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Former public administrator ‘spaced’ on $200,000, 2009 estate case

<p>Horace Langford Jr. / Pahrump Valley Times - Bob Jones</p>

Horace Langford Jr. / Pahrump Valley Times - Bob Jones

Former Nye County Public Administrator Bob Jones has continued to handle at least one estate even though he resigned that position three and a half years ago.

It was uncovered Tuesday during a routine presentation of the quarterly report by Deputy Public Administrator Robin Dorand-Rudolf. County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen inquired about some old cases, like the first open case on the list, Mark Dickins, who died Dec. 5, 2009.

Dorand-Rudolf said she didn’t have the file in her office and didn’t have access to the information. She said Jones was working the case.

“Why is he in possession of them when he is no longer administrator?” Schinhofen asked.

“You continue to be the administrator until the case is closed,” Dorand-Rudolf replied.

But District Attorney Brian Kunzi disagreed. He was seriously concerned about Jones continuing to work a case and decided to investigate any other cases the former public administrator may be working on. Dorand-Rudolf said Jones was only still working on the Dickins estate.

“He’s no longer the public administrator, he has no legal authority to do so,” Kunzi said. “The public administrator’s (office is) appointed, not Bob Jones.”

“The county’s at risk here from the standpoint of he’s not bonded any longer because he’s not a public administrator and he shouldn’t be handling this and the other question is, is he taking expenditures out of these estates?” Kunzi asked. “I’ll have somebody look at that.”

One other case preceded the Dickins case while Jones was public administrator, that’s still listed as an open case, the death of Betty Romano Aug. 30, 2009. Dorand-Rudolf said Jones isn’t working that case.

In a Pahrump Valley Times interview, Jones said of the Dickins estate, “that’s one case that has been brought to my attention that didn’t get finished, got caught up in the cracks.”

His former deputy, the late Mikki Gillespie, worked on the case before her death, Jones said, adding another woker has to finish up the paperwork to complete the case. Jones said Dickins didn’t have any heirs, and more than $159,000 in his bank account will eventually go to the state of Nevada.

“It’s just a matter of doing the final accounting. He had no heirs. Whatever he had goes to the state,” Jones said. “There’s a substantial amount of money that’s been sitting in an account” he said.

“I just spaced it off and it’s been sitting there.”

The Dickins estate was a convoluted case because his mother’s name was on the property and she died a year before, Jones said. Some of the property was out of state, he said. A check of probate records in the Dickins case shows the man owned a 10-acre parcel of property in Mohave County, Ariz., when he died. The value of that property along with a truck left behind and the cash bring the value of his estate to more than $200,000.

“As a matter of fact I’m owed about $6,000 on it I’m going to make. It’s in my best interest now to get it done,” Jones said.

Jones, who was head of the union representing county management until he resigned his regular, full-time job as county facilities manager, said he disagreed often with Kunzi on legal interpretations, like the DA’s interpretation that county managers were at-will employees after the county fired Emergency Medical Services Director Brent Jones, no relation to Bob Jones. After appeals Bob Jones said Kunzi had to admit county management didn’t fit into that category.

“I was appointed the administrator of that estate by the judge, notwithstanding and I had the right to administer that estate. I don’t agree with Mr. Kunzi’s interpretation of the law,” Jones said.

Jones said if the public administrator can’t finish handling an estate before his term ends, it’s up to the new public administrator whether to let him continue. In this case, Jones said he already deputized Falkon Finlinson as public administrator before he resigned just before his term expired in January 2011. Finlinson won the November 2010 election.

Jones said Finlinson was designated to handle the estate of Gary Timmerman, who died Sept. 12, 2010 leaving an estate of $350,000 that has been the subject of scrutiny by Fifth District Judge Kimberly Wanker in probate court for the exorbitant charges levied by the public administrator.

Nye County Manager Pam Webster told Dorand-Rudolf she wanted more information on the quarterly public administrator reports, under the column which is supposed to list money collected by the public administrator and money expended it says “pending” throughout much of the document.

“Instead of just saying pending, put how much is pending, per the recovery. That would put more meaning into the report,” Webster said, “what to date you have determined what you would collect from the estate.”

The report also lists the name of the deceased, date of death, the date a file was opened, the approximate gross value of the estate, whether property was secured and whether the case is under investigation. But it doesn’t include the date the probate case was closed. Under the Dickins case, the approximate gross value of the estate is just listed as “unknown.”

Amargosa Valley resident Linda Bromell got up in the final public comment and asked whatever happened to an investigation of the public administrator’s office. Bromell filed a complaint after she claimed property was missing from her sister Barbara Marie McSweeney’s home after her death. The county commission voted to ask the Nevada Attorney General’s office to investigate the public administrator in 2012 but Kunzi wouldn’t give her an answer on the outcome.

“If you’re asking for comments on the investigations that’s not going to happen,” Kunzi said. “You don’t talk about investigations in public.”

Again, the DA explained to county commissioners their hands were tied.

“This board cannot tell the public administrator how to do their cases. they can’t tell the sheriff how to arrest people. They can’t tell the district attorney how to prosecute cases,” Kunzi said. “Nobody wants to accept that answer. You have a very limited authority to overlook the finances the public administrator is doing.”

Commissioner Lorinda Wichman suggested an ordinance where public administrators turn over the money they collect and are paid like a contractor. Kunzi said that’s not possible, the public administrator is an elected official.

Commissioner Donna Cox said there have been talks about reorganizing the public administrator’s office, giving them a flat salary instead of them being paid on a sliding scale based on the value of the estates. The public administrator is paid a 4 percent fee for the first $15,000 of the estate, up to 3 percent for estates up to $85,000, and up to 2 percent for estates above that amount. Only public administrators in larger counties like Clark and Washoe counties are paid a salary.

Webster said Nye County could use their sole bill draft request for the 2015 session of the Nevada Legislature to request a change in the law mandating a paid salary for their public administrator.

Wichman said it’d be a good issue to present to a Nevada Association of Counties emeritus board, which includes former commissioner Joni Eastley.

“This has been a long running problem and I don’t see it getting any better in the future,” Cox said.

Kunzi said, “we keep rehashing the same story time and time again. These are matters that fall completely outside the authority of the board and it’s something we continue to spin our wheels on.”

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