- Associated Press - Friday, September 12, 2014

ELY, Nev. (AP) - A recall drive has been launched against all five Ely City Council members amid controversy over their handling of a financial audit of the Nevada Northern Railway tourist attraction.

Residents Rick Stork, Don Purinton and Chris Lani filed a notice of intent Monday with the deputy city clerk to circulate a recall petition against Sam Hansen, Marty Westland, Randy Lee, Dale Derbidge and Bruce Setterstrom.

Stork said the group will take similar action against Mayor Melody Van Camp after she has served in office for the required six months. She was appointed to the post on March 14.

Among other things, the group is upset about the city council’s move to enter the closed offices of the railway on Sept. 2 to gather information for the audit.

The railway’s executive director, Mark Bassett, and his lawyer, Scott Husbands, have branded the action as a “break-in,” noting the offices are regularly closed to the public on Tuesdays.

“The way the public is hot right now, I don’t anticipate we’ll have any trouble whatsoever in getting (the required) number of people to sign,” Stork told The Ely Times (http://bit.ly/1rUBrPY ).

Van Camp said the council’s greatest concern is the railway’s debt of nearly $600,000, not including another $375,000 or so under a contract with S&S; Shortline.

Asked about her reaction to the recall drive, she replied, “I’m disappointed that people don’t want to face the truth, but we were elected and appointed to do a job. We only want the best for the city and the railroad, and we are going forward with the forensic audit.”

City Council members were present Sept. 2 when White Pine County Commissioner Mike Coster entered the railway’s offices through a second-floor window in order to unlock the front door to let an auditor inside. Coster said he took the action as an individual, not an elected official.

Van Camp said the auditor came from Las Vegas to begin gathering documentation for the $10,000 audit approved by the council.

After unsuccessful attempts to contact the vacationing Bassett on short notice to open the office’s doors for the auditor, Coster climbed a ladder and entered through the second-floor window after removing an air conditioning unit. He then unlocked the door for the auditor.

The sheriff’s department, in a statement, says the “allegations of burglary and trespassing are unfounded at this time.” That’s because the city owns the historical railroad foundation, including the office building, after it was donated by Kennecott Copper in 1987, the statement added.

Two employees inside the closed building filed a police report, accusing Setterstrom of harassing and threatening them. He denies the allegations.

In late August, the Railroad Management Board for the Nevada Northern Railway sued the Ely City Council, seeking injunctive relief and damages for alleged violation of constitutional due process, violations of Nevada’s open meetings law and breach of fiduciary duty.

Recall organizers must first gather about 200 signatures against each of the five council members. If the signatures are verified, separate petitions would have to be signed again by 25 percent of the voters from the last city election to nominate candidates to run against current council members in a recall election.

The Nevada Northern Railway is billed as America’s best preserved short-line railroad and most complete rail facility still in existence.

The railroad was established in 1905 near Ely by the Nevada Consolidated Copper Co., which built the 150-mile line to move copper ore. Locomotives offer train rides throughout the year.

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Information from: Ely Times, http://www.elynews.com

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