Washoe County Offers Harassed County Employees Legal Aid | Nevada News

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Washoe County has created a legal aid fund for county employees who have been unjustly attacked or harassed in public as tempers grow increasingly heated during hostile clashes on electoral procedures and other controversies.

The legal and personal services approved this week will be available to county workers, but not to elected officials, the Reno Gazette Journal reported.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure the rights of our employees are protected,” County Executive Eric Brown said.

“We’ve seen situations where the public discourse has become increasingly hostile,” he said.

The county commission voted 3-1 on Tuesday to authorize the county executive to spend a total of $150,000 per fiscal year on such efforts. The $150,000 cap applies to the entire fund, not to each person who would be eligible to draw from it.

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Any expenditure beyond the $150,000 would require specific approval from the commission.

Brown said the county has a responsibility as an employer to ensure it supports its employees.

“We’ve had situations where county employees — not elected officials — received death threats, received malicious and fictitious allegations against them,” he said. “Some of these actions were extremely hurtful to their families.”

Help would be available for employees who are “unfairly publicly attacked, harassed or disparaged by members of public or political organizations”, according to language approved by the commissioners.

A background report from county staff said that “aggressive comments, threats, conspiracy theories and false accusations…may have the effect of deterring qualified individuals from pursuing careers in public service with the county or discourage people considering a career in the public service”.

Brown said the initiative would help employees — especially those who cannot afford to retain their own attorneys or other resources — defend themselves.

“This is in no way an attempt to suppress criticism of any elected official or public official,” he said.

Commissioners Alexis Hill, Kitty Jung and Bob Lucey voted in favour, Jeanne Herman opposed and Vaughn Hartung was absent.

Public comments were strongly opposed to this proposal, calling it a slush fund and worse.

“You want to give these people who make over $100,000 a stipend for legal fees when they’re wrong?” said Kenji Otto, who ran and came second in the Republican primary for county clerk. “Leave me alone. You are disgusting.

Kris Engstrom spoke in favor of the proposal, saying that during the lunch break on January 6 she watched hearing testimony in Washington, from people describing mobs entering their homes and ruining their lives.

“It’s clear from some of the hostility in this room that this could happen to workers who are just doing their jobs … working for the county,” Engstrom said during the commission’s meeting.

One commentator, Val White, said staff could get more insurance for legal cover if they wanted.

“If you think you’re going to be harassed or criticized, it’s not our responsibility to pay your additional legal fees,” she said.

White described it as creating a big bank account to use for legal fees to attack residents “who dare to displease us with their comments.”

The board-approved language says eligibility for assistance would be determined on a case-by-case basis by the Washoe County Executive with input from the Washoe County Workplace Violence Committee.

“The objective of the program would be to provide employees with support against attacks, harassment or disparagement which occur or originate outside the workplace, but which relate to some degree to the role of the affected employees in as county employees.”

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