By Melody Van Camp and Sam Hanson
Mayor of Ely and Ely City Councilman
The comments raised in the two Op/Ed pieces in the 22 August edition of the Ely Times by Richard Howe and S.F. concerning the recent actions of the Ely City Council have only served to continue misleading and inflaming the public concerning the issues surrounding the railroad Board of Trustees (composed of members of the City Council), and the railroad management board appointed by the City Council to manage the operations of the railroad.
Perhaps Mr. Howe expressed the crux of the issue most clearly when he stated “ Look at what all this hard work has produced. We have the best tourist attraction in Nevada…To undo years of work…is a step backwards.” In short, Mr. Howe has stated that the “end justifies the means.” We know of no one who doesn’t agree that the railroad has made dramatic and impressive strides…but we do not know all the steps that were taken to produce these results. After all, even Mussolini managed to “make the trains run on time” in his fascist Italian regime. Mr. Howe further comments, “I don’t pretend to know all the facts…” which further illustrates the problem: The railroad Board of Trustees (i.e., the City Council) doesn’t know all the facts either—even after repeated requests for specific information to determine those facts. These requests have likewise been asked by the constituents of the mayor and City Council, constituents who want to know the answers to queries such as:
How much exactly is owed to S&S Shortline for track rehabilitation between Shafter and Currie? At least four different figures—all amounting to totals in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, one even nearing a million—have been bandied about in the last few months, yet no concrete answer has been provided.
How much is the City owed in the contract to lease track at Shafter for car storage? The going rate for car storage is somewhere between $2.50 and $3.00 per car per day. Several dozens of cars were observed stored there as recently as two weeks ago, and it is believed that a like number has been stored there for several years. That potentially amounts to a considerable sum to which by contract the City is entitled to 25%. No one in City government can recall ever having received any remuneration from this agreement.
S&S Shortline has the obligation to provide a quarterly report of activities regarding their involvement; one has yet to be received.
Why did the management board discard the comprehensive (approximately 80 page) personnel policy and procedure manual and replace it with one of approximately twenty pages?
Why have the recurring audit concerns of the last several years not been addressed—specifically the conflict of having the books kept by the spouse of the director?
What are the salaries of the director and the spouse/bookkeeper?
Why were Railroad employees instructed to not speak to the Mayor or City Council by officials at the Railroad?
After being ignored—and even maligned—by the Railroad Management Board, the Board of Trustees (City Council) felt compelled to respond to the desires of its constituents and take definitive action to receive the answers to these questions. That is, after all, in large measure what the election of last year was all about: change. Mr. Howe, concluding his comments makes the rather curious statement that, “I read about the ‘Good Ole (sic) Boys’ and I’m proud to say that I am one of them.” One cannot help but wonder if as a county commissioner he wishes to align himself with the same “good old boys” who when managing the county finances led them to be taken over by the State of Nevada?
The Op/Ed piece authored by the author identified only as S.F. describes the concerns listed above as “hazy.” Perhaps S.F.’s bank account amounts to such a total that the prospect of being on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars presents no great concern. Few citizens of Ely, however, find themselves in a similar position, and to them such concerns are far from “hazy.” S.F. further intones that, “…firing a board they credit with doing a “fantastic” job is, as we said at the beginning, “bizarre.” Actually, those words came from a single member of the city council; it is not shared by all—nor considering the complete absence of response from the Management Board could it be considered “bizarre.” What is bizarre, though, comes with the observation of S.F. in these words: “The railroad operates well and when it comes to running a financially ship-shape organization there are few with a better reputation and track record than John Gianoli.” Perhaps S.F. is not a long-time reader of the Ely Times, or S.F. might recall a front page story several years ago about Mr. Gianoli’s stewardship of the First National Bank of Ely during which occurred the embezzlement of millions of dollars by the person working directly under Mr. Gianoli in his “financially ship-shape organization.” Perhaps S.F. is a new addition to the community?
In conclusion, few employers would permit their subordinate employees to repeatedly ignore their directives and remain employed—whether paid or voluntary employees—insubordination cannot long be tolerated if one expects to remain in business. That includes the elected members of the Ely City Council, who have responded to their employers—the citizens who elected them—to get the answers above, answers so long ignored by the Management Board. No one on the City Council, nor the Mayor, desires to see to the railroad cease operations; all of them appreciate the contributions it brings to the community, and are grateful to the dedicated volunteers and their many thousands of hours that have made it all possible. If the desire of the Ely City Council were to end the railroad, the best course of action it could take would be to continue to allow the situation to continue unabated. That is not the desire of the council, nor does it wish to expose the City of Ely to the potential of significant financial loss; moreover, the Council wishes to respond to the numerous long-existing and serious concerns raised by citizens and professional auditors alike about the financial operations of the railroad. Therefore, this City Council has taken the actions it has in dismissing members of the management board and commissioning a forensic audit, choices it felt compelled to take in the absence of the answers it has sought—repeatedly and unsuccessfully—over the past year. Had these answers been forthcoming none of these events would have transpired. If any group can rightly be faulted for the current situation, it is the Management Board for brazenly ignoring the directives of the Board of Trustees. It is therefore understandable why some observers are increasingly seeing these events as a contest of egos versus adhering to sound accounting practices. Such Op/Ed pieces as those of 22 August only strengthen those mis-perceptions, and kindle the angst of the uninformed.
Melody Vancamp, Mayor
Marion J. (Sam) Hanson, Ely City Council