By Marion J. (Sam) Hanson
Ely City Council
In the “Point of View” Op/Ed piece in the Ely Times edition of 3 April 2015, Simon and Garfunkel perhaps best summed up the author’s approach in the lyrics to their song The Boxer—“a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” Any objective follower of events—especially those who have attended the meetings in which the referenced Ely City Council decisions were made—cannot fail to notice the absence of any serious effort to address the City Council’s reasons for their actions.
The author first states that “these are all good people,” then opines that “sometimes people just don’t mesh as a good team.” Besides raising the obvious question to just what extent should a city council function as a team, I find it difficult to understand how this City Council can be accused of not functioning as a “team,” particularly when the majority of its decisions are reached unanimously. That presents a feat all the more noteworthy as the Nevada Open Meeting Law prevents us from discussing those issues with more than one other member prior to a vote. Unlike previous city councils and administrations, the work of this council has been done without personal acrimony between members of the council themselves and/or the council and City administration. In the past, council work sometimes involved threats of and actual physical altercations. But that inconsistency sets the tone for the remainder of the Op/Ed piece.
The author asserts this council has lost the focus of its mission, and has failed to function as a cohesive board. First, in the oath of office I took, I did solemnly swear that I would “support, protect and defend the Constitution and Government of the United States, and the Constitution and government of the State of Nevada, against all enemies, whether domestic or foreign, and that I will bear true faith, allegiance and loyalty to the same, any ordinance, resolution or law of any state notwithstanding, and that I would well and faithfully perform all the duties of the office of a member of the Ely City Council.” I see that as the focus of my mission as a member of the City Council and I have seen no evidence whatsoever that any of those with whom I have served on this Ely City Council have taken any other view.
Second, when credible allegations of misfeasance, malfeasance, and nonfeasance in one’s position, or allegations concerning the misuse of public money, or acts of insubordination by subordinate employees, indeed all persons for whose inappropriate actions the City Council holds ultimate responsibility are brought to our attention, it would constitute a dereliction of duty to not investigate them, and take the action deemed appropriate—especially with and/or upon the advice of legal counsel. This we have done. Such actions will make some people very unhappy—but failure on our part to act would make even more people unhappy. More importantly, we would have failed our oath of office.
Third, while noting several personnel issues have arisen in the last two years, the author fails to note that in each instance when the matters were brought to the attention of the City Council corrective action was taken as expeditiously as possible and those issues have been addressed and rectified. “A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest.”
Fourth, in the ongoing effort to make the City Administration more responsible to the public it serves and more efficient in its operations, a number of changes have been implemented which have resulted in far more positive comments from those interacting with city hall than has been noted for quite some time. From those comments I cannot see how that has created a “downward spiral” in day-to-day operations. An official city website with useful information and online payment options highlights the present council’s commitment to make interactions with the citizens easier. The marked professionalism of the new City Administrator has likewise established a new and welcome realization that the City has taken the position that all citizens—and employees—will be treated with tact and courtesy. His salary increase merely brought him to a level comparable to others who have previously occupied the top position in City administration—I feel it was well worth the investment.
Fifth, by stating there was a shift to “target the railroad” the author seems to forget the City Council wears two hats; the attention directed at the railroad has run concomitantly since the beginning of this Board of Trustees’ tenure and represents no “shift” in focus. Further, if the Management Board had forwarded to the City Council/Board of Trustees the information requested—many long months before the forensic investigation was authorized—none of the ensuing events would have transpired.
One can only conclude the results of the forensic investigation mean little if anything to the author and those who share his opinion. Those results reveal the fact the railroad is in debt at least a quarter of million dollars—and possibly more—and to finance its operations it has borrowed heavily without approval of the debt management board as required by NRS, it has bounced eighty to ninety checks per year for the last two years, that its “unrestricted” assets consist of the non-revisionary property that would be extremely difficult to sell to pay off its debts, and a host of other irregularities. I’m sorry for those who feel otherwise, but this information means a great deal to me, and to a vast majority of Ely citizens who have spoken to me about these issues. The response the City has received from the Management Board can most charitably be described as “dilatory,” and that’s to say nothing of the litigation to stop the forensic investigation, now an utterly pointless and expensive exercise because the investigation it sought to prevent has been completed. Moreover, the true state of the railroad’s finances obviously was not available in the previous routine audits; and as noted, the Management Board went to great and litigious lengths to keep that information from surfacing. The City Council/Board of Trustees has been more than willing to meet with the Management Board as the article repeatedly encourages. Does not the author realize the Management Board has to be willing to meet with us? Of course, there also remains the issue that these groups legally cannot communicate with each other on many of the issues raised in the Op/Ed piece while the litigation begun by the Management Board continues. In as much as the Management Board initiated that litigation, if they were really interested in meeting to resolve those issues, they would drop their litigation so such a meeting could legally transpire! Again, “a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”
Sixth, as for the “alleged” unprofessionalism of the necessity to enter into a building to which the City Council/Board of Trustees has every right to enter, the failure of the railroad personnel to provide access leaves very little choice to access the documents which Judge Rose pointed out—and to which Management Board Chair Mr. Gianoli even agreed under oath—the City Council/Board of Trustees has a perfect right to access. The choice of day when the facility was closed was selected specifically to avoid disruption to operations. It should also be pointed out that Mr. Mark Bassett was at his home, across the street, during the entire incident but obviously did not want to cooperate by letting the City’s duly authorized representatives enter the facility.
