Former workers testify against Augustine | NevadaAppeal.com

Former workers testify against Augustine

Jeannine Coward, a former state assistant controller, testifies Thursday, Dec. 2, 2004, during Controller Kathy Augustine's impeachment trial in Carson City, Nev. Coward said Augustine threw things at her and told her to handle various 2002 campaign jobs even after Coward objected to the activity. (AP Photo/Reno-Gazette-Journal, Candice Towell)

Nevada Controller Kathy Augustine’s former executive assistant testified Thursday that she prepared campaign contribution and expense reports, gave speeches on Augustine’s behalf, and appeared in one of her campaign commercials ” all of it on state time.

She said the two-term controller was very concerned about the 2002 election.

“She told me she needed to make sure she won this election because it would buy her four more years so she could set up her run for Congress,” Normington said. “She said her place was in Washington, D.C., because she was too good for this hick little state.”

In September, Augustine admitted to three willful violations of state ethics law for using her office and staff in her campaign. She was impeached by the Assembly last month, and is now on trial before the Senate. A conviction could remove her from office and make her the first constitutional officer in the state’s 140-year history to be removed by impeachment.

Normington is the primary witness in the Senate trial in which Augustine is accused of using her staff and her office and its equipment in her re-election effort.

Thursday, Normington said she was coerced into doing campaign work, and that the demands grew until she spent almost all of her time on campaign functions in the last couple of weeks before the 2002 election, working on everything from fund-raiser invitation lists to stuffing envelopes by the “thousands.”

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Normington said she felt coerced into helping with the campaign even though Augustine told her numerous times not to do campaign work on state time. She said Augustine demanded she get those tasks done along with her state work, quoting her as saying her job and those of other unclassified workers depended on getting Augustine re-elected.

She said she did the work both during the day and after hours for Augustine because she feared she would lose her job and quoted her as saying: “I don’t care if you have to sleep here, you’re going to stay here until everything’s completed.”

She also said Augustine cut former Chief Deputy Jim Wells out of her confidence after he refused to work on her campaign, saying, “I wish I could fire him now, but I have to wait until after the election otherwise it will look like retaliation.”

Wells said in his testimony that when she “assigned” him to do her campaign reports, he sent her an e-mail raising his concerns.

“While I do not mind completing your campaign report, I do not appreciate feeling like it is a condition of employment because it isn’t,” he said in the e-mail.

He expressed concern that he and other workers not feel pressured to work on the campaign.

“We all have to be able to choose what to do in our free time without fear of repercussions,” he wrote.

After that, he said, Augustine’s attitude toward him changed dramatically. He resigned the office after hearing she wanted to fire him.

Normington went through a long list of campaign records she kept on Augustine’s behalf. She said almost all the work was done during state office hours and on her state-owned computer.

Former Assistant Controller Jeannine Coward testified she, too, was asked to do campaign work for Augustine, and did much it during office hours, which forced her to take regular office work home in the evenings to get it done.

Asked why she did the work, she cited Augustine’s temper.

“She had thrown things at me before when she didn’t like things. I suppose I was very cowardly and took the easy way out and decided to just go along.”

Coward said Augustine’s “tantrums” created an atmosphere in the office that discouraged any challenges.

Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at nevadaappeal@sbcglobal.net or 687-8750.