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Motion to halt firings of city attorney, city manager denied

Updated September 9, 2020 - 3:41 pm

The motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent City Council from terminating the employment contracts for the city attorney and city manager was denied the morning of Sept. 3 by Jim Crockett, a judge in Nevada’s Eighth District Court.

He also denied an additional motion that would prevent Mayor Kiernan McManus and Councilwoman Tracy Folda from discussing their contracts and voting to end their employment with the city.

The action clears the way for the City Council to bring back the four agenda items that were originally scheduled for a special Aug. 6 meeting that will focus on the “character, alleged misconduct or professional competence” of City Attorney Steve Morris and City Manager Al Noyola, terminating their employment and hiring temporary replacements.

“I do plan to proceed with the process to schedule a meeting for the council to discuss the employment contracts of these appointed officials,” McManus said.

The Aug. 6 meeting was canceled after Crockett issued a temporary restraining order in response to a complaint filed by attorneys for Morris and Noyola alleging that the meeting to consider their employment contracts violated the state’s open meeting law because of how they were notified.

Crockett said he issued the temporary restraining order because it was an “emergency situation” that if the meeting was held would cause “irreparable harm” to the plaintiffs.

Now, after having had adequate time to review the motions in the case, he said the “simple solution” is compliance with the Nevada Revised Statutes and the open meeting law regarding proper notice of the meeting. However, he said providing permanent, long-term relief in the case was “untenable.”

Law violation

Morris said Crockett’s ruling “reaffirmed the findings of its original restraining order” and “found that Nevada’s open meeting law had been violated.”

McManus said he believes it is important to note that the Sept. 3 hearing was the first time “representatives of the city have had the opportunity to be heard in the matter.”

“The city attorney and city manager did not provide the city with adequate representation as they pursued litigation against the city. Once the City Council was able to obtain competent representation for the city, the facts of the matter were presented to the judge.”

Morris said he and Noyola addressed their concerns to city leaders about proper notification regarding discussion of their employment contracts before bringing the matter to court.

“Rather than voluntarily correcting its mistake, the city chose to proceed with the Aug. 6 special meeting in violation of Nevada law and in violation of plaintiffs’ due process rights — thus compelling the pending lawsuit,” he said.

Retaliatory action

Morris’ and Noyola’s complaint also alleged the Aug. 6 meeting was scheduled in retaliation because they substantiated a series of allegations against McManus, who has been accused by 10 city employees of “religious discrimination, harassment, bullying and creating a hostile work environment.”

Morris and Noyola claim they also have been victims of the mayor’s alleged behavior.

“We are disappointed at the court’s ruling. We are more disappointed that the mayor’s pattern of harassment, retaliation and potential intimidation of witnesses remains unchecked,” said Jeffrey Barr, an attorney with Armstrong Teasdale LLP, which is defending Morris and Noyola.

In denying the motion for an injunction to prohibit McManus and Folda “from acting in any official capacity upon any matter relating to plaintiffs’ employment contracts with the city, pending the outcome of this case,” Crockett said that would require the other three members of City Council to vote unanimously, making the employment contracts “more bulletproof” than what Morris and Noyola originally had.

“The attempt to prevent me and Council member Folda from participating in our duties on the City Council were termed by the judge as an “unbelievable overreach” by Morris and Noyola and noted that he had no control over the legislature,” McManus said.

Additional investigations

Crockett added that if, for some reason, McManus and Folda need to be sanctioned for unethical conduct, that ruling should come from the Nevada Commission on Ethics.

Morris said he and Noyola just seek “one of the most basic principles of due process — a disinterested tribunal — … whenever their employment contracts are evaluated by the city. Last Thursday, the District Court did not believe it had jurisdiction to evaluate that issue at the present time, but that doesn’t absolve individual public officials from their ethical obligations when a conflict of interest is present. Such is the case here.”

He added that related proceedings before the Nevada Equal Rights Commission to investigate the discriminatory and retaliatory actions by the city have begun.

“There will be many opportunities in the future, after discovery commences and investigations are complete, to shine a light on the improper conduct of some of our civic leaders. The citizens of Boulder City deserve such transparency,” he said.

Dennis Kennedy of Bailey Kennedy, the Las Vegas-based law firm representing the city, McManus and Folda, did not respond to multiple requests for a comment.

Hali Bernstein Saylor is editor of the Boulder City Review. She can be reached at hsaylor@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9523. Follow @HalisComment on Twitter.

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