EVERYONE EXPRESSED CONFIDENCE IN AUSTIN TO DO THE JOB OF COUNTY MANAGER BUT EXPRESSED MORE CONFIDENCE THAT PAT WHITTEN WAS STILL NEEDED
LANCE SAYS THAT “$165 PER HOUR IS MINUSCULE” TO PAY PAT WHITTEN TO CONSULT FOR THE COUNTY….AND WITH NO CONTRACT CAP ON TOTAL EXPENDITURES THE SKY’S THE LIMIT! CARMONA VOTED NO ON THE CONTRACT
THE V&T FREIGHT DEPOT PURCHASE WAS APPROVED FOR $695K —THATS OVER $4 MILLION ON VC REAL ESTATE PURCHASES IN THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS…BUT NO MONEY FOR ADA PARKING ON C STREET OR A PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION SOLUTION
THE $71K REFUND OF OVERCHARGED FEES WAS PUSHED OUT TO AUGUST…WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THIS?
Austin and Jay covered all of the procedural issues so I won’t.
First off I’d like to congratulate Austin on his first week in the job of County manager. Welcome to the kitchen!
Next, I’d like to give a shout out to Elaine Spencer, Executive Director of the V& T Railway Commission. She came in to give a fairly procedural update but I thought I’d give her big kudos for turning the V&T operations around. The operations were a disaster on all fronts. I have been attending those meetings for years and watched that financial train wreck happen in slow motion until Storey County was able to get control and rework that Board and hire competent staff. Elaine and the new Board came in and have completely restructured the operations and they are firmly on a path to success on all fronts. In my mind, this has saved this historic and unique treasure for the fun and enjoyment of future generations. THANK YOU!
There were a couple of agenda items which were pushed out until the next meeting in August. Most notably the $71k (almost $400k with Tesla) refund of overcharges by Community Development (Gary Hames).
SIDENOTE– Commissioners Lance Gilman and Jay Carmona wanted to know more about how this happened at the last meeting which is why it was pushed to this meeting…..now it’s pushed again…..now what?
The other items were the $85k contract for assisting with the Comstock and Highlands area Water Master Plan to bring water to the Highlands and Mark Twain and a contract with an outside group to help with planning and engineering services relating to planned unit development (PUD) and/or large land subdivision application or proposals.
SIDENOTE-Looks like we are gearing up for the Painted Rock development activity, possible TRIC development as well as the development near the River District. Watch the Planning Commission agendas for action in this area.
Agenda Item # 10 was the approval of the post-retirement $165 per hour contract with recently outgoing retired County Manager Pat Whitten.
This started with a lengthy intro by Commission Chair Marshall McBride. He talked about his concerns when Pat told him that he wanted to retire a year ago. Marshall said that there was a lot going on that Pat was involved in and that Austin had a full plate with his current jobs ( Planning, Administrative Officer, HR) and in getting into the County Manager job.
Marshall said that it was his idea that Pat offer his services to the County in a consulting capacity in order to complete some key projects. He noted Pat’s vast institutional knowledge. He also said that it is not true that Pat will get $28,000 per month like some people have been saying. That he would not be working a 40 hour week. He said that this was a contract no different than what we have Mike Nevin ( former retired Public Works Director) doing in using his knowledge to get us thru the water and sewer projects. That altho the current Public Works Director could probably do it that Mike had the experience to get it done quickly.
Commissioner Carmona stated that he was very confident that Austin could handle the job, that Pat has done a great job but that he does not support the contract.
During public comment, Steve Ayer, VC resident, got up to ask if the county had any policies and procedures in place to deal with issues that may come up with Pat and his LLC. He noted that the turmoil caused to his family by the unjust treatment of Gary Hames by hate groups and the county needed to be avoided in the future. Marshall said that all contractors were treated the same.
Mike Northam, Projects manager, said that he was involved in several projects with Pat and that changing horses in midstream would not be good. That getting a new person up to speed would take time and that continuity was important.
Sam Toll, Gold Hill resident, and editor of The Storey Teller got up to agree with Jay’s sentiments that Austin can handle the job and that Pat is not the only one who can do the projects. He noted that in the past that the Commissioners themselves took on handling of projects and that this commission is fully capable of doing that again. He also asked where in the contract is there a cap to the expenses …he said that he did not see it.
Marshall told Sam that this was Public Comment only…no questions
Sam finished by saying that the way the contract is written Pat could hire a sub-contractor at $15 per hour then charge the county $165 per hour for that work. He urged the commission to let Austin do the job.
