By Mark Bassett

Executive Director, NNRY

Yesterday, Mayor Van Camp, Trustees Setterstrom and Westland accessed the offices of the Nevada Northern Railway building by removing the air conditioners from the windows on the second floor of the building. I discovered that the air-conditioners in the all of the offices had been removed, three in total.  They hacked the railroad’s financial computer and downloaded its contents. The railroad is closed on Tuesdays and there were only two employees on site.

The Mayor sent out a letter on August 29th stating, “The Trustees and I want to gain a full understanding of the Railroad’s finances; the Trustees’ Liaisons to the Management Board – Trustees Hanson and Westland -will be working closely with the forensic auditors to accomplish this. In connection with the forensic audit, please find enclosed Bertsch, CPA & Associates’ Document Requests, which I expect to be fulfilled within seven working days of this letter’s date.  The City Council and I are passionate about finding a positive conclusion to our concerns and hopeful the Management Board will work with us. It is in all of our best interests to promote the Railroad’s continued success.  Let’s all work together this time to accelerate towards a solution.” This letter is contrary to the Mayor’s actions yesterday, September 2, where she ambushed the railroad to demand access to our records without any reasonable notice.

The first notice that I received that the Mayor and the Trustees wanted access to the building was 12:18 pm on September 2, when the Mayor texted me with a request for access. I replied, “Our attorneys will be getting a hold of you and Rich Sears.” (I should note that September 2 was the first day of a long overdue vacation.) In fact, I told Judy O’Brien, who the Mayor had appointed to the Management Board, that I would be on vacation starting September 2.

At 2:58 pm, I received a text from Trustee Setterstrom, “Mark, i will need the door open asap please have someone open it” I received a second text at 3:20 pm, “Mark i don’t want to break window need it open now” I was at the railroad’s attorney’s office when Trustee Setterstrom’s text came in.

At 4:54 pm, I received a call from our attorney that the Mayor and Trustees Setterstrom and Westland had accessed the building without a representative of the railroad present and that their forensic auditor was downloading the hard drive from the railroad’s accounting computer. Now the accounting computer is not working correctly. Who will be paying for the repairs?

So, for the Mayor and the Trustees “to gain a full understanding of the Railroad’s finances” they broke into the railroad’s offices on a day that the railroad was closed. Yet in her letter the Mayor says, “It is in all of our best interests to promote the Railroad’s continued success.” In my opinion, these actions do not promote the railroad’s continued success.

For thirty years the success of the railroad has been in doubt. Through the extraordinary efforts of its members, volunteers, and staff it has survived and even more incredibly thrived! Buildings have been saved from collapse, steam locomotives rebuilt, track and railroad crossings rebuilt. Streets have been paved, the plaza rebuilt and street lights have been installed. And how much did these improvements cost the taxpayers of Ely? Not one red cent. All of these improvements were paid for with donations, grants, memberships, room tax revenue and ticket revenue. So what does the City of Ely provide? They pay our insurance, approximately $26,000 per year.

All money that comes into the railroad is accounted for to the penny. The books are reviewed by me, our accountant and board members. Every month the Management Board receives a comprehensive financial report that includes our bills due, a balance sheet, the previous month’s profit and loss statement and the year to date profit and loss statement. The financial reports are discussed at our monthly board meetings.

Then annually, our books are reviewed by auditors that were hired by the City of Ely. Our audit is a public record. If you would like a copy of our most recent audit, contact me and I would be happy to provide it. And ironically, the City’s auditors already had a copy of our books when the City’s elected officials took it upon themselves to access our offices while the building was closed, by climbing up a ladder, through the second floor windows.

So what has the Management Board, the staff and volunteers accomplished? Since 1984, the community has put its economic future in the railroad. Since 2002, the railroad experienced a renaissance. Ridership has increased 145%. Operational income went from $256,099 to $1,517,052. Locomotives and tracks have repaired. Buildings have been saved from collapse and preserved. Utilities have also been repaired or replaced as needed.

Prior to 2002, the assets of the Foundation were never inventoried, nor were a value assigned to the assets. In 2003, the Foundation’s assets were determined to be $7,622,927. Since that time and through the worse economic times that our country has seen since 1929, the Foundation was able to increase the value of its assets to $8,364,457, an increase of $741,530.

In Fiscal Years 2000, 2001 and 2002 the Foundation suffered substantial financial losses. The amount of the loss was $1,271,141. The Foundation was able to stop the losses. In the past ten years, the Foundation only suffered four years of losses. Even including the four years of losses, the overall change in net assets was an increase of $2,256,919.

The Foundation has been able to receive substantial grants. In the period from 2002 through 2012 the Foundation received $4,441,880 in grants. All of the figures presented are from the audit financial statements of the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation, Inc.

But all of the accomplishments may be for nothing. The railroad is very fragile. We depend on the goodwill of granters, donors and members. The fees that we charge our visitors are not enough to cover operations and preserve the complex. The actions of the Mayor and the City Council can jeopardize that good will. If that should happen, then it is the end of not only this Nevada treasure but also this national treasure.