An ethics complaint to the Nevada Ethics Commission has been filed against the City of Reno’s sustainability manager.
The complaint alleges that Lynne Barker violated several state ethics laws. The complaint, filed by attorney Stephanie Rice on behalf of waste haulers, Nevada Recycling & Salvage and Rubbish Runners, alleges that Barker ordered a raid on the company’s facility in early February.
“Barker ordered a raid on the Nevada Recycling and Salvage and Rubbish Runners facility for the sole purpose of retaliating against Nevada Recycling & Salvage and Rubbish Runners for opposing her recommendations to the (Reno City) Council and to benefit Waste Management,” she said. “Barker knew that the City of Reno lacked the authority to perform the raid, because it is the Washoe County Health District (that) holds the permits for that facility.”
The city has been embroiled in controversy over its franchise agreement with Waste Management and whether the agreement gives Waste Management exclusivity to haul recyclable materials. The other companies maintain that the intent of the city’s franchise agreement allows them to collect recyclable materials.
City Council asked city staff in December to meet with Waste Management to consider continuing to hold off on enforcing the exclusivity of the agreement while finding ways to improve it. Waste Management said at that time that it wanted the agreement to be enforced immediately.
Inspection Included Armed Police And Multiple Government Officials
Rice called the February 9 inspection a raid because it reportedly included two armed Reno Police officers, two city code enforcement officers, a city business license compliance officer, the Reno fire captain, a fire inspector and three representatives from the Washoe County Health District (WCHD).
“After this surprise raid occurred, when asked who had ordered the inspection, several different stories were given,” Rice said. “Initially, just about everyone indicated that it was ordered by (Lynne) Barker.
“However, after concerns were raised about the retaliatory nature of Barker’s conduct, the story changed several times, in what appears to be an attempt to cover up this gross and retaliatory abuse of power by Barker.”
City spokesperson Matt Brown said in a statement that “the inspection was requested by the WCHD acting as the Health Authority for the City of Reno, prompted by concerns that there could be possible health and safety code violations occurring at the site.”
An email by a Washoe County official said that “the inspection was initiated by the City of Reno and they requested our presence since we have the permits issued at (Nevada Recycling & Salvage)….” Barker was named in an email as the contact for the inspection.
Brown added that “(Barker) initially coordinated the Washoe County Health District’s request along with Senior Code Enforcement Officer Joe Henry, who implemented the joint inspection with the WCHD.”
Brown also said it is not uncommon for Reno Police to be on hand for code enforcement inspections.
Rice said that she contacted the county health district in December asking about any rumored violations at Nevada Recycling and was allegedly told by a county official that “the facility had no open violations or outstanding issues.”
Additional Ethics Complaints
The complaint also alleges that Barker “sought a favor/gift/economic opportunity from private company, Waste Management (WM), through her city email address, which is in violation of NRS 281A.400(1) by asking WM representative, Greg Martinelli, if WM would sponsor and send her to its national Sustainability Forum event.”
Nevada Revised Statutes prohibit gifts to public employees:
“A public officer or employee shall not seek or accept any gift, service, favor, employment, engagement, emolument or economic opportunity which would tend improperly to influence a reasonable person in the public officer’s or employee’s position to depart from the faithful and impartial discharge of the public officer’s or employee’s public duties.”
The complaint also alleges that Barker was an executive for a non-profit organization, and maintained “resident agent” status for the non-profit through part of 2016, while also requesting in 2015 $2,000 for travel and conference registration hosted by the organization.
“I think Waste Management does a great job… but that’s a big interest to me that our small businesses are not being impacted,” he said.
Brown said that he city would not comment further about the inspection.
“Based on the inspection, the City of Reno will be working with the property owner to resolve potential violations,” he said. “The City of Reno will not comment further at this time out of respect to the property owner.”
Barker did not return a call for comment.