small, closely knit cabal of power players, a group of folks who, you might say, are all cut from the same cloth.
Finn unleashed a torrent of hard-hitting paperwork this week and gave me first peek at the specifics. He filed four ethics complaints with the attorney general’s Public Integrity Unit, as well as allegations with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that he is a victim of religious discrimination.
Adding to this inferno is a detailed history of Finn’s ongoing beef with B.C. honchos, as described in a court document filed by his attorney, Sean Flanagan, in connection with a lawsuit in district court. Flanagan alleges that Finn’s troubles began when he started investigating what he saw as a pathetic lack of enforcement of DUI offenses and domestic-violence cases by the city attorney’s office. After he started making waves, he says, The Cabal decided he had to go.
One of the ethics complaints he filed accuses City Councilman Cam Walker and Mayor Roger Tobler of violating the city charter by pressuring the city manager to discipline and/or fire Finn. Walker was supposedly enraged because Finn wasn’t deferential enough to Walker last year, when the Mongols motorcycle gang was in town for an event. Walker wanted Finn to get on the phone with Walker’s pal and fellow church member, attorney Steve Stubbs (a Mongols lawyer), and Finn refused. City laws are pretty clear that council members are not supposed to issue orders to city officials or try to influence disciplinary actions. That’s reserved for the city manager.
A second complaint focuses on Walker, for allegedly voting on a city construction contract that the company he works for was trying to land. That’s against the charter.
Another complaint takes City Manager David Fraser to task for rushing the appointment of an interim police chief. Last week, Fraser made the decision to hire retired Metro veteran Bill Conger to fill in while Finn is on medical leave. But there’s a problem or two. For one, Conger — a respected lawman — has been out of law enforcement for several years and should have a background check before he is handed the job, Finn says. For another, he’s related to one of the council members. Councilwoman Peggy Leavitt admitted that Conger is her nephew-in-law, even though the charter says no one who is related to a member of the council, by blood or marriage, can be appointed as a city officer. They did it anyway.
Finn thinks it is an embarrassment that city officials bent over backwards to welcome the Mongols to town last year, Cam Walker walking with the leather-clad gang members down a main street, and going after their police chief for keeping close tabs on the bikers. Finn told me he and Metro had been given intelligence that the Mongols had issued a shoot-to-kill order if the Hells Angels showed up, even if they were just passing through. The Angels were meeting in Vegas that weekend, and there is no question of bad blood between the clubs. That’s why there was a strong law-enforcement presence during the Mongols event. (Finn got in hot water for asking city workers to delete Mongols-related e-mails, a violation of the law; he wanted it for security reasons.)
Finn and his attorney don’t exactly spell it out, but it seems they think too much of the B.C. power structure is controlled by members of a single faith. Four of the five council members are Mormons. So is the city manager. And the city attorney. And the municipal judge. Imagine if any other group or religion had that much sway in one government, anywhere. The church encourages public service, which is a good thing, but I don’t think it would support exclusion or discrimination based on religious differences. And someone who looks at this from the outside might assume that you need to attend the LDS church if you want a position of authority in Boulder City. (In his complaint to the EEOC, Finn notes that he is a Catholic.)
Finn’s critics will have chances to respond. In fact, they were first to file their own hard-hitting complaint with the attorney general. I’d be willing to bet the allegations against Finn will be rejected. Call it a hunch.
And those Boulder City officials who have made Finn’s life so miserable will soon be busy explaining their own behavior and why the city charter doesn’t really mean what it says.
GEORGE KNAPP is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8. Reach him at email@example.com.