I read with some dismay the article penned by Mark Robison of the Reno Gazette Journal (RGJ) concerning the Washoe County Audit Committee that met on August 1. Robison has since updated the article to reflect that Commissioner Herman is not, in fact, the Chair of the Audit Committee but is currently the ranking member. In the article, Herman notes that the board does not have an elected chair or vice-chair.
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. This breach occurred because a previous Washoe County staff member declared that there was no need to elect a Chair or Vice-Chair since this previous staff member “ran the meetings”.
The purpose of appointing citizens to boards and committees is to provide a modicum of civilian oversight into government operations. Also, appointing persons from varying backgrounds allows for certain and vast expertise that county staff may find invaluable.
As of this writing, there are two vacancies on the Audit Committee. The County Commission and County Manager, Eric Brown, were aware these vacancies were reaching expiration but did nothing to ensure continuity by reviewing applications and making appointments in anticipation of the vacancies. This responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of Brown as it is his obligation 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 the fault of Eric Brown.
The question that was not asked in the RGJ article is who, exactly, called the special meeting of the Audit Committee and why?
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?
Besides approval of inaccurate minutes of previous meetings, the only other agenda item, outside of public comment, was a presentation by Eric Brown on the troubling 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. Could it be that this meeting was to allow some legitimacy to the Elections Group? Was it an attempt to circumvent the County Commission’s authority as it relates to the Registrar of Voters 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 should have known better, but 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 of silencing active and concerned citizens.
Commissioner Herman took the absolutely right course of action by not allowing the Audit Committee to be undermined or violate 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 for. We have every right to expect transparency and openness from our government and that it operates according to the rules.
- The Washoe County Audit Committee Is Violating County Ordinance - August 3, 2023