IN WHAT CAN ONLY BE DESCRIBED AS AN UNNATURAL ACT OF THE HIGHEST ORDER THE STOREY COUNTY LEADERSHIP WORM HAS TURNED AND IS NOW CONSUMING ITS OWN TAIL.
OUR COMMISSIONERS DECLARED IN AN OPEN MEETING THAT THERE HAS BEEN INAPPROPRIATE USE OF TAXPAYER DOLLARS TO LINE THE POCKETS OF A FEW GOOD MEN. THERE WAS A GIGANTIC THINK BUBBLE OVER PAT WHITTEN’S HEAD WITH THE WORDS “ OH SH*T” IN IT.
THE DISCLOSURE COMES ON THE HEELS OF A LONG TIME EMPLOYEE ASKING FOR THE SAME FAVORS THAT HAVE BEEN GRANTED TO OTHERS TIME AND TIME AGAIN ONLY THIS TIME THE DOOR HAD SHUT AND HE WAS DENIED.
THE COMMISSIONERS APPLAUDED THEIR OWN TRANSPARANCY FOR BRINGING THIS TO THE FOREFORONT AND FOR CALLING FOR AN INVESTIGATION BUT FORGOT TO ADD THAT THEY WERE ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL WHILE IT WAS HAPPENING AND COULD HAVE STOPPED IT.
MAYBE WE NEED TO CALL FOR AN INVESTIGATION INTO WHAT THEY DO ALL DAY SINCE THEY REALLY ONLY HAVE THREE DUTIES….SETTING TAXES, CREATING ORDINANCES AND GOVERNANCE.
GOVERNANCE GETS A ZERO TODAY.
OH AND ….STILL NO PROPERTY TAX REBATE/ROLLBACK ACTION FOR THE LITTLE PEOPLE.
By Nicole Barde
This is a long yet fully packed issue….grab your adult beverage of choice….or just scream into your pillow.
This was close to a four hour meeting and despite its spellbinding and edge of the seat moments time passed as if in slow motion for me due to some of the content and the effects of my head cold.
First up was item #15 which was a request (via letter attached below) by Rob DuFresne for the county to buy him a years of PERS service worth $41,346.59. You REALLY need to read this letter since it shows how poor Rob was ping-ponged around. In a nutshell Rob was asking for what he had seen 3 others get when they retired. A bonus of sorts.
All three commissioners couldn’t say enough about how this was inappropriate. How IF this type of payout had been a past practice that they hadn’t been aware of it.
Commissioner Jack McGuffey looked stunned as he said that in the corporate world that maybe a $5000 bonus was appropriate but nothing like this amount and especially to those already making a lot of money and at the top of their departments. He said that he could “go for it” if there were a policy that was retroactive (whatever that means) and was told by DA Langer that no, any new policy enacted would be going forward only.
Commissioner, brothel owner and TRI principal Lance Gilman said that he was only made aware of it that day. He went on to say that this type of appropriation belongs in front of the Commission to approve, that it had never come before the commission in that past and that was wrong. He went on to say that the Unions already have generous benefits and that he does not believe that this should be allowed. He said that a procedure needs to be devised and followed and that these things belong on a line item on the budget for visibility.
Lance said that there were two issues:
-the retirement bonus for Rob would set a precedent and they did not want to do that
-the inappropriate prior actions need to be looked at.
Commission Chair Marshall McBride commented that the county had indeed done some financial buyouts for early retirements in the past when it produced a savings for the County (i.e. Cheaper to buy a year of PERS than to pay a year of salary till retirement) but that it was for those who weren’t fully vested. Rob was fully vested and Marshall didn’t see the need to do it for him.
Marie DuFresne, Robs wife, was there and simply stated that Rob was asking for what he had seen others get and that he felt he deserved it.
There was a bit more discussion and the Commissioners said that they are requesting that staff look into this and do an investigation into what has happened in the past.
Marshall turned to County Manager Pat Whitten and asked “Pat, do you want to weigh in on this” and before he could answer Deputy DA Keith Loomis interrupted and said no, that this is a different agenda item.
During Public comment I teleported to the podium to ask if the results of the investigation into the misappropriation of taxpayer dollars would be made public….I then requested that IT BE MADE PUBLIC. No commitment to do so by Marshall.
I then asked how it was that they could all say that they knew nothing since they had approved the three bonuses this year. As always, Marshall reminded me that this was not the agenda item, that the agenda item was whether to approve this bonus or not…..and with that I departed the podium.
SIDENOTE: Who needs drugs and alcohol when you can have mind altering activities like the commission meetings?
But I digress….
Needless to say ……. Storey County employees have known for decades that there are “those who get and those who don’t”. Under the Whitten regime the shorthand has been if you “are on the team”. I am stunned not just by the public manner in which this surfaced but by the denials of the Commissioners that they knew about it.
