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Indian Hills scene of county’s hottest election battle

by Kurt Hildebrand
Nevada Appeal News Service

Their meetings are sometimes referred to as fight night. If it were a reality television show, viewers would accuse the producers of scripting it because no one could generate that much drama spontaneously.

It’s the Indian Hills General Improvement District Board of Trustees and the scene of the most contentious election in Douglas County.

The district was sued in federal court by one of its employees two weeks ago, the latest in a series of salvos fired at or by candidates for the improvement district office, including an open meeting law violation, and an agendized demand for the resignation of the chairwoman.

Some of the contention erupted at the board’s Oct. 13 meeting, when chairwoman Laura Lau, who is interim district manager Art Baer’s political opponent, tried to get an item on the board agenda to discuss what she called serious issues stemming from the three months he’s volunteered as manager.

Lau asked the board to set a date to discuss Baer’s performance as interim manager.

Baer called the material Lau sought to bring to the board “38 pages of half-truths that she wants to bring to the board before the election and politically assassinate me.”

Lau said the documents contained information about a serious situation facing the board.

Baer told Lau that he was tired of being attacked by her.

Lau told him she would be happy to take his key to the office at any time.

Baer said the only thing stopping him was that he lived in the district, too.

A previous agenda had an item placed by district board candidate Dianne Humble-Fournier calling for Lau’s ouster as chairwoman.

At the middle of the fight is the selection of a new district general manager and the district’s operation.

Both Baer and Humble-Fournier became involved in district politics when a former manager, Jim Bentley, and an effort to build new district offices, were threatened in 2000.

Baer led the recall effort that ousted a majority of the board when voters rejected two members and a third resigned rather than go to a vote. Humble-Fournier was appointed to fill one of the vacancies.

Humble-Fournier was then elected in 2000 for a four-year term during which the new district office was constructed and Indian Hills made a bid for cityhood. Baer was elected to the board in 2002.

Lau and Brian L. Nelson, both critics of the cityhood effort, defeated Humble Fournier and longtime member Ron Kruse in 2004. The city of Indian Hills died in a Legislative committee the following spring.

Baer did not seek re-election in 2006 and four new board members were elected to the board, including current trustees Kathryn Clark-Ross, Bill Eisele, Brian Patrick and Denise Pierini. Board member Riley Evans, a cityhood supporter, was defeated.

Both Humble-Fournier and Baer filed to take back their seats in spring after board members voted not to renew General Manager Dennis Longhofer’s contract in March.

Longhofer said he quit in November 2007 just before a performance review, but he never submitted paperwork. Lau defended Longhofer at the time, saying he’d been bullied and micromanaged by the board. Just before Christmas 2007, the board split on whether to retain Longhofer with Eisele and Clark Ross voting to terminate his contract and Lau and Brian Patrick voting to keep him. Pierini abstained, but by March both Patrick and Pierini were ready to change their votes.

Longhofer was making $107,000 a year.

Less than three weeks after Longhofer’s departure, a conflict over how to run the district resulted in an apparent open meeting law violation.

Filed by Humble-Fournier, the complaint said that on April 7, Lau and Patrick met with Eisele on a personnel matter.

In his investigation, Senior Deputy Attorney General George Taylor concluded that a quorum of the board was present and that public business was acted on resulting in “a clear violation” of the open meeting law, and he issued a warning.

“It is appropriate, considering the egregious nature of the violation, to warn the board that we will not hesitate to pursue legal remedies allowed under law,” Taylor wrote.

In an effort to run the district while they interviewed candidates, board members appointed Sandi Eisele and bookkeeper Nancy Fredrickson as co-interim general managers. That fell apart when Eisele resigned the position shortly after being appointed and Fredrickson was hospitalized in July.

Baer was named interim district general manager over Lau’s objection on July 23.

The question of the district manager may be resolved Monday when improvement district trustees are scheduled to discuss the qualifications of their four candidates.

The following day, voters will decide the political question between Baer, Lau, Humble-Fournier and Brian Buffo, who are vying for two seats on the board.