Kris Thompson, TRIC and Lance Gilman employee got up to say that he had full confidence in Austin to do the job but that the prior speaker ( Sam Toll) lied about no caps in the contract. Kris went on to cite the $5k limit per project clause which requires commission approval to exceed that amount per project that Pat works on.
Eric Schoen, Community Chest Executive Director said that having the prior director working with the new director, himself, was how they did the transition. That getting the work done what was important not who did the work.
I got up to say that in the many transitions I have been thru that there is a short period of handoff between incoming and outgoing managers and then it’s done they’re gone. That there was ample time since Austin was selected to do that handoff. That if, God forbid, Pat had died in the job that the work would have been handled.
Hugh Gallagher, Comptroller, got up to say that we are a very small organization and that there are still a lot of fiscal activities that need to be done that Pat can help with.
Clay Mitchel, VC resident, stated that it was unclear who had requested this. Marshall responded that it was he that asked Pat to come back. That additional work and projects had come on to the County Managers plate since Austin was hired and he asked Pat to stay on to help.
Austin spoke up to say that he does not see Pat’s contract as a transition issue. That there are projects that are close to completion ( GID/Pipeline/Tesla agreement) and that it is in the best interests of the taxpayers. He also noted that it is a short contract and limited to $5k per project.
Commissioner, brothel owner, TRIC principal, former BLOCKCHAINS consultant, aspiring hemp grower Lance Gilman made a lengthy statement. He said that he had full confidence in Austin but that we have the opportunity to take advantage of Pat’s two decades of experience leading this county during the depths of the recession thru to the developing of TRIC. That Pat has sat in every negotiation and that he’s offering to support our new County Manager. Lance asked why would we turn our backs on this level of help? Millions of dollars are at stake….why would we not utilize his help? He said that it was appalling to him that we wouldn’t consider doing this. He further stated that $165 per hour is minuscule in the world of consultants.
This was approved with Commissioner Carmona saying that there were a lot of good points made but that he was sticking to his original comments and voted NO.
SIDENOTE– First off, yay to Carmona for the no vote. I can’t read his mind as to why he voted this way, I can only report what he said.
If Pat is retiring he needs to RETIRE and Austin should be responsible for getting the work done. If the work needed to be done then Whitten should have pushed out his retirement date to get it done. This pattern of bringing back the highest paid employees immediately after retirement at even higher wages needs to stop. Then, of course, Pat just collected a $100k bonus for staying till June 30th!
Meanwhile, it was a bit confusing. Marshall stated several times that it was his idea for Pat to stay on. And yet..in the June 4th meeting Pat went on to list a meaty and lengthy list of projects and activities that he was currently involved in and that only he can do and suggested that the Commission hire him back as an “LLC” to continue to work on these things after he retires in June.
At no time during that meeting did Marshall speak up to say that he had asked Pat to stay. It’s in the video that Pat said he’ll suggest that the Commission retain him. Humm…who to believe?
Pat’s contract is a bit ambiguous as to what he will work on. Additionally, there is no cap to how much the county can spend with Pat. Most project contracts have a project cost maximum and while Pat’s contract does say a max of $5k project and if more is needed it has to be approved by the commission it doesn’t say the total maximum to be spent on all the work he does. Meaning this could go on for a year and we can spend unlimited funds. This is what Sam Toll was asking about when Kris Thompson called him a liar.
Here are the projects that Pat listed in the June 4th meeting..with my uninformed suggestions as to who can take them on instead of Pat:
–Justice Court project..it’s construction so Mike Northam should be able to do it under Austin…if he needs help you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone with construction experience…Mike Nevin can help here as well
-Tesla agreement..Whitten didn’t get an agreement last year, maybe someone new needs to try this…Austin has been negotiating successfully with Unions for years…I think he can manage this
-TRIGID transition..ADA Loomis can do the heavy legal lifting and Austin and Marshall can manage this process
-USDA and water projects…Mike Nevin is doing this now….put it under Public Works where it belongs
-Natural gas pipeline project….Under Public Works where it belongs
-Brothel overlay /ordinance…the new Planning manager and Austin can do this
-Opportunity Zone implementation……Lance has already done everything else on this let him continue to do this work…conflict of interest to the winds!
-Jeep Posse lease redo ….are you kidding? This is a legal issue…ADA Loomis should do it or give it to our outside counsel.
-implementing 10% water/sewer discounts for those 65 and over….are you kidding? This is Public Works and the flip of a switch with a bit of advertising
But I digress……..
