NOTE: This article contains strong, adult language and content.
The lawsuit against the City of Reno for alleged harassment and retaliation against two former employees continues with a new round of documents filed early this week.
The court filing shows dozens of pages of text messages by former City Manager Andrew Clinger, City Clerk Ashley Turney, and former Assistant City Manager Kate Thomas that criticize and make light of City Council members, city employees, the mayor, and people speaking during public comment at council meetings.
Documents show the text messages between Thomas and Clinger calling employees “crazy” and “bitches.”
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Mark Mausert, said that the texts in 2015 and 2016 detail a highly sexualized environment in which Clinger played favorites and denigrated other high-level employees.
Mausert filed the suit on behalf of plaintiff’s Deanna Gescheider and Maureen McKissick, city employees who worked under Clinger.
Mausert said that the city should have been aware of the culture at the time since a former city employee, Jean Atkinson, working for the city’s civil service commission, reported to the city “over 10 months prior to the first complaint of sexual harassment” that there were problems with favoritism in the city manager’s office.
“That picture showed that there was a small group of women who were getting benefit through Mr. Clinger’s decisions that were not equitably distributed in the same manner to other members of that group, and that raised a very real concern,” Atkinson reportedly testified during deposition.
Former finance director Robert Chisel, now with RSCVA, reportedly also had concerns at the time, Mausert said. “You had to be one of the fun bunch to get along at the city manager’s office,” Chisel said.
“Fuck them. They can dig their own graves. Mayor better be smarter.”
According to Mausert, “Clinger and Thomas (who is now assistant manager for Washoe County) reveled in the fact that Mrs. Gescheider was not going to be around much longer. Clinger stated, ‘the rats are jumping ship'” after complaints about city hall’s environment became public.
“God I hope you are right,” Thomas responded. Thomas also called Chisel a “fucking greedy bastard.”
“They will lose on this,” Clinger remarked later. “I’m going to pursue my legal options.”
“Clinger called the complaints ‘bullshit,'” Mauser wrote. “Ms. Thomas responded, ‘Fuck them. They can dig their own graves. Mayor better be smarter.'”
The text messages, Mausert said, “memorialize crystalline hostility toward the plaintiffs.”
Texts Are Candid, Crude
The texts to and from Clinger in 2015 and 2016 are notably candid.
At one point, Thomas texted Clinger that she “just lit Bill’s ass too. I’m sorry. When I sit down with Bill and hand walk his ass through the fucking tasks, and he says he’s on it, I expect him to DELIVER.”
Clinger responded, “be tougher” after Thomas said she was being insensitive to him.
“If I was you, I would have jumped his ass first thing this morning,” Clinger wrote. “Prove to me you deserve a different title, and I’ll make it happen.”
“Oh I can fucking do it,” Thomas replied. “But it’s not going to be pretty.”
“I don’t want pretty,” Clinger responded. “I want things humming.”
He later told her to stop being so sensitive.
Destructive Text Apps Used
At one point, city leadership discussed using apps that destroyed text messages so that they would not be discoverable in the event of a public records request.
Ironically, in a text, Clinger suggested to Thomas to switch to an app that destroys messages after being read.
“We should check this out as an alternative to slack for the team,” he wrote to her. Slack is an internal communications platform.
Gesheider testified that the city’s executive leadership was directed to delete text messages and to use the apps that didn’t archive messages.
Gesheider said Thomas “regularly directed the executive staff to delete our text history amongst ourselves. Mr. Clinger sent many texts … to members of the executive staff, the city council, and me personally, regarding city business,” she said.
Work-related communications are generally considered public record regardless of whether communications occur on a personal device.
Public Meetings Aren’t Always Very Public
The voluminous messages also show that numerous side conversations happening among employees during city meetings.
In one instance, Turney texted Clinger: “Do you know who beard is in the back?”
“Abraham,” he responded.
“Jokes or for real?” Turney asked.
“Lincoln,” Clinger replied.
“I was leaning toward Moses,” Turney responded.
Another instance referred to a reporter as “nasty” and being “unimpressed” with a local attorney who was requesting public records.
Councilmembers and their comments during public meetings were also discussed and ridiculed.
“How many times did Jenny (presumably Jenny Brekhus) say ‘yeah’ on the moratorium issue?” Clinger wrote to Turney. “I would like to see all of those in the minutes.”
Turney responded: “I think I lost count after a half a dozen…that’s when Beverly just writes ‘discussion ensued.'”
Later, when Brekhus filed an appeal on a project in Verdi, Turney notified Clinger that, “FYI Jenny filed an appeal. I already notified Jessica.”
This is referring to the mayor’s close friend, Jessica Sferrazza, who lobbies in support of numerous development projects, Brekhus told ThisisReno.
At another point, Turney said that Councilmember Naomi Duerr, who Clinger referred to as “The Duerr,” was “pesky.”
“We feel that we have the policies–and people–in place to make the City more transparent and accountable than ever before.”
Mausert’s recent filing was an opposition to the city’s filing for summary judgment last month.
The motion by the city is a massive filing of documents that include personnel files, text messages, secretly recorded conversations and depositions of a number of city employees, former employees and council members.
Assistant City Attorney Jonathan Shipman, in the city’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, admitted that there were problems, but he denied that they rise to the level of a hostile work environment.
“(A) reorganization greatly exacerbated the tension between Thomas and McKissick,” he wrote. “Believing that McKissick manipulated Clinger, Thomas refused to talk to McKissick for a period of time and generally avoided interacting with McKissick. Clinger attempted to calm the waters, but hurt feelings remained.”
City officials this week said that much of the behavior outlined above has been curtailed with new training and a policy that discourages discourteous treatment of the public or other employees.
“New rules and procedures regarding communication devices and city business were implemented earlier this year,” said city spokesperson Jon Humbert. “Any work product or work-related communication on private devices must be forwarded to city servers within 20 days of creation. Using personal devices for any City-related content is prohibited by our policy.”
Humbert added that email and texts “should only relate to city work. We do have a policy that prohibits discourteous treatment of the public or other employees.
“It is critical that the City be progressive about the balance between personal interaction and public work. We are all human at the City of Reno. Laws change. Mistakes will happen. But we feel that we have the policies–and people–in place to make the City more transparent and accountable than ever before.”
Clinger has denied wrongdoing in the suit and called the allegations frivolous.
“An independent investigation was done and it was determined that I did nothing wrong,” he said at the time.
It was announced this week that Clinger was hired at the Nevada System of Higher Education with a starting annual salary of $205,000.
“NSHE thoroughly reviewed Andrew’s background and (we) are confident he was the right choice to be NSHE’s next chief financial officer,” an NSHE spokesperson told ThisisReno.
CORRECTION: Jean Atkinson, former city employee who later worked on the city’s civil service commission, was previously misidentified as Jill. My apologies for the error. -Bob