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Nye County dissolves Risk Management department

The Nye County Risk Management department has been eliminated after just a few years of operation.

On Tuesday, the Nye County Commission voted to dissolve the department and draft a plan for its restructuring. The decision was far from unanimous.

Nye County Commission Chair Debra Strickland gave her best effort to sway her colleagues and there was a plethora of testimony from county and town staff members as well as the public against the move. Despite this, the board ultimately voted 3-2 to kill the department.

According to Nye County Manager Tim Sutton, the three employees who once made up the department aren’t being left without jobs but will instead assume positions within Nye County Administration.

“As of right now, they will be performing similar roles,” Sutton noted when reached for clarification on the matter.

Risk Management was created about three years ago when Nye County made the decision to forgo insurance coverage with POOL/PACT after years of repeated premium increases. Now, the county is self-insured and negotiates directly with various carriers on the open market for most of its insurance needs, a responsibility that was undertaken by Nye County Risk Manager Jake Skinner and his team. Risk Management had also been handling litigation matters for the county and it was this that seemed to be at the crux of the push to disband the department.

“Should Risk Management be a standalone department? Is litigation properly under the auspices of Risk Management currently? And what cost savings could be realized by restructuring Risk Management?” Nye County Commission Vice-Chair Ron Boskovich, who sponsored the agenda item, questioned. He then turned to Nye County District Attorney Brian Kunzi for further explanation.

Kunzi said for him the situation came down to his frustration with how the litigation management was performed.

“One of the most important factors is, how much money those risk management safety officers and those types of positions can save you pales in comparison to the litigation expenses you get for paying outside attorneys. We have to get a better hold on how that process is done,” Kunzi said. “I do believe that some restructuring should be considered by the board, given the fact that I think the litigation side of this ought to be under and report to me, in the legal department.”

It was clear from public comment that residents and even staff members were not happy with the proposal. Some county staff said they were highly embarrassed by what they felt was a hastily prepared agenda item. Other speakers even claimed they believed the item was a personal attack on Skinner and were quick to defend him, praising the work that he has accomplished to date. Still others questioned how the move would impact county insurance rates, which were set to be negotiated the very next day.

Skinner said his department was blindsided by the agenda item.

“I’m open to figuring out how Nye County can be a more efficient and effective as an organization. I believe that’s probably the primary desire of commissioner Boskovich by bringing this forward. I don’t think this is the way to do it… If we’re looking for efficiencies, we shouldn’t just be cherry-picking departments,” Skinner told the board Tuesday afternoon. “If I don’t know that things aren’t going well and that’s not expressed to me, it’s not fair to restructure my whole department or eliminate it.”

Skinner acknowledged that he is fairly new to the role of risk manager and the department itself is new as well so there are still kinks to work out. As such, he said he was willing to make whatever adjustments were necessary, remarking, “I would love to have a conversation about how we can work better together.”

Strickland then made an attempt to change her fellow board members’ minds.

“I am absolutely not for this. I have tried to wrap my mind around it… I don’t see that it’s a better way to operate,” Strickland asserted. “I think that this commission is moving in the wrong direction… Why are we going to eliminate a department when in fact you can see the statistics of what’s going well? You’ve heard from county staff… Yes, I think there is always room for improvement and I think the risk manager could work closer with the DA to get those improvements done. But don’t, excuse the expression, shit-can the entire department.”

The debate took nearly an hour to come to a close, at which point Boskovich made the motion to dissolve the department and direct staff to create a plan for restructuring, with a second from commissioner Bruce Jabbour. The motion passed with Boskovich, Jabbour and commissioner Cox in favor and Strickland and commissioner Frank Carbone opposed.

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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