THE COMMISSIONERS FAILED YET AGAIN TO ACCEPT ANY RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR COMPLETE LACK OF OVERSIGHT OVER PAT WHITTEN WHICH RESULTED IN THIS PUBLIC PANTOMIME OF FAUX LEADERSHIP.
HUGH GALLAGHER PRESENTED HIS FINDING OF FACTS AND PAT WHITTTEN CALLED HIM A LIAR ….THEN PAT PRESENTED HIS OWN SET OF FACTS WHICH HAVE OTHERS CALLING PAT A PANTS ON FIRE LIAR.
NO ONE IS GETTING FIRED FOR $215K OF UNAPPROVED EXPENDITURES AT BEST OR THEFT OF PUBLIC FUNDS AT WORST.
DESPITE ALL OF THE SELF PRAISE THAT THE COMMISSIONERS HAVE HEAPED UPON THEMSELVES FOR BEING SO TRANSPARENT THE ONLY HERO HERE IS ROB DUFRESNE.
By Nicole Barde
This was one of those epic 5+ hour meetings. It was jam packed with lengthy items and I’d like to start this report with the one I feel is the most critical. This is part One of a two part meeting Summary. Part Two will come in a couple of days. This is a long one……grab your favorite adult beverage………
Below are the two agenda items dealing with Pat Whitten’s awarding of bonuses to three retiring, highly paid directors. They were discussed separately.
Recall that in the October 17th meeting ( HERE) Rob Dufresne got up to ask for HIS bonus since he saw that others ( Hames, Haymore, Nevin) were getting them. He had gone through a lot of people asking for this and was turned down. Feeling that it was unfair to give it to these guys and not to him he took it to the public forum of the Commission meeting to make his request. This took courage.
THIS is what FORCED the commissioners to look at Pat’s actions. Not an “ah ha” moment that it was not right, not the realization that it might be spending taxpayer money inappropriately, not that it was enriching the richest of the rich in the county hierarchy but that it had come out in the open and it forced them to be transparent. They had no choice but to deal with it publically…it was NOT courage on their part….it was an act of self-preservation and a way to minimize legal liability. That’s it.
This bonus distribution has been going on for many years behind the scenes and no one cared what was happening…especially those who were on the receiving end of the bonuses. Those who didn’t get to participate said nothing because well…..people are afraid. So Rob Dufresne split from the herd and decided to expose the inequity of the actions.
THANK YOU ROB!
21. Review of monetary payments, described as buyouts, to two department heads in December 2016, January 2017 and June 2017 by the County Manager. The Board may take action, including but not limited to, determining whether the county manager had authority to make the payments, setting a review of the county managers job performance, referring the matter to an outside agency for evaluation for violation of NRS, or determine whether to recover part or all of the payments.
#23 Review monetary payments, described as buyouts, to fire chief in December 2016 and June 2017 by the County Manager .The Board may take action, including but not limited to, determining whether the county manager had authority to make the payments, setting a review of the county managers job performance, referring the matter to an outside agency for evaluation for violation of NRS, or determine whether to recover part or all of the payments.
What followed was part Kabuki Theater, part trial and pure BS.
On agenda item # 21 addressing the Nevin and Haymore payouts County Comptroller Hugh Gallagher started by presenting his findings, which you can see in the agenda packet (page 235 and on). I can’t go into all of the detail in this summary you can read Hugh’s summary for that but suffice to say that more than $215k was paid out. There was one instance of vacation payout, which is normal, but there was a question on the numbers of hours paid out which was not normal.
After Hugh’s report Pat Whitten complained that he had only recently received a copy of Hugh’s report not affording him enough time to review it and then handed out his own report which no one had seen beforehand and began to sling his version of the facts.
He then proceeded to call Hugh a liar, saying that his report was full of “overt misstatements”. Specifically the PERS calculations, retirement dates and a few other items. Pat further stated that these were not “bonuses” that they were incentives. He read the definition of bonus and incentive. He stated that the recent awards were the “strategic use of incentives” given to high performers. He further described his practice of incentivizing employees close to retirement to retire early by buying them out. He called these people “moderate performers” that needed to “go” so that cheaper or better employees could be hired.
Pat then went on to say that he has been doing this since 2008 and that all told he has probably approved 17 bonus/incentive/buyouts …none of which went before the commission for approval and done behind closed doors. He noted that when the first ones happened in 2008 that Commissioner Bum Hess and the commission at the time approved them but that they were never required to be approved after that. Pat emphasized that this has been his ongoing practice in the county for years.
We did not get copies of his spreadsheets but they apparently included Pat’s calculations of the significant savings that these buyouts provided the county’s budgets over the years. He spent a good deal of time talking about how these actions saved the county money. He also explained that “incentivization” is how private businesses operate and that it is a sound business practice.
