Ely Times Staff Writer
The Ely City Council agreed to schedule a meeting with the railroad management board to discuss the creation of a new “ad-hoc” committee at its meeting on Feb. 13. The new committee would combine members of the council, management board and community to oversee the railroad operations.
Executive Director for the Nevada Northern Railway Mark Bassett praised the city council’s decision for a more collaborative approach for oversight.
“The joint meeting is an excellent idea and the ad-hoc committee is another excellent idea,” Basset said.
The city council had been investigating four red flags pointed out in an audit of he railroad’s finances. One of the main issues the council and the audit found was Bassett’s loan of more than $72,000 to the railroad that had yet to be paid back. After having been discussed at the two previous council meetings, Bassett and his legal council provided the council members with a repayment plan that would eventually pay off the loan over several years, using money strictly from the historical railroad foundation.
While the repayment plan is still pending approval, councilman Bruce Setterstrom said it was a step in the right direction to correcting the issues found by the audit.
“When it is all said and done, the railroad will go back to running like normal and the four red flags will have been taken care of,” Setterstrom said.
Another issue was the railroads segregation of duties, which was listed as a “significant deficiency” by the auditors, was addressed at the meeting.
Bassett again handed out a plan to the council that detailed a new list of procedures he says his staff has been following since the beginning of the year that would segregate the duties of handling money through a system of checks and balances. According to Bassett, the auditors said this new plan would resolve the issue if it’s followed by him and his staff.
Setterstrom said while he was glad to see the red flags being addressed, he remains frustrated by Bassett and the railroad management board for not addressing these issues earlier and for blowing the city’s involvement in the process out of proportion.
“As soon as we started questioning the red flags that the auditors put up, smokescreens started flying every, to take the attention off of the problem of the four red flags,”
Setterstrom said. “My whole problem is, if the management board had taken care of these problems in the past, the city council would have never gotten involved. When an auditor sends the city problems and it isn’t handled by the railroad management board then the city council is going to step in and say ‘Hey, fix this.’”
Railroad volunteer Don Purington said he wished the city council had reached out to the management board sooner out of “common courtesy,” but the decision to meet with the management board was a “move in the right direction.”
In the opening public comment section of the meeting, Setterstrom’s wife Pat said she was angry that the council meeting was held in the Ely Central Theater due to Purington’s involvement running it.
She called the environment “hostile” since Purington had recently filed a Nevada Open Meeting Law complaint to the attorney general against her husband among other city councilmen for allegedly deliberating illegally as a public body. Setterstrom also said Purington helped spread rumors through the theater’s Facebook page that the city council wanted to shut the railroad down.
“No matter what building the meeting would have been in, I would have been there. I guess I make every building hostile because they disagree with my position,” Purington said.
Mayor Jon Hickman said that he moved the meeting from the armory to the theater out of necessity to seat the large amount of people who came out to attend.