It must have sounded like a good idea at the time.
Love was in the air in the spring of 2019, and Laborers Local 872 Business Manager Tommy White was busy helping with his daughter’s wedding. As a longtime resident of the neighborhood adjacent to Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs, and a guy who had watched his kids grow up at the park, the decision was made to use it as the site of the event.
Nothing out of the ordinary in that. Weddings and receptions are commonplace in the park.
But White, one of the most powerful and highly paid union officials in the state, went several steps further. With encouragement from Mayor Pro Tem Michele Fiore’s office, White led a group that made substantial changes to the park’s historic hay barn, pouring 5,000 square feet of concrete, putting in new LED lighting, cleaning out the rodent-friendly interior, and sprucing up the grounds near the sprawling building.
Sounds like a good thing, right?
Good maybe, but not cheap. According to an Organization Donation of Goods and Services Agreement White signed on April 27, 2019, Laborers Local 872 agreed to gift to the city $42,100 in labor and physical improvements made to the barn. It was a generous gift, to be sure, and it’s one White’s friend, Fiore, has touted as part of her public-private restoration and reinvention of the barn as an event center. In exchange for the goods and services provided, the union received a city waiver valued at up to $2,100 for the use of the building.
White has characterized the construction not primarily as a way to create a wedding venue, but as a good deed that has become the victim of Murphy’s Law. Although she declined an interview request, Fiore on Tuesday afternoon sent a statement. The crux of her argument: “Since the 1970s every plan devised for Floyd Lamb Park has included converting the Hay Barn to an Events Center. This is not a new idea; this is not a controversial idea. This is an idea that makes sense for Floyd Lamb Park and for restoring the Hay Barn. … No other elected official in Nevada has worked harder to preserve and protect Floyd Lamb Park than I have.”
The city might be feeling a little sensitive in the wake of the news report that Fiore waived a $9,000 event fee for a recent for-profit rodeo roping event at the park conducted by one of her supporters.
Turning the barn into an event center figured to attract large crowds to the repurposed area, and the area’s neighbors are boiling mad at the prospect. Preservationists who say the changes violate legislation meant to protect the historic old ranch buildings and the bucolic atmosphere of the park itself join them. Judging from the complaints raised by neighbors after a May 11 event touted by a Fiore assistant as a “test wedding” lasted well into the night, they’re just getting their vocal chords warmed up.
Contacted Monday about the controversy and changes to the building, White initially denied he’d signed any agreement, which according to a city spokesman was approved at a May 15 City Council meeting in order to ensure the fee waiver. White also said the work was done to improve the park, not merely to make a great spot for a blessed event.
After I sent White a copy of the agreement, he replied, “There was no goods or services provided directly by Laborers Local 872. We did clean up the area around the pond. City workers came in with their freaking trucks and basically destroyed it.”
The agreement with Laborers Union Local 872 clearly states otherwise, detailing the donation to include the concrete (an estimated $25,000 value), lighting fixtures ($2,100) and barn cleaning ($15,000).
Although the language of the agreement is clear, it raises more questions than it answers for the city and for the union boss. The timing of the changes to the barn, the donation agreement and the council meeting make it appear this was an inside arrangement that put the cart before the horse.
The issue is even more complicated for White, a high-profile member of the Las Vegas Stadium Authority whose status as a union official places him under federal labor laws. Local 872 in recent years has fielded Department of Labor complaints accusing White and other officials of election irregularities and racism. He has denied the accusations, some of them several years old.
The goods and services agreement makes it appear the union donated materials and labor, but after reading the document White later responded that all work was done by volunteers and the concrete and other materials were donated.
Initially, he said, “We agreed to help them because the hay barn was deteriorating, and the shooting range was deteriorating. It was a mess.”
The barn itself was so filthy, White said, that cleaning it put him in the hospital for six days with a hantavirus-related lung infection and, “I almost wasn’t around for my daughter’s wedding.”
He called the goods and services agreement that he signed inaccurate.
“We didn’t lay no concrete,” White said. “The concrete was donated. So I don’t know where they’re getting that from.”
It’s just a guess, but they might have reached that conclusion after reading the goods and services agreement.
In his trademark salty style, White repeatedly blamed city workers for spoiling the effort. He also blamed Fiore-haters for fanning the flames of the issue.
“It could have been a really beautiful setting for the future, but I wasn’t going to deal with it,” he said. “After the concrete was donated, the fucking city went in and drove their fucking trucks over it. So it was a waste of fucking time.”
The donated concrete work has since been removed from the barn, calling into question just how much of a contribution it turned out to be.
“Anything we did got taken back because of what the fucking city started,” White said.
As if to impress upon me with the sincerity of his position, signed agreement notwithstanding, White instructed Laborers Local 872 attorney David Rosenfeld to issue a letter explaining that the volunteer effort was done in the spirit of community.
“The Local has always recognized the importance of good relationships to the community in which the Local’s members live and work and has, on many occasions, donated the services of its members for public improvements,” Rosenfeld wrote. “… We want to be clear that we don’t think that there was anything done here except to benefit the City of Las Vegas and its residents. The Hay Barn was cleaned up, the light figures were replaced, all without cost to the City. The Local was not involved.”
As if to punctuate the point, Tommy White reminds me, “Anything we did got taken back because of what the fucking city started.”
John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal— “Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. Contact him at [email protected] On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith