Commissioners chastise Bonner for ‘unilateral decisions’
August 22, 2012
Douglas County commissioners took Chairman Lee Bonner to task Monday, questioning his “unilateral decisions” that left the other board members in the dark.
“I feel a responsibility to remind the chair that we are a team,” said Commissioner Greg Lynn. “No one is above anybody else, and we’re seeing it more and more. It’s difficult operating as a team.”
Commissioners Doug Johnson and Mike Olson told Bonner during a public workshop that it was the chairman’s job to build consensus, not be an activist.
The comments were made following a strategic planning workshop at the Emergency Operations Center in Minden when commissioners discussed board norms and procedures.
“We take this seriously when you are elected to be county commissioner,” Lynn said. “We are no one’s boss. We are hired to provide governance.”
Lynn cited the role of the chair “as a leader among equals,” as stated in the board’s own procedures.
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Johnson said he was concerned about overtures Bonner reportedly made on his own to members of the National Association of Counties about holding a regional meeting at Lake Tahoe next spring.
“There’s a financial liability,” said Johnson, who has served on the national NACO board for years. “You didn’t tell me about it until got an e-mail.”
“Let’s just back up,” Bonner said. “NACO reached out. I talked to the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority and (commissioner) Nancy (McDermid). Nothing will happen before it comes to the board.”
Johnson said it wasn’t within Bonner’s role as commission chair to set the project in motion on his own.
Lynn brought up Bonner’s appearance Aug. 2 before the Minden Town Board when he urged the group to table action on The Ranch at Gardnerville project changes until a “working group” met of officials, developers and county staff.
The meeting, as Bonner envisioned it, turned out to be a potential open meeting law violation, and wasn’t scheduled.
“I was absolutely alarmed,” said Lynn, who had no knowledge of Bonner’s appearance in Minden. “You can’t skirt the open meeting law.”
“When the open meeting law was brought up, we didn’t go through with it,” Bonner said.
The commissioners also discussed hearings for changes in the county liquor license when Bonner recruited small bar owners to appear before the board.
“No. 1, I serve the citizens,” Bonner said. “I have to work for the people. I went to smaller places (bars). I had packets made up. I wasn’t satisfied with comments from just the bigger places.”
Johnson interrupted, saying, “I don’t think you hear what we’re saying. We all work for the people. I might be the only one who has the nerve to tell you, we’re being treated like employees. Your sense of entitlement is totally out of proportion to the job. I think the chairman is a little bit lower than the rest of the board. You manage the board, your opinion doesn’t come into play until the end.”
“That wasn’t my intent at all,” Bonner said.
McDermid, who serves as vice chair, rose to Bonner’s defense saying he was new to the public arena and the board.
“In all fairness, I think it’s as Lee said. It’s not his intention, he’s intentioned very well,” McDermid said.
“The most difficult think about being a commissioner is you can never take that off,” McDermid told Bonner. “It’s like Batman coming in costume and saying, ‘I’m not really Batman.'”
She said Bonner was “absolutely freaked out” by the open meeting law, recalling his experience at his first Board of Commissioners meeting in January 2011.
The board replaced members of the planning commission in a stormy session which prompted several citizen complaints of open meeting law violations to the Nevada Attorney General.
After an investigation, the board was cleared of violations, but was subject to extensive criticism in the community.
On Monday, commissioners advised Bonner to discuss plans with County Manager Steve Mokrohisky before making them public outside commission meetings.
“When I was the chairman, I would take those ideas to the county manager,” Olson said. “He’s the one who has to make it work.”
“The easiest person to communicate with is Steve,” McDermid said. “It’s important to run things up the flagpole and see if anybody salutes.”
“You can’t go anywhere and represent yourself, and not represent the board,” Lynn said. “Things take time. What I am saying is three of your fellow board members are very frustrated.”
“This is really hard,” Johnson said. “We’re not trying to throw arrows. We’re not trying to make it vicious.”
“You are a smart guy,” Olson said. “That is why we want to bring you along. We’re all in this together.”
Johnson jokingly suggested a group hug at the end of the comments, and McDermid insisted.
“C’mon you guys, a group hug,” she said, as the five commissions formed a huddle.
“I’ve heard your concerns,” Bonner said. “I’ll do my best.”
Bonner was elected to a one-year term as chairman in January by a 3-2 vote, with Lynn and Johnson voting against him.