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Business groups seek ethics probe of regents after chancellor’s allegations

Jacob Solis
Jacob Solis
Higher Education
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Four major business groups and one of Nevada’s largest group of unions issued a letter Tuesday asking the state ethics board to investigate the conduct of two leaders on the Board of Regents.

The move comes in the wake of four-month-long investigation into allegations made by Chancellor Melody Rose in a hostile work environment complaint that those regents — former Board Chair Cathy McAdoo and Vice Chair Patrick Carter — had sought to minimize her influence to justify her ouster as chancellor. 

The chancellor also alleged broad discrimination based on her gender, calling the top levels of the system a historical “boys’ club” and that she was being unfairly paid less than newly-hired male presidents at UNR and UNLV. 

She also alleged that board leaders, especially McAdoo, had acted erratically and secretly on COVID mitigation policy, especially once those policies began to include the controversial creation of a COVID vaccine mandate for Nevada’s public colleges and universities.  

Though the findings made public last week found “insufficient evidence” of any gender discrimination, it did make note of several possible ethical violations and that some of the circumstances included in the chancellor’s complaint reflected an “inappropriate working environment.” 

The groups — the Vegas Chamber, Latin Chamber of Commerce, Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce, the Council for a Better Nevada and the state AFL-CIO — argue that the ethics commission should open its own inquiry because the first investigation yielded findings that are “significant, unacceptable, and cannot be ignored.”

“Residents of the State of Nevada deserve a full and impartial investigation of these charges, not one completed by an outside consultant regularly hired by the Board of Regents to ‘investigate’ the Board of Regents,” the letter said.  

Requests for comment from McAdoo and Carter were not immediately returned. 

Tuesday’s letter comes as the latest salvo from a business community that has long sparred with regents, and which had publicly rallied to the side of the beleaguered chancellor over the course of the investigation. 

All five groups that signed on to the letter have been publicly critical of the Board of Regents, and all publicly backed 2020’s Ballot Question 1, which would have removed the regents from the Constitution in a bid to create direct legislative oversight of the higher education system. 

Though that initiative was narrowly rejected by voters, a new incarnation — SJR7 — could again find its way to the ballot should lawmakers vote to approve the language for a second time in the 2023 legislative session.

The state Commission on Ethics is composed of an eight-member board and professional staff that are granted the power to investigate complaints of conduct that violate state ethical standards, with the ability to levy fines for serious violations or require corrective action if that is deemed warranted.

The groups also submitted a public records request for additional communications between regents, system staff and the attorney general’s office related to a closed-door meeting this month “to replace the Board’s Chair and Vice Chair, in violation of Nevada Revised Statute on the Open Meetings Law” — an apparent reference to a move to place McAdoo and Carter back in charge of the board. 

The pair temporarily ceded control of the board in November, handing the reins to pro tempore leaders Carol Del Carlo and Amy Carvalho for two public meetings in December and one in January during the investigation. 

In the immediate aftermath of the investigation, it was unclear precisely how McAdoo and Carter would resume their duties as the board’s leaders, and if the board needed to make the switch in a public meeting, or if it took place automatically. 

Regents are expected to formally conclude the investigation into the chancellor’s workplace complaint in a public meeting on Thursday, in effect bringing McAdoo and Carter back to their positions as the board’s chair and vice chair. Lawyers with the Nevada System of Higher Education did not return requests for comment on the issue.

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