Members of the Reno City Council voted Aug. 4 to approve $50,000 for an investigation of City Manager Andrew Clinger to be overseen by Mayor Hillary Schieve. Clinger faces sexual harassment complaints by three women.
The charges became public after the attorney for the three women filed an open meeting complaint dealing with an investigation of Clinger that the public had never been told was underway. The lawyer, William Peterson, said in the complaint that the Reno City Council had recessed a meeting to gather privately to discuss the harassment investigation.
Once the charges became known, a special meeting was called for Aug 4. Before the meeting got to its only agenda item, there was stunning testimony during the public comment period that was largely ignored in news reports that evening and the next day except on the This is Reno website. Certified public accountant Kim Wallin, elected to two terms as Nevada state controller, stepped forward to say Clinger had a harassment and retaliation history during her years in state service.
Even before she was sworn in as state controller, Wallin told the council, Clinger, as state budget director, had asked her to support a $1.2 million state program he favored for a disaster recovery backup system in Las Vegas. She preferred an alternative program that would cost $700,000 less and come online sooner. “He told me that if I did not go … along with that program, that he would go and take away all of my enhancements in my budget,” she said.
After she crossed him on that issue, Wallin said, Clinger chopped up her budget, something that continued in subsequent budgets. Among Clinger’s cuts was elimination of funding for a position in the controller’s office held by Mary Keating, who had previously sued Clinger for sexual harassment. If true, it was a double retaliation—against Wallin on the backup system and against Keating for her lawsuit, which had resulted in a $75,000 settlement to Keating.
One source said that as part of a second settlement, Keating was supplied with five years of retirement.
Keating, who had worked for Clinger in the budget office when she sued him, was “probably one of the best employees I ever, ever worked with at the state,” Wallin said.
Wallin added that Clinger would “yell and scream and berate me.”
When, following the special council meeting, Clinger was asked for his reaction to Wallin’s comments, he called them “completely ridiculous. I have no idea what she’s talking about or why she would even be here today.”
After the meeting, Wallin said she thought it was important that she step forward so that the members of the council would know of the previous history. “Certainly Mary Keating can not be expected to go public after what she went through,” Wallin said. “Besides, I think it’s important to protect the taxpayers’ dollars so that they are not paying money out for these cases.”
Following Wallin’s remarks, the councilmembers turned to the agenda item that called for expenditure of up to $100,000 for an investigation of the charges against the city manager. That amount was reduced to $50,000 before being voted on.
A presentation by City Attorney Karl Hall revealed that on July 21, after an initial investigation, outside counsel informed the city that it had cleared Clinger of the harassment charges.
There is contention over the nature of that outside investigation. Clinger later said, “The independent investigation was completed. It was done.” But Peterson said that only one of the three complaints was investigated. At any rate, the council decided to proceed with a new probe.
There was plainly tension in the room. Some councilmembers—Jenny Brekhus, Naomi Duerr and Paul McKenzie—were more inclined to scrutinize the details of what is known about the matter before voting. Among the councilmembers—as among members of the audience—there had been surprise when the agenda for the meeting was released, because it did not contain an item dealing with administrative leave for Clinger while the investigation was conducted. Who put the agenda together is not known. The city charter gives the mayor authority to call special meetings but the council’s own rules assign agenda-writing to the city manager.
The sharpest exchange came when Brekhus was trying to discuss how the issue of administrative leave could be brought to the council at another special meeting. When the mayor tried to interrupt—apparently on grounds that the discussion had not been posted on the agenda—Brekhus said sternly, “Please, don’t cut me off, Mayor. Please don’t cut me off.” Eventually Brekhus called on Clinger to take administrative leave on his own and called on the mayor to put him on leave if he failed to do it himself.
McKenzie was concerned about the difficulty the three complainants would face with Clinger still on the job while the probe unfolds.
There was considerable comment on how information on the case had been passed around, with some people in the know and others not. City councilmembers did not receive copies of the complaints against Clinger. Duerr and Brekhus both made remarks suggesting they should have been better informed. Clinger was informed of the outcome of the initial investigation. The three complainants were not. Hall said office procedures barred informing the complainants.
Clinger sat mostly impassively during what had to be an uncomfortable meeting for him, but following the meeting while Peterson was being interviewed by reporters in the empty council hall, Clinger reemerged to answer questions.
Peterson said he understands the difficulty the city attorney has juggling the various people and entities he represents—“the city council and the city, the people and the public. Whose interests he’s protecting here, I’m not sure, but it looks like it’s the city manager.”
Peterson was critical of the city for not releasing the complaints to city councilmembers. He said he had no objection to the complaints by his clients being made public. “I don’t view these letters as confidential because I wrote them,” he said. But when asked by KRNV reporter Terri Hendry if he would release the letters, he declined because it “would contravene the spirit of the process laid out by the mayor.”
In her initial statement on the matter, Mayor Hillary Schieve discouraged public discussion of the matter on grounds that reputations were at stake. At the special council meeting, she said, “At this time I’d ask, though, [I’d] like everyone to please, please, I can’t stress this enough, to respect the process.” She did not spell out what that meant.
Hendry asked Peterson if he would release the letters after removing the names.
“I have no problem with these letters going out, with the redacting,” Peterson said—but again left it up to the city to do it.
He said that in her complaints about the way the process is conducted, Brekhus was “Right on the money. Right on the money.” He alleged his clients were threatened by the city attorney’s office with firing if they discussed the case, but Clinger was allowed to talk about it all he wanted.
“And all the time my clients were being told, ’You’re going to be fired if you talk.’ … You know where these [investigative] interviews were taking place? In the city manager’s office. … I’m not impressed by the process.”
Peterson said Clinger should have taken leave of his own accord. On Aug 8, Clinger did so, saying, “The health and vibrancy of our organization and our community are among my highest priorities. Effective today, I will be on voluntary leave for the next 15 days to ensure the important business of the city continues without interruption or distraction. In my absence, I have designated Bill Thomas to act in my place as City Manager. I have no doubt Bill will do an outstanding job.”