IVGID needs oversight and transparency (Opinion) | TahoeDailyTribune.com

IVGID needs oversight and transparency (Opinion)

Judith Miller
Guest column

There have been several articles in the past year about tempers flaring at Incline Village General Improvement District meetings. Why is there so much controversy over the actions of our general improvement district?

For years IVGID’s trustees were told their only responsibility was to set policy. Now some trustees, together with members of the community, acknowledge they have another important role: oversight.

The district has grown exponentially during past decades with over 1,000 W2’s issued last year. Without oversight, or formal internal controls, things have gotten out of hand.

When my husband, Aaron Katz, and I moved here 13 years ago, like most newcomers, we had no idea what a GID was. We started attending meetings and soon learned that neither did the board or staff. After several years of unsuccessful attempts to get the board to exercise oversight, obtain public records and delve into IVGID’s “unique” activities and financials, as a last resort my husband filed a lawsuit to get answers.

Few people know what the lawsuit was actually about. It was never about exacting money from the district. Sadly, our courts refused to consider the substantive issues brought before them for declaratory relief (here, a request that the court declare whether IVGID was acting properly and within its limited powers). Consequently, those same issues persist today (e.g. Does IVGID conform to Dillon’s Rule that limits the powers local governments may exercise? And another citizen, Mark Smith, has filed a lawsuit against IVGID over public records.) Now we have learned that our public records retention policy is over 20 years old and does not include email.

After the district refused to provide my husband with its detailed budget, filing a lawsuit was the only option available. If a judge decides a document is just a “draft” or “privileged,” should the citizen have to pay the district’s legal costs for exercising their right to petition the court?

Judge Flanagan’s decision was just as wrong as the repeated decisions he made against the League to Save Incline Assets which spent more than 10 years battling his rulings supporting the government and dismissing citizens’ arguments. Unfortunately, my husband did not have the deep pockets to hire a team of high-powered attorneys to counter the district’s only weapon: character assassination.

The district has taken legal action against others besides my husband, without board approval. Because lawyers delay billing for months, even years, IVGID boards often have no knowledge of how much has been spent. At the Aug. 25, 2015 board meeting, then district counsel, Devon Reese, falsely reported to the board that the district’s “insurance” was covering the costs of defending the district in the Katz lawsuit, even after the POOL/PACT had withdrawn coverage because there was no claim against the district for money. For the same reason, the district’s legal expenses in the Mark Smith case are not covered.

My husband made no personal attacks; he brought meticulously documented and justifiable criticisms of actions that elsewhere have been considered unethical, illegal or at a minimum highly improper. If that were not the case, then why didn’t IVGID management counter false claims and defend its employees?

Instead, the public kept hearing empty phrases like “There’s misinformation” with no explanation of exactly what was amiss. If good employees left the district, it was because management didn’t support them.

The only offer of settlement came after nearly 10 years of legal battles. IVGID’s only offer was that my husband just walk away and the district would not seek more legal fees, even though their attorneys knew what they finally admitted at the Oct. 27, 2020 meeting – it was not worth the risk to attempt to recover additional fees.

My husband has succeeded as a taxpayer’s advocate and “watchdog” to curb waste and require public bidding for some big ticket items (e.g. carbonated beverages, ski rental equipment, media buys, etc.). But much work remains.

Thankfully, the current board has made great strides in providing oversight, not just creating policies that are ignored. We now have an audit committee including knowledgeable community members, working to develop internal controls and unravel the convoluted accounting practices that even our new finance director terms “confusing” and “weird.”

Going forward, our board must continue its oversight efforts and encourage more public participation. Staff should be proud of the fact that they are public employees (not “quasi-public”) and be mindful that public service is a public trust. The community should wholeheartedly support our dedicated employees, but hold accountable those who would violate that trust.

Judith Miller is an Incline Village resident.

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