Special meeting called for after botched nominations

Around five hours into a well attended meeting of the Ely City Council, after an hour of public comment and several hours of interviews, it came time for Mayor Melody Van Camp to make her first big decision of the night: who to nominate for John Gianoli’s seat on the Nevada Northern Railroad’s management board.  Before her lied several options, including nominating Gianoli to another four  year term, to nominate someone new, or to take no action and let things stay unchanged for an indeterminate time period. But to the surprise and confusion of some in attendance, she attempted a fourth option.

“I wanted to see if I could nominate Gianoli to a 90 day term limit, and then reevaluate how things are going after that,” Van Camp said inside of her Sew Krazy shop in Downtown Ely on the Monday following the meeting.

The proposed action was shot down by City Attorney Chuck Odgers, though the mayor still found a way to get what she wanted. The mayor decided to take no action on Gianoli’s seat, leaving him in place until the the council and railroad trustees, one in the same, decide to revisit the issue. According to the mayor, that time might be similar to the 90 day window she was looking to impose originally.

Next on the agenda was Roger Bower’s seat on the board. Van Camp nominated Sean Pitts, a historian who gives tours at the state-run East  Ely Railroad Museum. The railroad board of trustees shot down the nomination 3-2, with Jolene Gardner, Pat Robison and Keith Carson forming the majority “nay” votes. Bruce Setterstrom and Sam Hanson were the two “yes” votes.

A special meeting has been set to redo the Railroad management board nominations at the Volunteer Fire Hall on Oct. 19 at 6 p.m. (Garrett Estrada photo)

A special meeting has been set to redo the Railroad management board nominations at the Volunteer Fire Hall on Oct. 19 at 6 p.m.
(Garrett Estrada photo)

So once again the mayor  was presented with a choice, selecting another candidate to fill the seat or to take no action. Again, she tried something different, this time at the suggestion of the city attorney. The mayor vetoed the vote on Pitts, assuming it would give him the position. Van Camp opted for the veto once more for the final seat, attempting to overturn a 3-2 “no” vote for former city councilman Dale Derbidge to replace Randy Larson on the management board. Her final veto came after other nominated candidates Brad Simpson and Michelle Ashcraft were both voted down 3-2 with only Setterstrom and Hanson again voting yes to approve the nominations.

Each time the mayor issued a veto on the trustees votes, those in attendance at the meeting would look around at those in the room, some scratching their heads. People were confused. How could she nominate someone, then veto it when the board of trustees don’t approve it?

As it turns out, she couldn’t. And the whole thing is going to happen again.

Odgers admitted after the meeting that he was mistaken in thinking that the mayor could veto the actions of the trustees. As addressed  in NRS 266.200, “the mayor may exercise the right to veto upon all matters passed by the city council,” leaving her no right to veto an action that failed to “pass.”

In fact, the mayor has no power to influence whether or not the candidates she nominates for the board’s seats make it past the trustee vote. The issue is described in detail in the Articles of Incorporation of the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation, “the members of the governing board of this corporation shall be styled trustees, and they shall be five [5] in number until either by [1] amendment to the Articles of Incorporation, or [2] the adoption of By-laws, and from time-to-time, amendments thereto increasing or decreasing the number of trustees, but in no case shall the number of trustees be smaller than five.” As the railroad management board’s attorney Scott Husbands pointed out, the word mayor is never brought up in that paragraph.

But Husbands has far deeper concerns about the entire nomination process the city employed at the Oct. 8 meeting inside the convention center than just the invalid vetoes. Husbands said that the interviewing section of the meeting, which comprised the bulk of the meeting time before the nominations was unfair. Some candidates, such as chairman of the board John Gianoli were subjected to a myriad of questions that went on for over 45 minutes, where other candidates, such as former city councilman Randy Lee, was asked two or three questions.

According to Husbands, the way the interviews were handled was all wrong.

The candidates were all supposed to be asked the same questions in the same manner and the candidates that were not being interviewed were supposed to not be in the room during the other candidates’ interviews, so they wouldn’t be able to hear the questions in advance. The eight candidates that were called up to interview for one of the three open seats  were: Michelle Ashcraft, Roger Bowers (over the phone), Dale Derbidge, John Gianoli, Randy larson, Randy Lee, Sean Pitts and Brad Simpson. Each candidate was interviewed one by one in alphabetical order of their last names, with the other candidates sitting in the room.

Van Camp said that she felt the interviews went fine and that she tried to ask each candidate the same question, which was if they would be a “representative, supporter or questioner,” on the management board.

Husbands objected to the mayor’s claims, calling into question why Pat Robison’s question to Dale Derbidge about whether or not he has ethics violations against him was deemed inappropriate but questions asking Gianoli how much money his family has donated to the railroad foundation as being okay. Robison’s question was singled out by Odger’s as the city attorney advised the council woman not to proceed with the question unless she had evidence on hand to hold the candidate to his answer. Derbidge was not required to answer the question.

But more questions surround the candidates nominated by the mayor. Husbands said that both Pitts and Derbidge have clear connections to former councilman Marty Westland, who was a main player in the city’s forensic examination of the railroad’s finances and attempt to remove Gianoli and vice-chairman Steve Leith from the board. Pitts had sent out a letter to fellow members of his Latter Day Saints church, urging for them to support Westland during his campaign at the last city election. An excerpt from that letter reads as follows, “we will be voting for Marty Westland. I hope you will join us in voting for Ely’s continued progress.” Derbidge, in addition to sitting on the council alongside Westland last year, also had ties to Westland’s reelection campaign, Husbands pointed out. As is required under state law, Westland had to disclose each campaign contribution of over $100 he received. The only that is listed was a $405 political advertisement that was place in The Ely Times on May 28, supporting Westland while also criticizing the management board and Gianoli in particular.

But where Husbands sees suspect motives, Van Camp sees new potential.

“I think it would be good to have some fresh faces on the board,” the mayor stated.

She mentioned that some members have sat on the board for over 10 years, which led to her having concerns that the issues the city council had with receiving information they requested from the board in a timely manner. She categorized her opinions on the five candidates that are coming from outside the management board  as “highly qualified, passionate individuals.” She also put aside the notion said by some during public comment that the board would crumple or collapse under new leadership.

“I don’t believe that at all. I think the people who came out for the board positions could do just as good of a job as those that have been doing it, if not better,” Van Camp said.

The city council and railroad board of trustees will try the nomination process again on Monday, Oct. 19 at 6 p.m. inside the fire hall. All the candidates that were voted down in the first meeting will be available to be nominated and voted on again said Odgers.