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Indian Hills trustee will keep asking questions

by Christy Chalmers

Indian Hills General Improvement District Trustee Joanne Riekenberg says she will continue asking questions despite public criticism by her colleagues and a failed attempt at censure.

“I’m glad things turned out the way they did,” Riekenberg said following the GID board’s decision Monday not to take any action on her alleged transgressions. “I felt I really didn’t do anything wrong, but I wasn’t sure how the men would react.”

Riekenberg was publicly accused of misconduct by board chairman Steve Weaver and vice chairman Ron Kruse for allegedly making disparaging remarks about district employees Rick Watkins and Jim Bentley. Watkins, another district worker, Kurt Christensen, and Indian Hills resident LuElla Rogers wrote letters recently saying Riekenberg publicly criticized Bentley and Watkins while on duty at the Carson City post office, where she works.

After listening to Weaver read a statement calling the alleged remarks “reprehensible and unwarranted,” Riekenberg left Monday night’s meeting with a parting shot:

“I defend my right to question any employee or disagree with any board member,” she said. “I was elected by the people of this district twice, and I’m just looking out for their best interests.”

Trustee Renee Haskell departed shortly after, saying the proposed censure would violate Riekenberg’s First Amendment rights.

“I just felt like Joanne was getting picked on,” she said Tuesday morning. “It’s not a philosophical difference. They’ve been trying to bully her into submission for a long time now. If she doesn’t agree with us, so what? She has her right to speak her mind and we have the right to vote the way we feel.”

Weaver, Kruse and trustee Dick Fairfax remained to discuss Riekenberg.

Fairfax said he was “disappointed” with Haskell’s letter and “totally appalled at the conduct of Ms. Riekenberg.

“I agree she has First Amendment rights, but the manner in which she portrays them is totally antagonistic,” he said, adding that the aggrieved employees should inform the U.S. Postal Service of Riekenberg’s alleged comments, “because that’s totally uncalled-for conduct.”

“It’s been an ongoing situation for two years, and it’s escalated out of proportion,” added Kruse.

A few audience members agreed, but the board didn’t pursue censure.

“Just the fact that we’ve had the discussion may be appropriate,” said Fairfax.

The trio did pass a resolution requiring any queries from trustees about employee tasks to be routed through Bentley. Though Riekenberg wasn’t identified as a genesis for the action, the dispute with Watkins involved what he said was public admonishment over weeds at Sunridge Park, and Weaver noted the policy was meant to address actions by “certain board members who aren’t here tonight anymore.” Riekenberg has acknowledged asking Watkins about weed control at the park, but denies she publicly berated him.

“The majority of this board needs to govern this district, not one individual,” said Weaver.

The board members also informally agreed to limit their remarks during future public comment sessions. Public comment periods are held during open meetings to give audience members and residents a chance to introduce issues that aren’t on the meeting agenda, though action is not allowed.

Citing lengthy and sometimes heated public comment exchanges, Fairfax called for voluntary abstinence from public comment by the trustees.

“The public comment should be for the public, not the board,” he said. “I think the board should not use the public comment as a soap box.”

Told of those developments, Riekenberg said she’ll present written work requests and continue asking questions.

“If I have a question about something, they’re not going to stop me,” she vowed. “Hopefully, this will get some people more interested in what’s going on.”