A temporary matter

The decision to effectively rehire former Humboldt County Library Assistant Director Joy Holt through Manpower led to an intense discussion between the library board and county administration during the library board’s Dec. 21 meeting.

Humboldt County Library Director Cyndi O hired Holt through temporary employment agency Manpower to help finish a report required by the Nevada State Library. The problem was, the county fired Holt earlier this year.

Holt had prepared the same report last year, Cyndi O said, so she knew what to do. Cyndi O said she discussed hiring Holt with most of the library board members and they understood why Cyndi O felt it was necessary to hire Holt, rather than another temporary employee. Cyndi O said she received approval from everyone on the board individually except co-chair Barbara Duncan, who couldn’t be reached at the time. Duncan said she was out of town.

At the Dec. 21 library board meeting, Assistant County Manager and Human Resources Director Abel Del Real-Nava explained that County Comptroller Gina Rackley approached him with a Manpower invoice indicating that the library had hired Holt temporarily.

Del Real-Nava expressed concern about the public perception of a terminated employee returning to work at the library. He said it was “not good standard practice.”

Board member Susan Putnam, attending Thursday’s meeting remotely via telephone, asked, “Is it against the law, or do you just object to it?”

Del Real-Nava replied, “No reasonable organization would bring in a previously terminated employee, even through a temp agency.”

The county currently has no policy about hiring terminated employees through a temp agency. Del Real-Nava said he would suggest a revision of policy to the Humboldt County Commission to prevent future issues with the loophole.

A board member asked if Del Real-Nava had spoken directly to Cyndi O about Holt working at the library. Cyndi O said she learned about the conflict when a Manpower employee contacted her.

Del Real-Nava replied, “yes, we went through all the proper channels.” When asked if he specifically contacted Cyndi O, he said he hadn’t. He explained that he wanted to do some “background investigation” before approaching her personally about the matter. He later added that he wanted to make sure policy hadn’t been broken.

According to County Manager Dave Mendiola, when he and Del Real-Nava learned about Holt’s employment at the library, they asked library board co-chair Barbara Duncan to request that Manpower not assign Holt to any more library or County jobs.

“Barbara, your making a call to Manpower to terminate that project at Abel’s direction is completely out of line. Per NRS, the board acts as a single entity, and board members aren’t supposed to take actions individually without running it through and having the board take action on that item,” Cyndi O said.

She continued that library employment was part of “day-to-day operations” and was, therefore, under her direction.

Later in the meeting, District Attorney Mike MacDonald said that only the county commission had the authority to make contracts with people or organizations. He also said that, even though the board members didn’t meet together to discuss hiring Holt, contacting individual board members about the matter may have violated Nevada’s Open Meeting Law.

“Just because a board member speaks individually to an executive director, or librarian, or library director, if there’s polling, discussion of items and polling, that could be an open meeting violation, even though you weren’t all involved in the same meeting or present together,” MacDonald said.

Cyndi O replied that polling involves getting consensus before a vote takes place. “In this example, there was no consensus. It was sharing of information to make sure the board members were on the same page. Because the board didn’t take action on this. Because it’s not the board’s role to take action on that.”

Board members said the conflict could have been avoided. They also expressed their desire to nail down the proper chain of communication between the board and county administration so situations like this don’t happen again.

“We all made mistakes in this whole thing,” Duncan said.