SIDENOTE: At this point images of Nixon’s “I am not a crook” speech flashed thru my brain.
At the end of Pat’s initial rebuttal of Hugh’s presentation of facts, the Commissioners had their chance to ask questions. Commissioner, TRI Principal and Brothel owner Lance Gilman said that the “incentive” system as described by Pat while a good one has him acting like a private sector manager and the county is NOT in the private sector. The Commission and its employees, including the County Manager, has responsibility for the appropriation of public funds which need to be approved prior to being spent. This didn’t happen in these cases. Lance wanted to know what Pat’s thought process was that led him to the incentivization approach
Pat responded by saying that the County prides itself on operating like a business and that he was merely doing what any good manager does in the private sector.
Commissioner Jack McGuffey said that “it makes sense to me” but he was disturbed by that lack of transparency.
Commission Chair Marshal McBride said that he disagreed with Jack. He said that Pat couldn’t have convinced him to pay the bonuses even if he had come to him and he wished that Pat HAD come to the commission first. Marshal said that these employees are already getting paid for service rendered to the county thru a liberal retirement plan…bonuses aren’t appropriate.
SIDENOTE- THANK YOU MARSHAL!
He also stated that he couldn’t recall any previous early buyouts. At this point Pat vociferously disagreed with Marshal and reminded him of a retirement party that he (Marshal) had attended of one such person. No name was mentioned.
Marshal then stated that there will be a policy in place going forward and that any and all actions require commission approval.
At this point Lance asked to have his prepared statement read into the minutes. In summary he said that he was disappointed in the procedure employed by Pat, that he wished that these items had come before the board, that they were in the approved budget or in the approved amended budget. He noted that there were numerous discrepancies and inconsistencies, different forms and no real process.
Lance then went into preservation mode by lauding the three highly paid former executive employees and recounting their significant contributions to the county. He followed that with the statement that there is no whiff that Pat Whitten profited from these actions. That Pat was being truthful on his intent and that he didn’t just give these bonuses to his friends since there was animosity between him and Dean Haymore and Pat gave him a bonus too!!! Lance continued by saying that the bonus/incentive system appeals to him since it shows other employees that they too can get rewarded for good work but that the county needs a policy for this and not an ad hoc process. He also stressed that the County Manager job description needs to be revised. He also asked D.A. Langer for her written opinion on next steps.
Lance thanked Hugh for his diligence in getting at the facts and bringing them forward and into the public light.
Jack chimed in by basically saying “what he said” after Lance finished his statement.
At this point Austin Osborn in his HR suit came up to explain the discrepancy in the vacation pay payout to Mike Nevin. Bottom line he was paid too much. He got more than the allowable 240 hours of payout.
During public comment for the first item Sam Toll, Editor of The Storey Teller got up to say that he was happy to hear that change was on the way. He then reminded the commission that he had questioned the payout of the bonuses in the June Commission meeting to deaf ears.
SIDENOTE- As noted in my summary of the October 17th Commission meeting and in other postings I have made…the Commissioners to a man expressed SHOCK, SHOCK I tell you when this practice was exposed in the October meeting….images of the scene in Rick’s Café from Casablanca with Bogart and Claude Raines go thru my head. To be clear…….Whitten talked about doing this IN A COMMISSION MEETING at the end of last year, then it showed up in the budget augmentation in June, then Sam Toll questioned it in that June meeting, then it got approved by the Commissioners in that same meeting.
How can any of the commissioners say with a straight face that they didn’t know that this was happening? They MAY be able to say “I wasn’t paying attention” ….but then…..what are we paying then for?????
Regardless….they are in save face, butt covering mode.
But I digress….OR DO I?
Anyway, Sam then said that these particular employees are already extremely highly paid, that incentivizing the highly paid at the expense of regular lesser paid employees such as teachers or administrative employees who work just as hard is inequitable. That the employees in question already have lucrative retirement packages and that should be enough. Sam then went on to point out that Mike Nevin had signed his own retirement paperwork as both employee and employer…..basically approving himself….by himself.
Commissioners shuffled thru their papers and Sam was told it was just a clerical error.
I then got up to ask for a copy of all 17 people who got these buyouts/bonuses/incentives since 2008. Since Pat brought this up in a public forum I felt that it is now public information and I wanted to see the data. The immediate response was that it had to be approved by legal..i.e. the DA.
I said that if it is part of this PUBLIC discussion, and is evidence used to support Pat’s actions that it is public domain….and that I feel the public has a right to see it. That the names can be crossed out to protect privacy but that I wanted to see all of the other data. I am curious to see if these payouts were paid to a diverse set of employees of all ranks, genders and positions or if they were paid out to only certain types of employees…i.e. friends, relatives, and senior managers. I want to know what, if any, disparity exists in the amount of the payouts. I am looking to see if there was any disparate treatment of employees. I got no real commitment but will submit a formal request.
