Councilman went in through window
Members of the Ely City Council and Railroad Board of Trustees entered a closed railroad office through the building’s second floor windows Tuesday afternoon in order to unlock the front door to let an auditor inside.
According to Ely Mayor Melody Van Camp, the auditor came up from Las Vegas on Tuesday to begin gathering documentation for a forensic audit approved by the council at a prior meeting.
As per the railroad’s posted hours, the museum and offices were closed all day Tuesday and the Railroad’s Executive Director Mark Bassett was on vacation. After several attempts to contact Bassett on short notice to open the office’s doors for the auditor failed to receive a reply, the members of the council moved onto finding another means of entry to the building.
After receiving permission from both White Pine County Sheriff Dan Watts and City Attorney Richard Sears, Councilman Bruce Setterstrom proceeded to climb a ladder up to the second story balcony of the railroad’s offices and enter through a window by removing an air conditioning unit.
Once inside, Setterstrom came downstairs and unlocked the front door, allowing the mayor and the auditor to gain entrance to the building. City Councilman Marty Westland was also present for the auditor’s entrance into the building and remained inside while the auditor gathered the documentation.
“This is the only way to get easy information,” Van Camp said, calling the whole incident, “not a big deal.”
Bassett didn’t agree, calling the entrance a “break-in.” Referring back to a recent restraining order filed by the railroad’s management board, Bassett called the forensic audit a “moot point” due to it being “agendized improperly and never given public comment.”
The executive director criticized the council members methods, saying that Setterstrom and Van Camp tried to harass railroad employees into opening the locked doors.
“They elected to break into the building,” Bassett said. “They knew we were closed today. (Setterstrom) threatened two of my employees here. We filed a police report on his actions.”
The police report filed also included a threat by Setterstrom against The Ely Times reporter, who arrived while the council members and the auditor were in the building.
Once inside, Nicholas Miller, the auditor representing the auditing firm Bertsch, CPA & Associates, LLP, plugged into computers within the office to gather the documentation. Van Camp said that communication issues with the management board were to blame for the late notice of the auditor’s visit.
“I knew that the train was closed but I knew there would be somebody around. No management board, nobody will talk to any of us. The management board members communications were blocked, they won’t respond, they won’t talk, they won’t do anything,” Van Camp said. “So we could not alert them to say that our auditor was coming.”
Vice-Chairman of the Railroad Management Board Roger Bowers refuted the mayor’s claims of being inaccessible, saying that he had “never received anything from the mayor.”
Scott Husbands, the lawyer representing the railroad management board, said a “court would have to look over” whether or not Setterstrom was legally allowed entrance to the building, despite the city attorney and sheriff’s approval.
Husbands, whose firm Gianoli Husbands PLLC partnered with an Elko law firm Goicoechea, DiGrazia, Coyle and Stanton to draft and eventually file a lawsuit on behalf of the railroad management board suing the city council and board of trustees, said that “common sense” would have shown that not enough notice was given for the auditor’s visit Tuesday.
“There wasn’t any notice. The railroad was closed on Tuesday, like it always is on Tuesdays and Mark was on vacation,” Husband said. “For them to just show up to the depot, unannounced, when the depot is closed and expect it to be opened and expect someone to show up and sit with them while they go through those things to see what they are taking, we just didn’t have a chance to do that. They just decided to break in.”
Tuesday night’s events follow a crowded city council meeting held on Aug. 28, where the council and railroad board of trustees appointed two new members to the railroad management board, Judy O’Brien and Terry Walker. A controversial agenda item to release the other three remaining members of the board was tabled until the council’s next meeting, due to the pending lawsuit by the board.
According to Van Camp, the immediacy with which the auditor was summoned to Ely was largely due to a former railroad employee releasing information to the trustees and the auditor himself.
“This former employee was very passionate, and just really upset and felt like the new management board members needed to know of some things,” Van Camp said, who would not release the identity of the former employee or what they might have said that sparked the auditor traveling up to town on Tuesday.