By Gary Cook
Ely Times Publisher
In 2011, Marty Westland and Dale Derbidge were elected to the Ely City Council. Three new members, Bruce Setterstrom, Marion “Sam” Hanson and Randy Lee (Tammy Carlgren appointed to fill Randy’s vacancy), were elected in 2013. These are all good people. Being a Councilman is a tough job but sometimes people just don’t mesh as a good “team.”
Events and personal interests enter into the picture. You can lose focus of what your mission truly is. I believe this may have happened with our current city council. Since the election in 2013, it truly appears the council has failed to function as a cohesive board.
When an agenda item sponsored by a new councilman failed, it was repeatedly reintroduced effectively disrupting council business. It appears to have started in earnest with the first order of business to get rid of the City Clerk. This action was vetoed by Mayor Hickman, only to be overturned by the council.
Several long-term employees exited in support of the City Clerk. Their sacrifice of retirement and benefits may or may not speak volumes to the working conditions under that newly elected city council.
Perhaps it was indeed necessary to replace the City Clerk, but obviously Mayor Hickman had a different opinion. The new City Clerk, Robert Switzer, appears to be an outstanding, well organized individual. The council thinks so and elevated him to City Administrator, with a substantial pay increase. But with all due respect to Mr. Switzer, does the City of Ely need an administrator and how do you justify such a promotion after only several months on the job?
Many of the council’s actions seem to have started a downward spiral in the day-to-day operations of the City of Ely. Within a very short period of time, additional employees were run off. The city departments appeared to be in turmoil and even had a threat of possible charges of a hostile work environment levied against management and the council. These are very serious allegations for a public entity and can have grave financial consequences!
The city council’s primary focus appeared to turn from overseeing the city’s operations to targeting the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation and Management Board. This lack of focus seems to be proven by their budget deficiencies, lack of report filing, and inconsistent actions to manage the city’s fiscal resources.
In fairness, some of these problems may also be tied to the situation with the previous clerk, but there was definitely a shift to target the railroad. The city’s FY 13-14 audit was due to be delivered by the end of November per N.R.S. The auditor, on behalf of the city, requested an extension through the end of December. It appears this extension was more a timing issue to attempt to have the forensic “audit” delivered before the city’s audit.
An example of the council’s attempts to undermine the railroad is evident in their choice to break in to the railroad offices on a day when the railroad was closed and the executive director was on vacation. There is absolutely no way to justify this kind of action. It’s beyond unprofessional and makes no sense.
Another example: Judge Rose’s findings expressed his concern regarding the City Council’s actions by attempting to remove White Pine Historical Railroad Board members. He indicated the railroad executive director and management board were doing a good job and cautioned the council to not “kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”
He also cautioned the council of possible additional “ethics” violations that could still be forthcoming. But it seems that instead of sitting down with the Railroad Management Board to iron out their issues, the council now feels more empowered and appears to have renewed their “perceived vendetta” against the railroad.
The latest request requiring the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation Management Board and Executive Director to provide copies of management board minutes from inception to the present by May 1, 2015 seems to prove that. This is almost 30 years worth of records and is a ridiculous request especially when considering the railroad is gearing up to open its 2015 season.
Can the City of Ely provide 30 years of minutes? Can they provide 30 years of personnel records? They could not present their yearly audit on time, so it’s very doubtful at best.
In regard to this request from the council here are several points to ponder:
*What purpose does this serve?
*What benefit does this provide to the citizens and taxpayers of Ely?
*The White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation Management Board and Executive Director are not employees of the City of Ely, so who is funding the extra staff time and how?
*Who funded the forensic “audit”?
*The Forensic Auditor told the council to look forward, not behind them. Is the Council capable of doing that?
The bottom line is the council should get back to the business of Ely. The “Forensic Audit” was completely unnecessary. The cost of the audit was $26,705.78, which far exceeded the original budgeted amount of $10,000.
The city’s books and the railroad’s books are audited by the same firm. These reports come out each year and the council has complete access to the audit. So why the forensic audit? Again, the reality is that all they ever really needed to do was to sit down and work out an arrangement and the “forensic” auditor said as much.
Does anyone really believe the council didn’t know the arrangement with S&S Short Line, especially after Mike Williams (from S&S) came to speak with them?
Williams said the council’s response created additional roadblocks and he felt they had little interest in what he had to say despite the fact he came here to specifically speak with them.
Other questions that need to be considered:
*Why was there a hastily called “special meeting” called when the council voted to buy the property on Campton? Would this not be an item that would appear on a regular agenda? Why the rush?
*Why are requests under the Freedom of Information Act being ignored?
*Were the city’s requirements to deposit withholdings, retirement and benefit payments made when required by law?
*Did the taxpayers pay interest and penalties for late filings?
*Are our water wells safe?
*How much has the city’s attorney fees increased over the past two years from this council’s actions and/or inactions?
These are questions that you may have a hard time getting answers to from the present city council and that’s a shame.
In my opinion, we have too many “personal interests” at play on this council and to be fair, that’s not always a bad thing. But this council has not really shown great progress as it relates to the City of Ely.
Yes, we have additional (and many unnecessary) stop signs all over the city. The city looks better, but our roads need much work. Granted, this does take time, but shouldn’t these issues be the focus of our council. Insuring clean drinking water, better roads and presenting the city in a better light, rather than hasty meetings and beating on the railroad, which, contrary to one councilman’s view, does INDEED bring tourists and tourism dollars to Ely and White Pine County.
The railroad has been here for 109 years and the incorporated city has stood strong for 112 years. Can either one or both withstand another two years under the present city council?
Obviously, personalities can clash and it’s quite evident in this case that they have. Personal agendas need to be set aside. The council and the railroad management need to sit down and work out their differences.
Now it is up to you, the citizens of Ely. I believe it is time to exercise your right to VOTE to either change or stay the course of “your” City Council. If you don’t VOTE, you cannot complain about the direction that the city of Ely takes.
That’s my “Point of View”. Now it’s time for you to express your “Point of View”. Get out and VOTE on April 7.