Former Nye County Commissioner Lorinda Wichman said farewell to county government at the beginning of 2020, having served a full 12 years as county commissioner but now, just over a year after her departure, she is ready to jump back into the government sector, this time as an employee rather than as an elected official.
Wichman has been selected as the new Nye County Natural Resources director, a post formerly held by the now retired Darrell Lacy. She is to fill the position in a part-time capacity, as approved on April 6, but this may only be temporary, if the conversation between commissioners on April 6 can be taken as an indication of potential future action.
Nye County Manager Tim Sutton started off the discussion by providing an overview of the item.
“It’s a critical position here in the county. As you know, the majority of our land is controlled by the federal government, which means it is administered by various federal agencies, BLM, Fish and Wildlife, Forest Service, etc.,” Sutton said. “Based on that, we have lots of interactions, lots of plans, lots of meetings, lots of paperwork, lots of applications that have to be processed and reviewed and advocated for. The natural resources director is responsible for that and more.”
Sutton detailed that the county had put out an advertisement requesting applications and had received nine. Of that total, three applicants were offered interviews but the third had already taken a job, so only two interviews were conducted. The interview panel had determined that Wichman’s application should be brought forward, Sutton stated, noting, “She’s eminently qualified as you can see from the backup, she has tons of experience, again, from her years as commissioner and in other capacities.”
Nye County Commissioner Leo Blundo then made a motion to approve the position, stipulating that it should be full-time. “Because this is a full-time job,” Blundo said, adding, “We need it.”
However, commission chair Debra Strickland interjected to explain that this was not how the item had been agendized and therefore, the commissioners were not permitted to change the proposed action. She remarked that it would be unfair to the other applicants if the job were suddenly switched to full time instead of part time, which would result in an array of changes in not only the interview and application process but in the compensation as well. Indeed, if advertised as full time, the position may have even attracted other applicants who otherwise would not apply for a part-time post.
Sutton explained that the job of natural resources director had actually been a full time one in the past but that when putting out the request for applications, he had been asked to advertise it as a part-time position. As such, Nye County District Attorney Chris Arabia advised commissioners to bring forward a separate agenda item to address any changes in the parameters of the position, if that was what they wished to do.
“It was my understanding it was a full-time position and Darrell was a full-time guy,” Blundo stated. “I would just expect that position to be reflected here. But we’ll address that in another item, I guess.”
Blundo also questioned why the backup information included with the item, detailing the applications submitted, had been redacted. Sutton explained that several applicants had requested that their information not be made public, so that their current employers would not know they had applied for the position.
Commissioner Donna Cox then brought up the “cooling-off period” issue, recalling the time when Joni Eastley had been selected as the assistant county manager following her time as a commissioner. Cox said it was her understanding that a former commissioner was not to seek employment with the county for at least one year after their term has concluded but Arabia confirmed that condition did not apply in the situation at hand.
While commissioners were obviously quite satisfied with Wichman’s selection, the item did not come without a bit of controversy. When public comment was opened, local resident Dann Weeks spoke out against the proposed action, explaining that he did not feel employing a former commissioner was appropriate. Weeks said he felt Wichman was more than capable of handling the position but he was concerned about the public perception connected with employing a former commissioner. “From the public’s perception, each small act of corruption is a stone that builds a pile, and it continues to build, and this is one of those stones,” Weeks asserted, remarking that he felt it was improper for a commissioner to “groom” a position from a stance of authority.
However, he was the only one to speak in opposition that afternoon. Local resident Ammie Nelson offered her thoughts as well, but she was on the side of hiring Wichman. Her only concern, she said, was the possibility that there may be a conflict of interest when it comes to water issues, as Wichman’s husband is the Nye County Water District manager, a position that Lacy incidentally once held as well.
As for resident Tim Bohannon, he said the institutional knowledge that Wichman brings will be priceless. “I know there was a little bit of pushback a few meetings ago, about not having somebody who’s been serving as commission go do something else within the area for some time. I disagree. Utilizing the institutional knowledge will be a positive for the county and for the role that she is serving,” Bohannon declared.
Commissioner Bruce Jabbour did not shy away from acknowledging the controversial nature of the item either, telling his fellow commissioners and the public, “There has been some feedback, there has been some pushback, we’ve heard from public comment, in their feeling of county employees returning and being promoted to what-have-you.”
Despite this, Jabbour said he was very much impressed with Wichman’s application and the many letters of recommendation that had come with it, many from federal agencies that are often at odds with one another. As the new district 1 representative, he added that he is well aware of the vast array of public lands issues facing Nye County and he felt Wichman, with 12 years of experience already under her belt, would make a perfect fit for the position.
Blundo thanked Wichman for her many years of service and for dedicating even more time to county issues moving forward, remarking, “You’re just a wealth of knowledge.”
Strickland added, “You’re uniquely positioned, after the work that you’ve already done for the past 12 years. You’ve already established all of the relationships that we need in this county, with BLM, with the Forest Service, on up the line, to include the mining that is so prevalent within our county. We’re lucky to have you coming back.”
Blundo made the motion to ratify the selection of Wichman as Nye County Natural Resources director, in a part-time capacity, with a second from Jabbour. That motion passed 4-1 with Cox the sole voice against.
“It’s nothing personal, I just don’t want to get in trouble,” Cox said, referring to her concerns about the cooling-off period.
“I have spent most of my 12 years as a county commissioner doing all I could to oversee natural resources issues, working with former director Darrell Lacy and others, to help protect and move Nye County’s interests forward,” Wichman told the Pahrump Valley Times following the decision. “I have maintained my professional relationships with many state and federal agency representatives, and that experience will be very helpful.”
The position as approved at part time comes with a salary of just over $50,000 per year, as well as benefits. If the position is indeed brought back before the board and converted into a full-time position, the pay would be approximately $81,000 per year plus benefits, Sutton detailed.
To view Wichman’s application visit www.nyecounty.net. The information is provided with the April 6 commission agenda. Wichman’s application begins on page 69 of the backup information for item number 38.
Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at firstname.lastname@example.org