By Mark Waite
TONOPAH — Incoming County Commissioner Frank Carbone cast the pivotal vote as outgoing Commissioner Joni Eastley was appointed assistant county manager by a 3-2 vote Monday, despite objections by Nye County Facilities Manager Bob Jones, who raised ethics questions over the hiring.
Commissioners Butch Borasky and Donna Cox voted against offering Eastley a contract. Eastley just left office after 12 years as a county commissioner due to term limits.
Commissioner Dan Schinhofen repeated his motion made last month to appoint Eastley. He said the decision was made after careful consideration and numerous correspondence from his constituents. Eastley will be working directly with the county manager, not with the board of county commissioners, he said.
Eastley will be an at-will employee who can be terminated at any time with or without cause. She will implement policies set by commissioners, oversee department heads, represent the county in meetings, analyze data and compile reports and other duties. Her annual pay will be $89,900, but she comes in halfway through this fiscal year.
Jones, the president of the Nye County Management Employees Association, referred to Nevada Revised Statute NRS 281A.400, section nine, which states: “a public officer or employee shall not attempt to benefit the public officers or employee’s personal or financial interest through the influence of a subordinate.”
Then there’s section 10, which Jones read: “a public officer or employee shall not seek other employment or contracts through the use of the public officers or employee’s official position.”
He added that Nye County Code, which states it is the declared personnel policy of Nye County, that, “employment in the county government shall be based on merit and fitness, free of personal and partisan political considerations.”
It goes on to state recruitment and selection shall be based on the policies and procedures established in the Nye County merit personnel system.
“If Ms. Eastley’s application was put in any other county in the United States they would not give it a second look. She does not have any management experience, she does not have a college degree. I urge you to make a motion to deny. We need some ethics in government,” Jones said.
But Commissioner Lorinda Wichman said Eastley has 30 years of experience.
District Attorney Brian Kunzi said the only concern he had was a state statute regarding a one-year cooling off period, but that only applied to elected officials awarding contracts to companies, then going to work for that company after they leave office. Kunzi said he saw no evidence of commissioners violating the state statutes Jones was referring to.
“It is not a direct prohibition on any official becoming a direct employee of the county,” Kunzi said. “This is something that she has not gone to any of the commissioners to ask for support of this. I see nothing that she has attempted to do anything improper with regards to influence anybody, any subordinate or otherwise to give her this position.”
Resident Judith Holmgren asked how many people were considered other than Eastley, County Manager Pam Webster said there were 39 applicants, eight had Nevada experience.
“I read through all of them and in my opinion Joni has the best knowledge of county procedures and operations and was the most qualified to be given the job,” Webster said. She conferred with Nye County Human Resources Director Donelle Shamrell on the decision.
Resident Andy Alberti thought commissioners should have face-to-face interviews with the best candidates; he said the spirit of the state law covering elected officials going into different jobs should be followed.
Alberti also noted Eastley didn’t meet the qualifications on the job posting, which asked for a masters degree in public administration or business administration and five years management experience in the public sector or an equivalent combination of education and experience. Kunzi said commissioners could determine whatever qualifications they wanted.
Cox, who just returned to Pahrump from vacation, said, “I’ve only been home a day and I’ve already had people calling me and complaining they think it’s some kind of a conspiracy.”
Cox agreed with Alberti, they should table the agenda item for 30 days and interview other applicants. Schinhofen wondered what good that would do.
“I like Ms. Eastley, I think she’s done a great job as a commissioner, but she has served her 12 years. Maybe it’s time she moved up to the Legislature,” Cox said.
Carbone asked Cox if she wanted to amend Schinhofen’s motion to table the matter for 30 days, but Wichman said there was already a motion on the floor to appoint her.
Wichman said county managers normally last only two or three years in Nye County. She said some come from out of state.
“This is the first time in my knowledge, except when Ms. Webster was put in as county manager, that anyone who truly knew the county was willing and able to put in an application for it,” Wichman said.
Webster was hired as comptroller in 2006, promoted to assistant county manager the following year and took over as county manager following the termination of Rick Osborne in January 2012. Before Osborne was named county manager in 2008, Planning Director Ron Williams was promoted to county manager. The indication is Eastley would be Webster’s understudy to take over when Webster retires at the end of this year.
Carbone said commissioners only have one employee they appoint and that’s the county manager.
Borasky said, “there is no doubt Joni is more qualified than anybody else we can find and her skills and her abilities are known across the country, not just Nye County. But I too represent the county and I have some concerns.”
Borasky had problems with the county manager being able to pick anybody they want.
“We need to change business the way we evaluate and research employees. If we as commissioners only have one employee how do we do business?”
Kunzi said there have been discussions about revising the Nye County Code over the merit personnel system. The county could overhaul the entire process dealing with county managers and department heads, he said.
Wichman said she had every confidence in the county manager and human resources director.
“This commission is surrounded by talent. We don’t have to micromanage each of those departments. I don’t have to be an expert in each of those departments because we have talent in each of those positions,” Wichman said.