The next key agenda item was the purchase of the V&T Freight Depot for $695,000.
Marshall made a lengthy statement listing some of the history of the Freight Depot. He said that the county’s offer to purchase the depot in 2010-2011 was rejected as too low by the owners. Marshall stated that since his election that he has been in ongoing negotiations with Pierce Powell and Terry Ward for its purchase and that they have now come to an agreement on price. Marshall said that the depot is irreplaceable and needs to be preserved. There are many things that need to be done to preserve it including a new roof and a fire suppression system. The property will add more public parking and the building will act as another event venue.
Commissioner Carmona said that he looked at the property tax revenue that the depot pays and that it’s $4200. He felt that the revenues from tourism would exceed that and said he’d approve the purchase.
Lance said that there are current safety issues that need to be addressed and that the added parking will help to alleviate the congestion in the community when we have big events.
During public comment, I got up to say that this is yet another purchase in the absence of an approved and prioritized Capital Projects or Infrastructure list. I have been asking for this list for months. I noted that there has been a great deal of spending in VC….what about the rest of the county? The Highlands still hasn’t gotten a Community Center, Lockwood Senior Center a kitchen, VC doesn’t have ADA parking and to me, a higher priority is a public transportation system to get people from the parking areas to C street. We have adequate parking all over town what we don’t have is a way to get people from that parking to C street.
I also asked why an appraisal from 2016 was being used to determine the purchase price of the depot when it was stated that a current appraisal no older than 6 months would be required to purchase the Divide. Why the different treatment?
Lastly, I asked if the original agreement with the V&T Rail Commission for a $250k contribution towards the purchase of the depot was still in force….ie do we still get that money?
Steve Ayer, VC resident got up to say that it was a good thing to preserve the depot, that the other areas of the county don’t have historic buildings to preserve. He asked Marshall if the depot would be subject to the SHPO rules and Marshall said yes, that it would have to comply with historic standards and Pierce Powells request to do so.
Elaine Spencer V&T Rail Commission Executive Director, as well as Stan Jones V&T Rail Commission Board Chair, got up to support the purchase.
VCTC Executive Director Deny Dotson said that these purchases are paying off. That the Freight Depot will provide another big venue in addition to Pipers for larger events. This will be a big draw and lure for more business for the town.
Clay Mitchel VC resident asked how this purchase, as well as the others, fit into the overall Master Plan. He noted that the county had purchased the Gold Hill Depot with same aspirations and that it doesn’t seem to be used much. He asked what the County’s capacity is to run all of these operations and when will enough be enough. He also agreed that VC is in need of a transportation plan.
Austin responded to Clay that the Master Plan does have this in there in multiple areas. That the transportation plan written in 1990 and the plan to cluster cars in parking areas and off C street is still valid today and needs to be executed. Austin also noted that there are efforts moving forward on other community projects such as the Highlands Community Center, county maintenance of Lousetown and Cartwright Roads, funding USGS water monitoring in the Highlands for the fourth year, the commissioning of the Marlette water study, the Peri Ranch Road improvements, and flood projects in Mark Twain and Lockwood.
Additionally, Austin said that they will be working on the Capital Improvement Plan thru a strategic plan.
Hugh Gallagher reported that the funds for the purchase would come from the unused portion of the Rail Bond issued in 2010, monies left over from the $235k fine on Toy’s R Us for pulling out of TRIC years ago and that Rail Commission monies.
SIDENOTE– First of all I am glad that Pierce and Terry have agreed to a price with the County given that the county lowballed them so badly with the first offer and Marshall opined in a commission meeting that Eminent Domain might be needed. I want them to be able to sell the Depot and live happy lives in their retirements. I am also thankful for the County’s efforts to look at and help solve water problems in the Highlands and Mark Twain…I’ve said that before.
While I don’t object to this particular purchase I do object to the County doing these purchases “opportunistically” in VC’s favor in the absence of a PUBLIC and prioritized plan incorporating the entire county. VC seems to always be prioritized first …..I love you VC but really….there are other children in this family!
HERE is the article I wrote in 2015 the last time the Infrastructure plan saw the light of day in meeting discussions …look at what was on it…. about 85% was VC. I asked about the rest of the county in that meeting as well. Nothing changed since then…..HERE is the most recent 2017 plan…….not much change…….Do you think it will change now?
Back of the envelope calculation on some of the real estate purchases by the county just in the last two to three years is about $4 million and thats just what I can remember off the top of my head. The Divide and Courthouse parking lot was $2.3 million dollars alone, not counting the Divide refurb. The Highlands asked for a community center years ago we’re nowhere on that 2017 plan.