EVERYBODY knew about it. Pat Whitten talked about the need to augment PERS for Hames, Nevin and Haymore in an open meeting. The June 20th and June 30th meeting this year each had budget augmentation discussions where Comptroller Hugh Gallagher spoke about those funds needing to be augmented to pay those PERS bonuses. The Commissioners approved all of the augmentations. And if there is any doubt that it was talked about and that even the uninitiated could figure it out …..below is extracted from the June 30th minutes where Sam Toll asked the question:
9. DISCUSSION/POSSIBLE ACTION: Transfer of Appropriations in the General Budget in the amount of $178,961.00.
Mr. Toll: Mr. Gallagher mentioned at the last meeting there were two items, approximately $50-60,000 for Mr. Hames and Mr. Haymore. We are hearing now about an additional $20,000. Can that be clarified?
Mr. Gallagher: The items for Community Development were for PERS and Medicare.
So, it sounds a bit obfuscated as to what it actually is but it still didn’t feel right…..The augmentation was presented at the June 20th meeting and finalized at the June 30th meeting. If Messrs. Hames and Haymore were receiving $50-60k, and they were fully vested in PERS, highly paid individuals and at the top of their departments…..why didn’t the alarm bells go off with anyone except for Mr. Toll? Where was governance on the part of our Commissioners?
I think that when Rob DuFrense was given the run around and was basically told “no “that his pushing the issue as an agenda item is what brought this to a PUBLIC head. If he had just taken no for an answer and kept quiet then this practice of bonus for my buddies would continue on.
Plausible deniability on the part of the Commissioners only works if it never makes it to the light…this made it to the light. Thanks Rob!
I believe that they knew but didn’t WANT to know what Pat was doing.
I have to ask……WHERE WERE THE CHECKS AND BALANCES on Pat Whitten’s ability to just write checks? In the real world Finance and HR have to approve bonuses or out of cycle payroll/benefits checks…what happened here? Do the commissioners read the treasurers reports and the check runs? With two of them being savvy businessmen you’d think that they would notice large bonus/payroll/PERS checks out of cycle.
Meanwhile, recall that a couple of meetings ago that Pat Whitten’s job description was being revised? This was at the same meeting where his duties were being expanded to manage the millions of dollars of vouchers at TRI. We haven’t seen that job description again. I thought at the time that they were expanding it and giving Pat more power…now I’m not so sure. I’m not so sure he needs a job description if he’s misappropriating our money….I mean…..what else is being misappropriated?
Whew! But I digress…………..
Both Staff and Board updates were kind of light and the key items are covered in Pat Whitten’s summary.
The Next item was #12, the purchase of Pipers by the County from the school District for $300,500. The Commission approved this and it will need to be approved by the school board before it is finalized.
Todd Hess, SCSD Superintendent, got up to say that the District had purchased Pipers in 2014 for $ 283k when the county didn’t have the money to take on that debt. That since taking it over for events, weddings and other purposes that the District has brought the Pipers operation into the black but that they do not have the resources to continue to run it as before and that it does need a plan to continue to move forward.
Jack mentioned that the private parties who ran it in the past couldn’t generate the revenues to do much more than cover costs…but that it wasn’t enough to do the maintenance that the building required.
Marshall noted that the county is in a much better position today to take Pipers back. There are grant writers both at Pipers and at the county that he feels can generate a lot more interest and funding to do what needs doing. He also made note that the fully restored Eureka opera house is one third the size of Pipers and that Eureka had a windfall of money that they decided to use to do the renovations.
TINY SIDENOTE:…………..according to Lance we are currently experiencing a gushing, flapping, rolling windfall of economic prosperity from TRI….why doesn’t the county use that prosperity to fix Pipers like Eureka did?
Pat Whitten added that the money for Pipers is coming from some unused and unrestricted funds that the county has from when Toy’s R Us left TRI and had to pay back the concessions that it had been given so that the money to buy Pipers has come from other than resident funds.
During Public Comment Kris Thompson TRI and Lance Gilman employee and roommate got up to say that it was a great move by the county and that to preserve our historic treasures like Pipers, St. Mary’s, Fourth Ward and the Fire Museum is part of the role of the county for its citizens. He noted that perhaps the infrastructure fund might be used to fund the much needed work to fix Pipers.
Sam Toll, Gold Hill resident, got up to say that the school district did a good thing to take Pipers over to save it but that he had heard that it would take $2-3 Million Dollars to get done what needed to get done to make it more viable. He asked if the county had a plan for Pipers. He then asked that if there was no concrete plan for Pipers, or other historic properties that the county plans to buy (the Depot) then how could the county be in the business of owning and preserving historic buildings without a viable path to restoration?
I got up to echo the comments of the previous speakers and asked for a commitment to put full faith effort into making Pipers whole again.
Next were items #17 and #18.
#17 was amending the Development Agreement with TRI to include the parcels of property that in 2014 the county got Washoe County to move the boundary line for so that Lance could bring them into Storey County where there is a fast track process to build quickly. There is apparently no modification of the Master Plan to do this meaning that these parcels will be zoned exactly the same as its neighboring parcels in TRI.
