What is IVGID so intent on hiding?
It’s not just public-record emails that Incline Village General Improvement District management is fighting to keep from the public.
Top IVGID administrators have also been stonewalling efforts by two trustees — including the IVGID treasurer — to see basic district financial records.
It was about an hour and a half into IVGID’s board meeting last week that the district’s fear of more financial transparency was explicitly acknowledged.
Doing so was IVGID General Manager Steven Pinkerton’s most voluble ally on the board, Chair Kendra Wong.
Board Treasurer Matthew Dent had just explained why his evaluation of the GM showed more “Needs Improvement” entries this year than last. Each trustee is required to fill out the annual evaluations.
“A lot of that,” he said, “had to do with information I was requesting. Emails were either being ignored, or being responded to with incorrect information.”
Dent cited Pinkerton’s general “lack of transparency” and repeated withholding of information that Dent sought, believing the information is needed for honestly weighing issues brought before the board.
“So, if I request things like the general ledger, the chart of accounts and they come back [that] they don’t exist, we know that’s not true,” he said. “But those are the responses that I get.”
Wong then attempted to argue that all information requests made of the general manager have to be approved by the entire board — that is, by the three-member majority that always sides with the GM — only to backtrack when vigorously confronted by Trustee Tim Callicrate:
Wong: So I’m hearing a lot of things that — maybe we need to take a step back and go back to the training we had, in our role as a trustee. In which [Deputy Attorney General Sarah] Bradley specifically said, that we act as a board, and individually you may want information that you think you need to act as a trustee, but we can only act as a board and direct the general manager to give that to us as the board—
Dent: No she didn’t.
Callicrate: That’s not what she said, Chairman Wong.
Wong: No, she said that any public information, any records that already exist, we can get and we can receive. But the fact of the matter —
Callicrate: We have to go through the general manager either individually for a specific [record], or, if it doesn’t exist, then we as a board have to request it in its entirety.
Callicrate then returned to the issue of the district’s chart of accounts, which both he and Treasurer Dent had repeatedly asked to inspect and which repeatedly had been denied. At that time point — 1.33.27 into the meeting’s Live Stream video — Wong changed her argument for trustees being kept away from the district’s financial details:
Callicrate: But if there’s a chart of accounts—
Wong: But the chart of accounts does not exist as a public record. That is the problem with our request.
Callicrate: For a trustee who’s the sitting treasurer on the board, or for me if I want to look through the chart of accounts, or I want to look through the general ledger, or I want to look through any of that information so that I know [the situation] — I’m not going to be sharing that with the community. That’s—
Wong: But if it gets shared with us, it becomes a public document. That’s why it is not being shared with us. [Emphasis added.]
Note: As of 9:42 a.m. Thursday, Nevada Journal — which on Wednesday had given Wong the opportunity to clarify her remarks — had received her response. [Read email exchange]. It confirmed, however, rather than denied, her board-meeting statement, above.
John Tsarpalas, president of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, Nevada Journal‘s parent organization, acknowledged that Nevada law does not require government entities to create records.
“The question remains, however,” he said, “Why is IVGID so afraid of its own trustees seeing the chart of accounts, or general ledger? In QuickBooks, or other accounting software, you can print them out by just a click or two.
“Yes, some members of the public might ask to see those items. But isn’t that what transparency’s all about?”
Even though public-records requests do not compel local governments to create records, NPRI Transparency Research Director Robert Fellner notes that information stored on a computer is included in the Nevada’s definition of public records:
As the state’s manual on public records notes:
NRS 230.005(6) “Official state record” includes, without limitation:
Papers, unpublished books, maps and photographs; Information stored on magnetic tape or computer…(Emphasis added.)
As used in the Act, the term “all public books and public records” includes everything within in the definition of official records in NRS 239.005(6),
The state’s local-government records-retention manual also defines “record” in its glossary of terms as “recorded information, regardless of medium or characteristics.”
According to IVGID’s handbook for trustees, the first of three “detailed role[s] of the Treasurer” is to work “with the Director of Finance, Accounting, Risk Management and Information Technology to review and support the financial responsibilities of the District.”
Thus, on January 5, 2017, Dent — elected the previous November to the IVGID board of trustees after a significantly high-level career in major construction-management projects — emailed IVGID’s Director of Finance, Gerry Eick:
Happy New Year!! Have you been out on the slopes?
I reached out to Brad regarding the CIP (Capital Improvement Projects) FYE (Fiscal Year End) 2016 Report and about a few of the projects narratives. Brad mentioned you may be able to help me out regarding the report format.
Can you email me IVGID – Summary of CIP Activity by Project for FYE 6/30/16 Report but add the columns Opened Early, Projects Added, & Projects Cancelled as provided in the CIP FYE 2015? I am having a little trouble understanding the report. Given my construction background, I wanted to see if there is an opportunity where I can add any value.
I sense a few options which might make the Report much easier to comprehend. After I spend a little more time I would like to sit down with you to learn more and I am sure I might have a few questions. 🙂
I appreciate your help! Thank you. Matthew
A week later, having received no reply, Dent emailed Pinkerton, copying Eick and District Counsel Jason Guinasso:
Subject: Fwd: Report – Summary of CIP Activity FYE 2016
Good morning Steve,
Did you and Gerry receive last week’s email request? See below.
I would like to pick up a copy of this report today around 3 pm.
Please confirm receipt of this email.
Call me with any questions.
Pinkerton then replied:
Good Morning Matt:
I am in receipt of your email below.
The current CIP Activity report format is consistent with Board policies and practices.
If you would like any modifications to this report format, based on your expertise, staff would need direction from the full Board to make any changes.
Please contact me directly if you have any questions on this matter.
“Unfortunately,” Dent told Nevada Journal, that’s “been the norm since I’ve been on the board. And you always want — at least, I always want — to be as transparent as possible. And if you can’t get access to certain documents — whether you’re the treasurer or not — it makes it really tough. And then how are you supposed to exercise your fiduciary responsibility, if you don’t have true oversight?”
Based on information given trustees by Deputy Attorney General Sarah Bradley on September 12, he said, it appears that the IVGID board may have been getting bad legal advice from District Counsel Jason Guinasso — who regularly justifies management’s denial of information to trustees or individuals making public-records requests.
Guinasso’s credibility, however, may be weaker now than before the last board meeting.
Attempting to add another defense for Pinkerton’s denial of chart-of-accounts information to trustees, the lawyer unintentionally produced mirth among financially aware audience members — including even Kendra Wong a CPA.
Guinasso: Trustee Wong, just a point of clarification: A chart of accounts — this question’s come up so many times. And I always ask the same question of our Director of Finance, Gerry Eick, ‘Does a chart of accounts exist?’ And the fact is it doesn’t exist and— It just doesn’t exist. There’s no Chart of Accounts. There is nothing to be seen.”
Callicrate: “But how do we pay our bills, Mr. Guinasso?”
Wong (smiling): It has to exist for us to have an accounting system. [She laughs.]
 Deputy AG Bradley had conducted an Open-Meeting-Law Training session for trustees on September 12, the day immediately before the board meeting. The training had been deemed necessary because of the large number of open-meeting-law complaints regularly filed against IVGID — including one where even IVGID’s attempted correction of a prior complaint was said by the Attorney General’s Office to itself violate the state’s open-meeting law. Ironically, IVGID’s session with Bradley constituted yet another open-meeting-law violation because IVGID had not given the public prior notice of the meeting with Bradley, and thus the opportunity to attend.
Steven Miller is managing editor of Nevada Journal and senior vice president at the Nevada Policy Research Institute