During a highly anticipated - yet anti-climactic meeting, the Churchill County Commission met in a packed house on Wednesday to address an extensive agenda along with issues regarding the hotly contested Senior Center restructuring plan.
Employees, patrons, and supporters of the Pennington Life Center (Senior Center) took to social media urging attendance at the meeting after commissioners approved last week, what has become a controversial restructuring plan for the Center.
Originally, commissioners were set this week to address an agenda item that would utilize Manpower, a local staffing agency, to provide temporary employees at the Life Center while the county transitions control of the Center from the Coalition for Senior Citizens to the Churchill County Department of Social Services in order to provide more extensive services. However, that item was pulled from the agenda after the Coalition met last Friday, and Senior Coalition board member and County Commissioner Justin Heath suggested the county bypass Manpower and allow Coalition employees to continue working in their positions until the county hiring process is completed. During that meeting, and the special commission meeting that was held Thursday the 10th, Coalition employees were encouraged and invited to apply with the county for what will be newly created positions qualifying for county benefits and retirement through the PERS (Public Employees Retirement System).
Commissioners also approved the job descriptions and pay grades for the positions of Food Specialist and Transportation Specialist, assigning both to pay grade 30, granting permission to recruit and hire for the positions and appoint highly qualified individuals at an advanced-step placement. The agenda item to address the Senior Food Specialist was deferred as Human Resource Director Geof Stark was not prepared with the complete information.
The agenda report addressing this matter said that with the county transferring operations of the Life Center to Social Services, the county will be adding employees under the county’s employment “umbrella” requiring new job descriptions. The recommended pay grade 30 pays $14.23 to $19.14 per hour and was developed by reviewing the pay grades for the same positions in Lyon County.
The county is estimating a need for four Transportation Specialists working 25 hours per week, which would require PERS, but not health insurance. The Food Specialist positions would require three positions, one full-time with full benefits, and two others averaging 28 hours per week. The Senior Food Specialist would be one full-time position and will be presented at a later meeting. The fiscal impact is estimated at $87,000 and represents the difference in salary and benefits from what the Life Center has been paying the positions and what the county would be paying.
Staffing levels may change after the county has had an opportunity to review the daily operations of the Life Center.
In a dramatic turn of events on Thursday, June 17, the Coalition met to address the transition, requesting that the Coalition be involved in the hiring process for the Senior Center Manager, and reiterating that Manpower not be used.
The Coalition also addressed their bylaws, removing the position of Director, changing the board from seven members to five, and to much consternation removed provisions complying with the Open Meeting Law under the Nevada Revised Statutes.
Former County Commissioner Carl Erquiaga, husband to the recently removed Life Center Director, Lisa Erquiaga, spoke several times during the public comment section. A vocal advocate of the Life Center staff, and critic of the county restructuring process, Carl Erquiaga chastised the Coalition Board for their actions saying he was, “shocked,” and called the plan “empire building” by one county staff member who he would not name. “The county has dug in their heels and refused to even talk about these questions. That’s not leadership, that’s deception.”
Melanie Keener, operations assistant with the Senior Center asked for clarification on the hiring process based on information employees were given Thursday. “Today we were told we could have a leg-up in the qualification process,” she said.
Coalition Board member and County Commissioner Justin Heath agreed that under the requirements employees are required to apply for the new jobs under the county and given a “leg-up” because of their current qualifications, however, must go through background checks and the county application process under the law.
Carl Erquiaga commented further saying the process has been “in the dark,” and employees need to know exactly what needs to happen. “You’re saying one thing, they were told something else today,” he said.
Heath responded, “Carl, they just have to apply for the job, you were a County Commissioner, you know. Whenever you apply for a government position you need to put it out there and then you hire the one the most qualified.”
“So, a simple explanation of that last Thursday would have been very helpful because these people have been confused,” said Erquiaga.
“Because you caused most of it,” fired back Heath.
“Are you saying I shouldn’t exercise my first amendment rights,” said Erquiaga. Walking away from the table he mumbled, “Bastard,” toward Heath.
Coalition Board Chair, Jill Manha proposed “that we remove the position of director effective immediately since the county has provided an interim manager and be paid out until the end of the month.”
Lisa Erquiaga commented, “I’m sorry, you need to have a special board meeting to fire me, you had to hire me in an open meeting.”
Manha and Erquiaga argued over the semantics of eliminating the position or “getting rid of me,” as Erquiaga said.
Manha maintained the board has the authority to eliminate the position at any time.
Buster Pierce, program services director said he has just had his tenth anniversary, “I’ve put my whole life into this place, did I receive a card from any of you, did anyone come by and say, ‘good job.’ I wasn’t expecting a gold watch but a thank you and a cheap Timex would have done.”