Settled, as it was before

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By Optic Editorial Board

A recent ruling by District Judge Abigail Aragon finally puts to rest lingering questions about a costly agreement between the city of Las Vegas and Luna Community College. From our vantage point, the judge made the right call, especially since it all began as a city mistake.

The case stems from a discovery in mid-2007 that the city, because of a bad meter, had undercharged Luna for its natural gas for nearly six years, to the tune of $142,368. In a ruling filed last week, Judge Aragon threw out the case, determining that the settlement previously reached by city officials was valid even though it had not been approved by the City Council. Sharon Caballero, acting city manager when the city discovered its mistake, authorized then-Utilities Director George DuFour to negotiate a settlement with Luna, which he did — and in 2008, Luna paid $61,369 while the city wrote off the remaining $81,000.

Let’s not forget the politics that played into all this. In February 2009, DuFour was fired by a 3-2 council vote over the issue of billing adjustments.

Then-Mayor Tony Marquez, who cast the tie-breaking vote to oust DuFour, had gotten crossways with the utilities director, even suggesting at one point that DuFour may have been involved in corrupt billing practices by giving unauthorized credits. An audit, however, concluded no such thing (and, later that year, DuFour filed suit against the city, alleging that he’d been discriminated against).

Given these dubious circumstances, one might have reasoned that the city would be interested in setting the matter aside and moving on, but such was not the case. Instead, in 2011, the city filed suit, alleging that DuFour didn’t have the authority to settle the Luna bill and therefore Luna needed to pay the remaining balance. As of this month, however, that too has been resolved.

City Manager Timothy Dodge, who succeeded Caballero as city manager, said the city needs to make sure employees understand the authority they have and that they don’t exceed that authority. In reaction to Aragon’s ruling, he said he’s “glad to see that there’s a decision ... at a level of authority that’s appropriate.” Perhaps he’s right — maybe a district judge needed to put this matter to rest once and for all.

Still, the city made the mistake of undercharging the college for years, and Luna officials negotiated in good faith to settle the matter. They did so with a utilities director who’d been authorized to work out a reasonable agreement.
So instead, maybe when it’s all said and done, the city’s lawsuit was nothing more than an expensive waste of time.