A final thought on the railroad debacle: the author might not remember hearing it during the meeting last month to present the investigation’s findings, but Mr. Bertsch told the City Council/Board of trustees that he would not want to be sitting in our seats when what he has now famously identified as the “going out of business curve” materializes, an event he assured us looms only a few months away if immediate action on all issues raised to correct the numerous problems fails to transpire. Can one seriously believe the Management Board wanted that information made public? What reason can otherwise exist to explain why they fought its being brought to light by spending thousands of dollars on now pointless—but ongoing—litigation? What other choice did the City Council/Board of Trustees have when their repeated requests for the information disclosing the actual financial status of the railroad were repeatedly ignored?
Seventh, concerning the issues surrounding city hall, I am persuaded that the absence of ADA compliance alone justifies the immediate consideration of a different locale in which to house city administrative offices. The presence of asbestos, even “contained” raises serious health questions to my mind. As a city we are fortunate no one has filed a complaint, or taken other legal action. In addition, the lack of a suitable meeting place for City meetings compels me to believe the situation warrants our immediate attention—including the necessity of holding special meetings if needed. I regret necessary information concerning the cost of proposed modifications was not obtained in a sufficiently timely manner to make a decision possible while maintaining compliance with the Open Meeting Laws. As a result I moved to strike the item from the agenda.
Eighth, the Op/Ed addressed issues surrounding the actions or lack thereof of previous city employees concerning deposit withholdings for employee benefits, safety of the municipal water supply, etc. which for the most part are recounted in minutes of City Council meetings, and are otherwise confidential personnel file matters which I am not at liberty to discuss. Those also fall into the category of issues which have been addressed and rectified—again a point ignored by the author—“a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”
Ninth, I take full responsibility for starting the present situation with stop signs. Contrary to what some may think, we on the City Council do not stay awake at nights contemplating new locations for stop signs. My original agenda item was to return a stop sign to a location from which it had been removed improperly—at the request of a citizen of Ely. That action has led to several other citizens asking for stop signs to be installed or removed. I appreciate the recent direction to solicit input from the Sheriff’s Department concerning the future disposition of traffic signs within the city; however, I reserve the right to represent the interests of my constituents.
Tenth, as to the allegation the members of the present City Council have “too many personal interests,” and while the author admits that “it’s not always a bad thing,” I would observe that all of the preceding issues have more than occupied the majority of my efforts during my tenure on the City Council; I would like to state my personal interest is in doing the best job I can in accordance with the afore-referenced oath of office. As such, I look forward to resolving the situation with the railroad, proceeding with the best course of action concerning the present city hall, and focusing on what I feel presents the most serious issue confronting us: economic development and diversification. As much as I am alarmed at the other issues raised here, no issue concerns me as much as a statistic I recently heard: it costs our mines $4.25 to produce a pound of copper, but per the Ely Times it sells only for about $2.75 a pound (ibid. page 2-A). There we have an issue upon which I would hope everyone can agree: without serious, timely attention to our economic position, no tourist attractions—whether the railroad, our abundant hunting and growing fishing opportunities, or our gateway status to Great Basin National Park—will mitigate the financial catastrophe which will befall this community when it can no longer rely on mining.
The “bottom line” according to the author is that the City Council should get back to the business of Ely. I feel that represents exactly what the present City Council has been doing. I also feel the Ely Times should get back to its bottom line of “serving White Pine County (since 1920)” as its masthead proudly proclaims. I know of no reputable newspaper which fails to intone its opinion as it sees fit, which falls within its right and indeed its obligation to its readers; but I also know of no reputable newspaper that neglects from the point of fairness to at least attempt to present the opposing sides of an issue. There was no effort made to present a fair and reasonably unbiased assessment of the performance of the current City Council in its 3 April Op/Ed piece “point of view.” It is my “point of view” that the Ely Times has, sadly, utterly failed to “serve the needs of White Pine County.” Rather, it has taken the position of serving the needs of those who believe that the railroad is the single most important thing in Ely. I disagree. While the railroad represents a tremendous investment of time and love on the part of many, many devoted volunteers it does not represent the most important thing in or about Ely, it is only one of many desirable aspects of Ely and the disproportionate amount of attention it has required from the City Council has not helped the long-term future and wellbeing of Ely. To ignore the railroad’s continued financial and management difficulties or pretend they are not as serious as the forensic investigation states is to court inevitable and impending disaster. But then, “a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”
Publisher’s Note: The opinion expressed in the 4/3/15 Point of View was my personal opinion and not necessarily the opinion of the Ely Times.