Manager goes to court to stop job discussion
Embattled Indian Hills General Improvement District general manager Jim Bentley turned to District Court this week, obtaining an injunction to stop three trustees from trying to fire him.
District Court Judge Michael Gibbons ordered the board Wednesday to remove an agenda item from that night’s meeting to discuss Bentley’s job performance in a closed personnel session.
Bentley claimed that any discussion violated an agreement reached by the board and its attorney, Jeff Rahbeck, to give him until June 13 to respond to allegations that he’s not doing the job for which he is paid $60,366.
The agenda item was requested by Trustee Joanne Riekenberg. Bentley’s attorney argued that was an attempt by other trustees “to insulate themselves from liability for the wrongdoing of Riekenberg in forcing this item on the agenda.”
Minden attorney Scott Brooke, representing Bentley, said he attended a May 3 improvement district meeting where residents gave “unanimous public testimony” in support of Bentley. That night, trustees and their attorney agreed the charges against Bentley were unsubstantiated. Brooke said the board agreed to withdraw the item until June 13. But Riekenberg and Trustee Renee Haskell have continued to place the item on the agenda, Brooke said.
– Insufficient cause. A personal dislike or job dissatisfaction is not cause to fire Bentley, Brooke argued. Bentley’s six-year contract cites several conditions under which he can be terminated and none has been met, Brooke said.
On the same day the injunction was issued, IHGID Trustee Richard Fairfax, subject of a recall, submitted his resignation effective May 31. In his letter, Fairfax wrote, “I do not feel guilty about this as I know I have done more than my share as a trustee, but I do not appreciate smear campaigns, malicious half-truths, innuendoes and lies while sitting for this public body. Efforts to protect the financial well-being of the district have always been a priority of mine.”
Board chairman Steve Weaver and trustee Ron Kruse are not subject to the recall.
“I feel the need to apologize to two of my fellow trustees, Joanne and Renee, for violating one of my own tenets in their regard by not learning the facts,” Fairfax wrote. “It took me almost a year to really find out how badly they had been lied to and disregarded by the general manager and other trustees. While I did not originally appreciate their harsh and antagonistic attitude (and it tainted my own perceptions), I now fully understand their roots.”
Douglas County Clerk-Treasurer Barbara Reed reported May 19 that enough signatures had been verified to proceed with the recall vote scheduled for July 18. She said 400 signatures were collected to recall Fairfax with 256 required; 403 for Haskell with 236 required and 402 for Riekenberg’s recall with 254 required.
In his resignation, Fairfax referred to the Indian Hills recall group as having a “redneck mentality,” and said he feels sorry for Sunridge.
“They will most likely end up – through taxes and water/sewer fees – subsidizing facilities, parks and trails, streets, etc., for the Indian Hills/Ridgeview portion of the district,” his letter said. “I believe that portion of the Indian Hills General Improvement District will put the entire district in very harsh financial throes.”
The recall was sparked when Fairfax, Haskell and Riekenberg voted against building a community center near James Lee Park on the western edge of the community.
n Split vote. Vice Chairman Ron Kruse said Fairfax’s resignation could end up splitting the board down the middle.
The board may appoint a new member but with the present split it may be difficult to agree on an appointee.
If district board members cannot agree, Douglas County commissioners will fill the position.
“If I can figure out how to get the other two to resign then we wouldn’t have to do this,” recall organizer Art Baer said.
R-C News Service assistant managing editor Kurt Hildebrand contributed to this story.