The infrastructure/capital plans are long range plans, VC seems to be on the short part of the range ….how far out on that range is the rest of the county?
Meanwhile I got a response from Austin on my question about the dated appraisal from 2016 and he emailed me an NRS which didn’t seem to answer my question about why it isn’t a recent appraisal and he referred my question to the DA’s office….which is where these requests go to die…..
But I digress…….
The next item was approval to sell the Crystal Bar. The VCTC owns and has the Visitor Center in the Crystal. They need Commission approval to sell it. They want to build a new Visitors Center on the site of the old Black and Howell building which they also own. They need the proceeds ( $385k) from the sale of the Crystal to start the work on the new building. There is a stipulation in the sale which requires the buyer to lease it back to the VCTC for at least one year.
There was a bit of confusion on this item as to whether they were voting to sell it, to buy it, or approve the amount for either.
Jay said he’s happy to get it back on the tax rolls. Marshall said that he thinks that the $385k appraised value is too low.
Steve Ayer, VC resident, and real estate broker said that he was confused. Typically you put a property on the market, get offers then get an appraisal…which typically come in low but your sale is higher than the appraisal. In this case, there is already the appraisal which will set the price and you won’t get more than the appraisal.
They unanimously voted to approve for the VCTC to sell it at no less than the appraised value.
SIDENOTE- I predict that the county will end up buying it. Then the county will help build the new Visitors Center thru a loan to the VCTC. Just a guess.
During Public Comment at the end of the meeting Sam Toll Gold Hill resident and editor of The Storey Teller once again asked that the Commission to put Public Comment back at the beginning of the meeting. He said that by making people wait until the end of the meeting to bring up issues or questions it sends the message that “ the people come last”. He said that Commissioner Carmona ran his election as a man representing the people and Sam had hoped that he would have taken this on. He then handed Austin Osborn a request to put the topic on a future agenda to discuss.
Sam then said that he hoped that with Austin that there would be a new chapter in Storey County. One of greater transparency. He said that he currently had 7 very old public records requests sitting in the DA’s office with no response. He noted that the lack of response and opacity that it represents makes it look like the county has something to hide from the public. He hoped that Austin would be more transparent.
Kris Thompson, TRIC and Lance Gilman employee got up to say that people get their items on the commission agenda and wait their turn until that topic comes up and that Sam Toll wants to “elbow them out of the way” by making other people come first on the agenda.
He went on to say that Sam Toll is the last person to talk about transparency since he has a case before the supreme court for his lack of disclosing information.
Despite being a former lawyer it doesn’t seem that Kris Thompson understands agendas or the First Amendment.
Public Comment is included on the agenda after each agenda item to discuss ONLY those agenda items…you can’t talk about anything else at that time or Marshall will have you disemboweled for his own entertainment.
So…if a citizen wants to bring up an item NOT on the agenda they have to wait until the “general” Public Comment time at the end of the meeting to do it. The Agenda used to have Public Comment at the beginning and at the end of the agenda so that citizens could get up first to ask their questions or bring up their issues then get out of there and go back to their jobs.
Since it was at the beginning of the meeting they knew approximately when they could speak and when they would get out. Putting Public Comment only at the end of the meeting discourages people from addressing the commission since no one knows how long the meeting will last and you have to wait it out till the end. These meetings have gone for 5 hours.
People need to get back to their jobs and lives ….this is what Sam means by “putting people last”……Then of course…items on the agenda are mostly county business items and some outsiders who are accommodated by being put at the top of the agenda so they can get back to their businesses. Kris doesn’t seem to understand this.
Then the issue of Sam and the ( Nevada) Supreme Court. Well, Kris’s employer Lance Gilman is suing Sam for defamation, he wants to know where Sam got his information saying that Lance doesn’t really LIVE in Storey County…he wanted Sam to tell him. Sam is a journalist and protected from divulging sources thru the first amendment and case law. Sam told Lance nothing because he wants to protect his sources. Lance disputes that Sam is a journalist, a District Court judge says that Sam is a journalist based on strange criteria and so it’s gone to the Nevada Supreme Court to decide. If Kris can’t keep this straight I feel sorry for his boss.
Wow…..back to the meeting….
Louise Pena, Lockwood resident got up to comment to the Commission on how well they work, that she likes that public comment is at the end, that’s what they do at the HOA…people just get up to complain anyway.
Clay Mitchell VC resident got up to say that the county can buy his property anytime.