Next came Agenda item #23 addressing the Gary Hames payouts. Much of the back and for the on the whole issue had already occurred with the prior agenda item so this one was far less involved.
Hugh went thru the Hames portion of his report and stated that he didn’t know how the $45k PERS payout was determined.
Pat then rebutted Hugh’s report again by saying that it was riddled with errors and that Hugh was lying when he said that he had never seen any of the buyout paperwork. Pat said that each buyout was reviewed with him. There was more of the same argument and rationalization as with the prior agenda item.
Hugh responded by saying that he was never consulted on the buyouts/bonuses/incentives and that he had taken them out of the budget when he saw them.
Lance noted that we have a Comptroller in place for a reason and that he needs the resources to do his job. He also noted that there were numerous and differing processes and sources for this particular action and that the job duties of the Comptroller also needs to be looked at.
During public comment Sam Toll got up to rebuke Pat Whitten by saying that to suggest that this was the fault of the Comptroller was disingenuous at best, then looking at the Commissioners he said “Pat Whitten needs to be fired”. He continued by saying that the money paid out came out of OUR pockets as taxpayers and without approval…it is theft. At his company if his employees were caught stealing they would leave in handcuffs. He said that at a time when “pinching someone’s fanny” can get you fired, picking our pockets should get Whitten fired.
I got up after Sam……I said :
I’ve been sitting in the back of the room listening to all of this waiting to hear the words “the buck stops here”……….that at no time have I heard the Commissioners accept responsibility for this problem. Furthermore that Pat Whitten had been acting as he has always acted with no one asking what he was doing and why. I reminded them of their prior approval of the buyouts in the June meeting and how only Sam Toll asked the question.
I asked them WHERE WERE YOU???? You either knew it was happening and did nothing or you weren’t paying attention and are not doing your jobs. Either way this is your fault….you own this and are accountable…I highly doubt that this would be an issue or playing out in a public forum if it were not for Rob Dufresne making it public. It would have just continued on.
Steve Ayers got up after me to commend the commission on how this process was going and on the transparency that the commission was displaying. That this would have been unheard of with prior commissions. He spent some time praising his brother-in-law Gary Hames for bringing the Fire department into the 21st century. He listed all of the great improvements that Gary brought about….that Gary’s contributions far outweigh his salary and any benefits paid to him.
SIDENOTE- I have to reiterate…………..despite all of the self-congratulatory comments about the wonderfulness of making this a transparent process and how they as commissioners won’t stand for any lack of transparency going forward….be very clear on one thing….they are being transparent because they have no choice not out of any ever-present moral or ethical duty. Dufresne let this out of the bag…. they couldn’t handle it in the back room.
Plus….THERE WAS AN INVESTIGATION….hard to sweep that under the rug.
Whitten had been acting as he always had……….with the tacit approval of the commission, on this as well as other things. I really can’t blame him for being surprised at the new found indignation on the part of the commissioners. For their part the commissioners are at the very least complicit in these payouts thru lack of oversight……therefore it’s hard to fire someone when you weren’t doing your job either….it’s a risky legal move.
But..I digress…OR DO I?
Lance then talked about how the people who criticize the county ( meaning me and Sam I suppose) haven’t lived here very long and don’t know where it’s come from or what these guys ( Hames, Haymore, Nevin) have done for the county….he described the usual heroic acts performed by them while being paid buttloads of money to do them. That they were generous with their time and caring about the county and how “short timers” don’t appreciate it.
SIDENOTE- I’ve heard this before from the commissioners and it makes my head explode every time I do. I’ve only been here 10 years but I don’t think you have to be here more than 2 seconds to recognize true community service, selfless giving, generosity or self-dealing, corruption, cronyism and self-serving bullshit. I don’t care what happened before…if I see it I call it.
But that’s just me…….I do digress.
Sam Toll then got up and said…” To quote George Carlin…you are public servants…get me a glass of water”. He reiterated that these executive retirees all worked hard and got extremely well compensated in both salary and spectacular retirement benefits. They got paid for their work and that should be enough. He also noted that most of the county employees work hard and sacrifice just as much for their community, perhaps more as the fat cats and they aren’t getting the same considerations as these guys.
He then out legacy’d them by giving a full and robust history of his own family dating back to the 1860’s …so HE is not the new comer here…they are.
Then he once again reminded them that by putting public comment at the end of these meetings, and this 5 hour meeting in particular, it sends the message that the tax payers come last. No interested working resident has the luxury of waiting around to speak their piece for 2-5 hours. He again requested that public comment be reinstated at the front of the meeting.
And so we adjourned.