Douglas County manager reaches separation agreement
STATELINE — A separation agreement between Douglas County and its manager was approved on Thursday night by commissioners without debate, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t one in the wind.
Douglas County manager Jim Nichols did not attend Thursday’s meeting at Stateline. Neither Nichols nor the county issued notice that would have been required under his three-year contract. According to deputy district attorney Doug Ritchie, if commissioners were to terminate Nichols’ contact, they would have had to provide him with two months notice, during which he would continue to be paid and then he would receive six-months severance.
“The heart of the issue is that Nichols would effectively leave the county,” Ritchie said of the agreement.
Under the agreement, Nichols last day is Jan. 29. He would still be available to consult with the county for three months after that.
“The key phrase is ‘the best interest of the county,’” Commissioner Greg Lynn said. “That’s what we’re serving.”
Commissioner Nancy McDermid pointed out that the agreement was mutual.
“I don’t want to dig into this too much,” commission chairman Doug Johnson said before the unanimous vote.
Nichols will receive $115,346, which amounts to six months salary plus accrued medical and vacation.
There was plenty of debate over commissioners’ preference for interim county manager.
McDermid proposed asking Larry Werner, who had served for six months while the county looked for Nichols, if he would be willing to sign a contract for a year.
“The reason I’m proposing him is that he has institutional knowledge, he was the interim county manager, he has the experience and knowledge of this area, and he has vested interest in Douglas County, having been a resident for decades,” McDermid said. “It will give us a year at least with stability and we can determine the next steps.”
Commissioner Barry Penzel, who’d locked horns with Werner during meetings, opposed the appointment vehemently.
Penzel proposed recruiting someone from among county employees to do the job before bringing Werner back.
“I know for a fact that his response in the floods was inadequate,” Penzel said. “The only thing that put [the] second flood on some sort of response was the much improved response from fire and sheriff’s department. I can’t support selecting Mr. Werner again.”
Penzel said he’d asked several county employees if they’d be interested in the job if it were offered.
Commissioner Steve Thaler agreed that the county should take a strong look internally for an interim county manager.
However, Thaler said that it might not be a good idea for the employee to take the job and then face not having one when the year was up.
Thaler and Penzel opposed having Ritchie and human resources director Wendy Lang approach Werner and ask if he’s interested in the position.
A proposal that community development director Mimi Moss serve as acting county manager until an interim manager is in place prompted an accusation from Penzel that the other commissioners had met on the issue beforehand.
“There seems like a lot of agreement on this,” Penzel said, but voted for the appointment.
Nichols told commissioners at a Dec. 29 team-building workshop that he questioned his value to the county.
“I still question the value of my leadership in this organization relative to the board make-up that we have right now,” he told commissioners at the time.
Nichols was hired Sept. 29, 2014, at a salary of $172,000 a year. At a Nov. 4, 2015, performance review, Nichols said he felt he hadn’t met the expectations of county commissioners as a whole. In Nevada, reviews of government executives must be conducted in public.
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