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Investigation into Henderson city clerk’s office leads to resignations

Updated February 24, 2021 - 7:22 pm

One Henderson department head and three supervisors resigned amid an investigation into leadership of the city clerk’s office, according to public records and a city spokeswoman.

Late last year, former City Clerk Sabrina Mercadante signed an agreement to leave her role at the city as a third-party investigator pursued claims of unprofessional conduct in her department. Mercadante’s assistant city clerk and two other supervisors also resigned as a result of the investigation.

The investigator, Deverie Christensen of the law firm Jackson Lewis P.C., substantiated claims of a breakdown in leadership and a lack of professionalism, respect and effective communication, according to a heavily redacted report. Leadership in the office violated several city policies, the investigation found.

Henderson spokeswoman Kathleen Richards said in a statement that the city will not tolerate leaders who allow unprofessional conduct by their own actions or by remaining silent when they observe wrongdoing.

“The City of Henderson is committed to maintaining a professional workplace environment and does not condone nor tolerate bullying, harassment or any behavior that is disrespectful or demeaning to an employee,” Richards said. “When it learned that certain members of management might be exhibiting a pattern of unprofessional behavior in the City Clerk’s Office, the City immediately launched an investigation and took the appropriate actions to correct a breakdown of leadership within the department.”

The Las Vegas Review-Journal requested the investigation report in January, but Henderson did not release the public record for weeks, saying it suspected it needed until Feb. 22 to “finalize any personnel-related decisions” and review the 51-page report to determine what information should be redacted.

The report does not name any employees and lists only job titles for two of the four leaders — the city clerk and assistant city clerk — who were the subject of the investigation.

None of the people who left the city because of the investigation could be reached for comment.

Leadership breakdown

In August, an individual whose identity is redacted in the report told the city’s human resources department of issues in the city clerk’s office. That prompted Henderson officials to bring in a professional coach for the department, who notified the city of broader issues, which then led to the hiring of an investigator in October.

In the report, Christensen wrote that the only reason city officials knew of issues in the department was because Mercadante approached human resources against the wishes of other leaders in her office.

In the report, the investigator said it appeared Mercadante had “retired on the job” over the past several years and had delegated all authority to the assistant city clerk.

“The City Clerk was consistently described by witnesses as lacking in leadership, a clear and consistent vision and direction for the Department and its projects, and unwilling to address disrespectful and inappropriate communications among the members of the leadership team,” the report said.

The investigator found Assistant City Clerk Stacey Brownfield equally responsible for the department culture, saying Brownfield acknowledged she was the leader of the office but blamed Mercadante for leadership breakdowns.

An employee, whose title is redacted, was found to have violated city policy by bullying other employees. Neither the clerk nor her assistant clerk took responsibility for failing to address the bullying, the report said.

Brownfield was found in violation of the city’s nepotism and supervisory conflicts of interest policy by failing to disclose that a job candidate lived with her at one point. Brownfield did not directly make the hiring decision but provided direct supervision of the employee at times, according to the report.

Another employee, whose title is redacted, violated the city’s anti-harassment policy by making “race-related remarks” about a Black employee, according to the report. The accused employee denied making the remarks, but two other staffers corroborated the allegations, according to the report.

The clerk, assistant clerk, and two other employees whose titles are redacted also violated policy by playing favorites with employees and manipulating a hiring process, work duties and opportunities to benefit their friends, themselves or favored employees, according to the report.

Lucrative resignations

Under the terms of her resignation, Mercadante cashed out about $200,000 of accrued paid time off, sick leave and the remaining balance of her contract.

Richards said the assistant city clerk, supervising deputy city clerk and election and administrative services supervisor all resigned because of the investigation.

Records show Brownfield resigned with a payout of more than $90,000 and Supervising Deputy City Clerk Amber Ellis resigned with a cash-out of nearly $29,000. The money the city paid the former employees came from sick leave and paid-time-off banks.

Transparent Nevada, a website that tracks public employee salaries, lists Maria Aguirre as the election and administrative services supervisor.

Because her separation agreement was not released Wednesday, it is unclear if she was able to cash out accrued paid time off or sick leave.

COH Clerk Investigation by Las Vegas Review-Journal on Scribd

Contact Blake Apgar at bapgar@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5298. Follow @blakeapgar on Twitter.

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