City case hinges on 1992 policy

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By Lee Einer

Mayor Tony Marquez has asked the state attorney general to investigate billing adjustments made by former Utilities Director George DuFour, which the mayor’s administration suggested were made “without legal authority.”

The city isn’t building its case on a law or ordinance, but rather on an internal policy drafted nearly two decades ago.

The policy, known officially as an administrative regulation, was issued by then-City Manager Les Montoya, dated Aug. 21, 1992. There’s been more than a half dozen managers since Montoya left City Hall in 1998.

Las Vegas Mayor Tony Marquez recently had City Attorney Carlos Quiñones write a letter asking the Attorney General Gary King to investigate DuFour. The letter alleges “public corruption” with regard to the billing adjustments.

The letter to the AG was accompanied by a copy of the administrative regulation, which requires the city’s utilities director to get the city manager’s approval for adjustments to utility bills that have been disputed by customers.

There is no indication that the administrative regulation was ever considered by the City Council. According to the city charter, the only rule that the city can enact that has the force of law is an ordinance, and ordinances must be duly enacted by the governing body.

DuFour said he never saw the regulation.

Les Montoya, now the San Miguel County manager, said administrative regulations were drafted by the city manager in order to establish procedures, but would not have the force of law unless later incorporated into ordinance. Montoya said he did not think this regulation was ever passed into ordinance.

City attorney Quiñones said that the City Council would typically have to vote to enact an ordinance or regulation, but that he didn’t know how it was being done back in the early 1990s.

“That’s a good question,” Quiñones said.

Quiñones declined to comment on whether he had seen any documents that would lead him to believe that DuFour had engaged in criminal conduct.

City Councilwoman Diane Moore said she didn’t believe the cited administrative regulation had the force of law or was even followed by subsequent administrations.

“This administrative regulation is internal, and I believe that each city manager thereafter probably did some things differently,” Moore said.

Moore said she also believed that major adjustments to utility bills were done with the knowledge and approval of Sharon Caballero, city manager at the time.

City Councilman Morris Madrid said the administrative regulation had been followed up through John Avila’s term as city manager, but he also said that he didn’t think someone could be charged for not adhering to an administrative regulation.

Phil Sisneros, the AG’s spokesman, said his office recently sent Quiñones a response to his letter. The response refers the matter back to local law enforcement.

The mayor placed DuFour on leave in late January, and a City Council majority voted out DuFour in early February. Marquez said the billing adjustments were the reason for the firing.

The two mentioned adjustments were an $81,279 credit to Luna Community College and $87 to Luna Trustee Tony Valdez.

DuFour said that the adjustment to Valdez’s bill was a correction due to Valdez’s being billed for 18,000 gallons of sewage in a month when he had only used 3,000 gallons of water.

“What he had was a typical city of Las Vegas computer foul-up,” DuFour said.

The Luna adjustment, DuFour said, was a correction of a series of errors that began long before he was hired. Dufour said the problem with Luna started when a meter reader began reading a six-dial meter as if it were a five dial meter — a problem that continued for a couple of years, DuFour said.

When the problem was discovered, Luna’s bills were adjusted to reflect the greater amount owed, again going back several years.

When they were adjusted, the computer treated all of the late charges as past due, and assigned the bills late payment penalties which compounded monthly, DuFour said. For each  month, the computer assigned a percentage penalty based on the total of the late charges and the late payment penalties assessed for all preceding months, he said.

The result, DuFour said, was late charges that snowballed in much the same way as compound interest would. DuFour said Luna ended up paying roughly $60,000 for the gas that it had used but had not been previously billed for, and that the amount adjusted off represented spurious late charges and other uncollectibles.

DuFour said the adjustment was done with the prior knowledge and approval of then-City Manager Sharon Caballero.