Thursday, May 23, 2024

City manager candidate had ethics issue at previous job

Editor | April 24, 2024 2:00 AM

Columbia Falls city manager candidate Dennis Stark was the subject of an ethics investigation when he was county manager for Lyon County, Nevada, and ultimately was sanctioned $1,000 by the Nevada Commission on Ethics in 2012.

Stark was county manager for Lyon County from 2007 to 2010.

The case centered around whether Stark improperly used his position as county manager to try to preserve his wife Sharon’s job within the county’s library system.

Sharon Stark was worked for the county’s library system when Stark was county manager. Tensions grew high when the county had budget problems during the Great Recession and Sharon Stark’s position was slated for a potential layoff.

All told most of the allegations against Dennis Stark were found to have insufficient evidence, however, it did find that Stark improperly tried to influence Michael Florio, a library board member at the time to save his wife’s job during a private meeting.

His wife had numerous conflicts with Theresa Kenneston, the library director at the time, the investigation found. The meeting with Florio was to complain about Kenneston.

But Stark crossed the line, the commission found.

“Stark knew of his conflict of interest with the Library System because his wife was employed by the County Library and he served as County Manager. He had been reminded on numerous occasions by the Human Resources  Director and Comptroller that he should refrain from any matter involving the Library System. By contacting the Library Board Chairman (Florio)  to discuss matters affecting the Library System, Stark intentionally and knowingly acted in contravention of his conflict of interest,” the commission said in its report.

Last week, Stark acknowledged the matter, though he also pointed out that he has since received glowing recommendations from Nevada officials, including former Gov. Brian Sandoval, who wrote a letter of commendation for Stark in 2015 for Starks’ service on the state bicycle and pedestrian advisory board.

During an interview last week, Stark blamed Kenneston for the entire matter and repeated allegations that he originally brought up at the time of the ethics complaint — that Kenneston had problems with her driver’s license and was bouncing checks.

The commission, even back then, found no evidence of that.

Stark also claimed that he was not allowed to fully present his defense to the commission at the time.

Stark also provided the Hungry Horse News with a further written explanation on the matter.

“While I was the County Manager, (my wife)  was hired as a Library Manager with the Lyon County Library System in 2007. I was not involved in her selection. After the economic downturn in 2007-2008, my wife’s job was one of those eliminated. While in a meeting with a member of our library board, I mentioned that fact, and it was interpreted as an effort on my part to preserve my wife’s job. That was my mistake, and one I take full responsibility for. I should not have met with anyone connected with the library system where my wife’s job might have come up. At the very least, it gave the appearance of impropriety. The result was I lost my job as Lyon County Manager and was found to be in violation of the NRS 281 A 400 (Nevada’s ethics law). Although I have since been reinstated, I was suspended temporarily from the International City/County Management Association. The negative press made it difficult for me to continue in my chosen profession,” he said. “The bottom line is I learned an extremely hard lesson and paid a very heavy price. In the 12 years since the incident, my record has been spotless, and I will never again put myself in a situation where my ethics can be questioned. I look forward to the future possibilities and putting my expertise to positive and constructive use as a manager in government.”

During the interview last week with Columbia Falls City Council, the ethics complaint did not come up, though Stark said he planned on telling council about it should the hiring process move forward.

Stark resigned as Lyon County manager in 2010 and said he received a “nice severance package.”

He said the ethics matter shouldn’t overshadow his record of success in Lyon County where he was able to secure a $400,000 grant for a brownfield development and saw many other improvements in the county despite difficult economic times.

“To me (the ethics complaint) is not something that should prohibit me from serving a community,” he said.

The entire commission finding is available at: