OpEd: County Manager Eric Brown’s Incompetence

Audit Meeting Debacle

by Bruce Parks

I read with some dismay the Reno Gazette Journal article by reporter Mark Robison concerning the Washoe County Audit Committee that met on 1 August.

Commissioner Herman is not the Chair of the Audit Committee as he incorrectly identified her, but she currently is the ranking member. In fact, the Audit Committee has not had a Chair or Vice-Chair since at least 2019 which is in clear violation of Washoe County Ordinance 15.545 paragraph two. This breach of the law occurred because a previous Washoe County staff member declared that there was no need to elect a Chair or Vice-Chair since the staff member “runs the meetings.” The purpose of appointing citizens to boards and committees is to provide a modicum of civilian oversight into government operations. Also, it allows for certain expertise that county staff find invaluable by appointing persons from varying backgrounds.

The purpose of appointing citizens to boards and committees is to provide a modicum of civilian oversight into government operations.

As of this writing, there are two vacancies on the Audit Committee that the County Commission and County Manager were aware were reaching expiration but did nothing proactive to ensure continuity by reviewing applications and making appointments in anticipation of the vacancies. This issue rests squarely on the shoulders of the County Manager as it is his responsibility to keep up with the boards and committee appointments. In June of this year, the Commissioners appointed a trustee to the library board to fill a vacancy that existed for almost a year. Again, not the fault of the Commissioners but a failing of the County Manager.

The question that was not asked in the aforementioned RGJ article is who, exactly, called the special meeting of the Audit Committee and why? Besides approval of inaccurate minutes of previous meetings, the only other agenda item, outside of public comment, was a presentation by the County Manager on the findings of The Elections Group audit of the Registrar of Voters office. Anyone that follows local politics is aware of the controversy surrounding The Elections Group and the County manager. We will not dissect that rat’s nest here, but it does bear examination by a citizens group. According to County Ordinance 15.545, the Chair of the Audit Committee is responsible for calling the meetings and setting the agenda. Since this was a special meeting outside of the regularly scheduled meetings, who called the meeting and for what purpose? Could it be that this meeting was to lend some legitimacy to the Elections Group? Was it an attempt to circumvent the County Commission’s authority as it relates to the ROV office? We may never know.

Several good things did come out of this illegally called meeting. The Audit Committee was informed of the responsibilities of the Alternate Commissioner (Alexis Hill) appointed to this committee. When the Primary Commissioner (Jeanne Herman) is in attendance, the alternate has no input and may not vote on any matters. This has not been the case in previous meetings where the alternate provided comment and voted on agenda items. The Assistant District Attorney in attendance at these meetings, who should have known better, along with the County Manager, never corrected her. Was that out of ignorance of the rules or by design? One can only wonder.

We establish laws and rules to ensure chaos doesn’t erupt in our society. We provide civilian oversight for the same reason. Far too many times, we have witnessed willful disregard on the part of county staff when it comes to following proper procedures. There have been incidents of outright bullying when it pertains to dealing with the citizens of Washoe County. For instance, the removal of initial public comment at the beginning of meetings by the Chairs of the County Commission and the Washoe County School District are prime examples.

Commissioner Herman took the absolutely right course of action by not allowing the Audit Committee to be undermined by not following the law. Until such time as they come into compliance with the County Ordinance, there should not be any “special meetings” of this committee. I hope this is a wake-up call to the county staff and our elected representatives that the people are not the sheep they are sometimes mistaken to be.

We have every right to expect transparency and openness from our government and that it operates according to the rules.

Applications for the Audit Committee openings may be submitted HERE. Read about the committee positions HERE.

Bruce Parks headshotby Bruce Parks

(The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Nevada Signal.)