Sexual harassment charges by three unidentified women against Reno City Manager Andrew Clinger have intruded on regular city business as city councilmembers grapple with the sudden controversy.
An Aug. 3 council session on housing issues has been canceled, and an Aug. 4 meeting on Clinger has been scheduled. The agenda item for the new meeting, posted Aug. 1, reads:
“Discussion, consideration and potential action to authorize appointment of Special Counsel to manage an investigation into complaints of alleged misconduct by City Manager Andrew Clinger; and, if approved, delegate to Mayor Hillary Schieve the authority to select, contract with, and direct the Special Counsel, in an amount not to exceed $100,000. (For Possible Action).”
It was not explained why outside investigators were being sought instead of official investigators in offices such as the county district attorney or the state Bureau of Investigation, which would be less expensive.
State law does not actually use the term “sexual harassment,” but the statute that covers the issue—Nevada Revised Statute 33.240—reads:
“Acts that constitute harassment in workplace. Harassment in the workplace occurs when: 1. A person knowingly threatens to cause or commits an act that causes: (a) Bodily injury to the person or another person; (b) Damage to the property of another person; or (c) Substantial harm to the physical or mental health or safety of a person; 2. The threat is made or the act is committed against an employer, an employee of the employer while the employee performs the employee’s duties of employment or a person present at the workplace of the employer; and 3. The threat would cause a reasonable person to fear that the threat will be carried out or the act would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated or harassed.”
A message by Mayor Hillary Schieve was sent out on July 30: “I take these allegations very seriously, and I believe they must be investigated thoroughly and promptly for the sake of everyone involved. I have always said I believe in transparency, and I continue to be committed to that. So I will be calling a special meeting of the council to discuss this issue. I plan to propose an independent counsel to investigate these allegations. I caution everyone that peoples’ reputations are at stake here. So until the special meeting of the council is convened, I will not comment further so as not to influence the investigation and I urge others to do the same.”
The matter has been complicated by an open meeting complaint filed by the attorney for the three women with the Nevada attorney general’s office, which alleged that the law was violated when the council met with the city attorney about the case privately on July 20. It also argues the matter is being dealt with in a forum the city manager himself is in a position to influence.
“The absence of city council oversight has the apparent purpose of preventing the allegations of misconduct from public exposure and protecting the city manager and the city from ’public oversight’ which the Open Meeting Law is expressly designed to ensure,” wrote attorney William Peterson in the complaint.
The Nevada open meeting handbook contains a section entitled “Non-meetings to confer with counsel” that says a quorum of a public body can meet with its lawyer without it being considered a public meeting. “In addition, the law specifically allows the members to deliberate, but not act, on information obtained from its counsel in the non-meeting,” it reads. “The receipt of information from the attorney and deliberation may both occur in the non-meeting.”
Peterson objected to information being provided on the case to Clinger by the city attorney’s office without the same material going to the three women.
In 2008, when Clinger was state budget director in the administration of Gov. Jim Gibbons, Gibbons and Clinger were both the target of a lawsuit by Mary Keating, an employee in Clinger’s office. Gibbons had been the subject of unfavorable news coverage about his text messages, and Keating’s lawsuit argued that she had been transferred to a different post in retaliation for a mistaken conclusion that she had leaked the text messages. The suit also contended that Clinger wanted her removed because she complained “of his improper sexually oriented conduct with his wife while on state premises” in March 2006 or thereabouts.
No details were made available about the conduct Keating alleged, but Clinger at the time said it meant an occasion when his wife was sitting on his lap in his office.
According to the Las Vegas Sun, Clinger said, “One of Mary Keating’s employees walked in unannounced while my wife was there sitting on my lap and my wife stood up.” It was never confirmed whether that was, in fact, what Keating referenced in the lawsuit.
Keating’s attorney in that case was former Washoe County district attorney Cal Dunlap, who also represented Dawn Gibbons, wife of Gov. Gibbons, in their divorce case.
This week, Dunlap said he was reluctant to talk about the new Clinger case because there is a chance he may enter in in some role When asked about the Keating case, he said it is under a confidentiality agreement. Asked if that means it was settled, he said, “It was resolved.” Asked the difference between a settlement and a resolution, he said some attorneys prefer the term resolved over settled because “settlement” can indicate a win or the award of financial remuneration and thus give information that confidentiality should not allow.