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County commissioners approve $150,000 for employee legal, PR support if they are ‘attacked’

By Bob Conrad

An agenda item passed yesterday by the Washoe Board of County Commissioners in a three-to-one vote grants the Washoe County manager the authority to pay up to $150,000 for employees to receive legal and public relations assistance. That is in cases “where employees are unfairly publicly attacked, harassed, or disparaged by members of the public or by political organizations as determined on a case-by-case basis.”

“The situations where this program would be utilized are those that would fall outside the scope of representation by the District Attorney’s Office or other statutorily or otherwise designated legal counsel, or the scope of services typically provided in-house by county departments,” county staff said. “Possible outside organizations to be hired under this program include but are not limited to law firms and public relations organizations.”

Washoe County Manager Eric Brown

County Manager Eric Brown said the county has an obligation to protect employees. The agenda item does not apply to elected officials.

“We’ve seen situations where the public discourse has gotten increasingly hostile,” he said. “We’ve had situations where county employees … have received death threats [and] have received malicious and fictitious claims against them. Some of this has been extremely hurtful to their families. It is in no way an attempt to suppress criticism of any elected official or public official.

“This initiative would give our employees, especially those without the wherewithal to retain their own counsel and resources, better ability to set the record straight when things are said about them that are not true,” he added.

The county’s workplace violence committee will make recommendations to the manager about potentially using the money. Any employee unfairly targeted by members of the public could be eligible for the program. The manager could then make the determination to use the funds.

Critics of the measure said they were being unfairly maligned and claimed this was an attack on them.

An assistant county manager was recently sued by Washoe County Assessor Mike Clark after the employee had a year-plus protective order issued against him. Clark last week lost his appeal of the TPO. 

Clark was found to have violated Washoe  County’s workplace violence policy for trying to anonymously mail more than 160 packages alleging corruption at the county.

Judge Richard Glasson last year, in approving the TPO, called Clark’s actions “more than reckless. They were intentional. The court finds any reasonable person would feel terrorized.”

Clark, a candidate for the commission, also received more votes over incumbent Commissioner Bob Lucey, a target of far-right conspiracy theorists, in the primary election for commission district 2, which covers south Reno. 

The assistant county manager is having to defend herself in court against Clark’s claims that she lied under oath during last year’s TPO court hearing. Her attorneys denied the allegations and have filed an anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion in court seeking to have Clark’s lawsuit dismissed. 

If the motion succeeds, Clark will owe the county employee a cash settlement plus attorney fees. The approved agenda item would mean the county could foot the bill for the employee’s defense.

Another employee the policy could benefit is Deanna Spikula, the county’s registrar of voters, who is on an indefinite leave of absence for unspecified reasons.

The county registrar’s office has been besieged with false claims and allegations of fraud. No evidence of fraud has been provided, and one of the so-called “election integrity” lawsuits was recently dismissed in district court for lack of evidence.

Clark, during yesterday’s public comment period of the commission meeting, said however that the registrar’s office has been in disarray for more than a decade.

“This is a mess. You should be embarrassed,” he said. “The assessor’s office wouldn’t operate this way. Honest to God incompetence. You don’t know what you don’t know.”

Richard Karpel with the Nevada Press Association said the measure was well intentioned but cautioned against government overreach.

“It’s unfortunate we’ve come to the point where public officials and even minor government functionaries are sometimes made to fear for their life by self-righteous, brain-dead zealots,” he said. “So the Commission’s concern for the welfare of local government employees is commendable. But there’s a significant risk of overreach here. 

“We hope the Commission will focus on real harassment and threats of physical violence, and stay away from policing political speech they consider merely unfair or disparaging,” he added.

Commissioner Jeanne Herman voted against the agenda item because it was included with a number of other agenda items for a single vote.

Commissioners approve appeal of Gateway special use permit

A Verdi-area development was denied a special use permit, but commissioners approved the appeal by S3 Development Company. Residents were opposed to the project, which would include the excavation of material from 27 acres “of disturbed area” for future industrial development.

The meeting was marked by disruptive audience behavior. Commissioner Alexis Hill twice recessed the meeting because members of the public would not stop clapping and jeering. 

Other county approvals

Provided by Washoe county and edited by This Is Reno

Board approves change to opioid settlement 

In July 2021, the Board of County Commissioners entered into the One Nevada Agreement, which provides for distribution of any monetary recovery from the defendants in opioid litigation between all governmental entities within the state of Nevada. An amendment was adopted to reduce attorneys’ fees to 15%. The Board approved another amendment to the agreement, which allows the Nevada Attorney General’s Office to divide the recoveries in accordance with the One Nevada Agreement.

Collective bargaining agreements 

Through collective bargaining agreements between representative employee associations and Washoe County Human Resources, the Board approved the final two-year agreements for the fiscal year beginning July 1. These included a 5% cost-of-living increase this year, and 3.5% next year, and a one-time payment of $500 for full-time employees covered under the Washoe County Employee Association, and $1,800 for full-time employees covered under the Washoe County Sheriff’s Deputies Association and the Sheriff’s Supervisory Deputies Association.

Hidden Valley Regional Park Master Plan

Washoe County Parks & Open Space conducted research and public outreach to develop a master plan for Hidden Valley Regional Park. The biggest concerns identified through the process were related to traffic and an increase in park use; impacts of the wetland and recharge areas on groundwater, stormwater runoff and nearby septic systems; mosquito abatement related to the wetlands; illegal activities occurring in the park at night; and a potential road easement through the southwest corner of the park.

The recommended improvements in the plan include adding constructed wetlands and recharge infiltration areas with a nature trail; repurposing the existing horse arena into an informal recreational turf field; adding restrooms and landscaping; reconfiguring park circulation; and developing a bike park and pump track. The plan also includes an extensive trails component, identifying trail sections to decommission, reconfigure and add, including an ADA-accessible trail.  

Fourth of July drone show 

The Incline Village/Crystal Bay Visitors Bureau applied for a license to conduct a “Drone SkyShow” for the Fourth of July in lieu of fireworks. The Fourth of July drone show will provide a celebration that is high-quality, innovative, environmentally sustainable and fire-safe, commissioners said.

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