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North Las Vegas council to consider controversial plan to outsource human resources

A controversial plan to outsource the city of North Las Vegas’ human resources functions will go to the City Council on Wednesday, but some city workers say the move is a foregone conclusion — right down to the company to get the contract.

The idea that the decision already has been made was enough to prompt representatives of the city’s two police unions to walk out of a meeting last month.

And City Hall insiders note that the Henderson company selected for the contract didn’t even wait until a competition was finished before placing ads seeking workers in North Las Vegas.

Prism Global Management Group was awarded the contract, subject to council approval, on May 7. It beat out one other bidder, Elite InSource of Tempe, Ariz.

On April 23, the company had postings for two HR jobs located in North Las Vegas on Indeed.com, a job-hunting website. The job descriptions said applicants would need city government and union experience.

When asked April 23 about the postings, city spokesman Mitch Fox said in an email that the selection process was still open.

“Staff is still evaluating our options and hasn’t made a recommendation to Council,” Fox wrote. “The contract would have to be approved by Council. Not sure what this is about.”

The job postings were taken down later that day.

Prism CEO Mary Beth Hartleb said Monday that she would need to do more research to talk about those postings and referred questions to a public relations representative who did not respond to written questions.

Prism’s profile on a Henderson Chamber of Commerce website said the company “provides the full spectrum in human resources services and support for small to mid-size businesses across a variety of industries including non-profit organizations.”

It isn’t uncommon for small businesses to outsource human resources, but it’s unusual for a city of more than 200,000.

The intent is to save money by eliminating eight positions, two now open. The department’s director was ousted in September and has not been replaced.

Two longtime employees of the office have in formal complaints to the Nevada Commission on Ethics accused Mayor John Lee of abusing the power of his office by having the city skirt traditional hiring practices and shuffle city employees into different roles.

Bachera Washington and Tammy Bonner, who have been through multiple administrations in North Las Vegas, have argued through their attorney that the city’s push to privatize is retaliation for a discrimination lawsuit they filed and settled last year. Bonner has been with the city 13 years, Washington 20.

Fox maintains the evaluation of the entire department had nothing to do with last year’s lawsuit.

The ethics complaint includes allegations of favoritism and names nine members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said to have been hired under Lee’s influence, most hired outside of normal practices. Lee is a Mormon.

In addition to suspicions about the direction of the HR operation, the city’s police unions don’t like the idea of entrusting a private company with confidential information, such as names of those who work in specialized, undercover units. Both unions — the North Las Vegas Police Officers Association and the North Las Vegas Police Supervisors Association — walked out of an April meeting at which HR outsourcing was discussed.

The two police unions’ presidents said they left when it become clear the purpose of the meeting was to pick a company to do the work, not discuss the advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing, as they had expected.

North Las Vegas Police Supervisors Association President Leonard Cardinale called the meeting “disingenuous” and said he was concerned about a lack of respect for city employees.

Cardinale said he felt the city is only looking at the bottom line and not considering the value city employees — especially longtime employees — contribute.

“If they could run HR with one person tomorrow, they would — with no concern of how it really runs,” Cardinale said. “If the city had their way they’d get rid of every public employee and privatize everything. It’s that attitude — it’s just business. It’s all politics. They don’t care about the people.”

City Manager Qiong Liu, who would communicate only via email, said in addition to the vote on whether to award the contract to Prism, “City staff will provide the City Council with information about the different HR and Benefits options for the City moving forward.”

If the council chooses some other option, it wouldn’t need to vote on the Prism contract, she said. It is unclear from the City Council’s posted agenda what other alternatives will be presented.

Liu in an email noted that the Arizona company that lost the bid had not protested. Elite InSource declined to comment.

Fox on April 3 said Prism’s estimate for taking over the city’s human resources was $420,000 per year, but the council agenda says the contract would cost “less than $750,000.”

The city’s HR department now is budgeted at $1.27 million, though Liu said the current cost is likely $700,000 to $800,000 because two positions are open.

Liu has said the idea to outsource human resources follows a similar move by the city of Reno, though Reno outsources only some functions. For example, a private company handles workers’ compensation, something already true in North Las Vegas.

Contact Bethany Barnes at bbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Find her on Twitter: @betsbarnes

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