Jack voiced a concern about allowing business to build butting up against the river bank which risks damaging the bank and its environment and polluting the river.
#18 was interesting….this item was the stipulation that as part of the amended Development Agreement TRI would accept wholly and universally the Storey County Ordinance prohibiting the use of land at TRI to cultivate, test, manufacture, distribute, sell, store, lick, smell, touch, or basically think or dream in the general direction of marijuana.
Sam Toll got up to ask why the heavy handed approach since the voters of the county approved it . He noted that tobacco and alcohol were the 2 biggest threats to public safety and that marijuana isn’t even close to those as threats and is actually a benefit to those who use it medicinally. He was told by Marshall that it is still illegal with the Federal Government. Since Storey County receives funding from the Federal Government that they don’t want to jeopardize that funding. Marshall also noted that out of ALL 15 rural counties in Nevada, none of them have enacted recreational marijuana sales.
Louise Pena, Lockwood resident got up to say that she supported the ban. That there is already a lot of traffic up and down I80 and that this would just add to a bad traffic situation. She also added that there were issues in Colorado as a result of their stand to allow it statewide but she did not elaborate.
SIDENOTE: OK, who needs marijuana when you can have mind altering experiences attending Commission meetings?
But really …..our business IS VICE!! We have prostitution, alcohol (a REAL KILLER) gambling and outhouse races for cripes sakes ….the voters of Nevada and this county voted it in. Why outlaw it? Especially when its medicinal properties are so great?
Now, there is personal use allowed but there was a hint in the meeting that in a couple of months there will be some more enactions to shore up the anti-marijuana ordinance.
But I digress……
Next up was item #19, a workshop related to property tax relief. Just gotta say it……I want relief from this groundhog day discussion. NOTHING NEW to report that I haven’t already reported. They continue to fluff up our expectations that we are about to be hosed down with abundant TRI dollars, that we may get tax relief, that they are working on it, that the check is in the mail, that the loan is assumable, that these pants don’t make our butts look big and that if we just take this pill our wrinkles will fall off.
I’m sick of it.
During Public Comment Rich Baccus, VC resident, got up to report that the horses were once again causing destruction on his property and that despite the ordinance prohibiting the watering and feeding of the horses in town that he had neighbors who were doing it. He asked for the support of the Commission in managing the horses out of town and in giving citations to those who violate the ordinance. He got agreement that there needs to be more compliance with the ordinance and Deputy DA Loomis will review the ordinance.
Louise Pena, Lockwood resident, got up to say that the horses have pretty much divided the Lockwood community. Some love them some don’t.
I got up at this more appropriate moment to again request that the Commission not bury the investigation into the misappropriation of funds for buddy bonuses. I said that since it has come up in a public forum and it’s our money that the public has a right to know the results of the investigation. Meanwhile, the standard reply when anyone asks about the results of an investigation involving a carbon based life form is “that’s a personnel matter and not public purview”
How much you wanna bet?
Then I HAD to ask “when is a debt not a debt” in response to postings on the VCH chat board from TRI and Lance Gilman employee and roommate Kris Thompson. He had posted the following about the $48 million dollar debt (taken from two communications):
“There is no “note” and there is no “debt.”
“TRI and the County have a limited profit sharing agreement for surplus revenue coming out of TRI.”
Since I’ve never heard of owing someone money and not having a debt with that person and I had never considered taxes profits and the utilization of those taxes to pay back a non-debt as profit sharing or surplus revenues not needing a home somewhere else in the county…..my inquiring mind just had to know.
The short answer is that due to the clever way that the Development and public private partnership agreement was written all of the money that Storey County carries in its budget as “TRI PAYBACK” is nothing really. No interest, no note, never have to pay it back if the county doesn’t make over $5 million OVER the expenses out at TRI. But if we do take in over $5 million in tax revenue over expenses then we have to pay TRI back 35 cents on every dollar above the $5million for the non-debt.
Oh, and the County’s own Debt Management Commission , comprised of Marshall McBride, Pat Whitten, Gary Hames, Laura Kekule and Terry Croxton have deemed it a non-debt.
This is fortuitous since the County, by statute, cannot carry a debt greater than 10% of the county’s assessed valuation which is $558 Million as of the last report…which means it can’t carry more than $54,541 million in debt. SO…by not calling the “TRI PAYBACK” a debt the county can continue to get other loans and indebted instruments!
Then the bit about the “profit share agreement” and “surplus revenues”……that got shot down by Marshall who said…” I don’t think I’d use the term profit sharing….”
Like I said…..who needs marijuana when you have these meetings…….
Lastly, Sam Toll got up to say that “words mean things” …taxes/fees/licenses are not “profit”….they are revenues paid by residents in this county so that government can do its job of serving the people……not talk about profit.