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North Las Vegas, former city manager going to arbitration over firing

Updated March 7, 2018 - 7:46 pm

North Las Vegas city officials will go into arbitration with former city manager Qiong Liu to discuss the circumstances of her firing.

The announcement from city officials Wednesday came a little more than an hour before the City Council was scheduled to hold a public hearing requested by Liu to discuss allegations that the former city manager attempted to give herself a $30,000 retroactive raise.

The public hearing was canceled, but the City Council unanimously approved a separate agenda item upholding a Feb. 7 decision to fire Liu.

Going into arbitration “would afford me a full and fair opportunity to review evidence, secure additional evidence and information relevant to my side of the story, to question witnesses under oath and thereafter to present my side in a reasoned and rational setting with some procedural rules to ensure fairness,” Liu wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to the City Council.

Liu’s attorney, Kathy England, declined to comment further. The pair did not attend the council meeting on Wednesday.

Moving forward, England and city officials will look for an independent mediator to determine whether Liu should have been fired “for cause,” and whether she is entitled to a severance package totaling more than $700,000, said Las Vegas attorney Gregory Kamer, whose firm Kamer Zucker Abbott is representing North Las Vegas.

City officials had offered arbitration more than a week ago to Liu, who accepted on Wednesday.

“After weeks of good faith negotiating and in light of the troubling new facts that came to light, our City Council is exercising its right and upholding its duty to protect taxpayer money by terminating Liu’s employment and letting a neutral arbitrator review the council’s decision to terminate for cause,” city spokeswoman Delen Goldberg said.

Liu has repeatedly characterized the allegations as a “personal vendetta” aimed at keeping her from collecting a hefty severance due to butting heads with interim City Manager Ryann Juden, a friend and associate of Mayor John Lee.

The North Las Vegas City Council voted Feb. 7 to to fire Liu “for cause” rather than allowing her to resign. The council also agreed that Liu should not receive a severance and was entitled only to cash out roughly $300,000 in accrued vacation, holiday and sick pay, which she will still receive.

An internal investigation completed by the Las Vegas law firm of Fisher Phillips found Liu had prepared an internal memo seeking the pay raise on Jan. 4 — one day after the North Las Vegas City Council delayed a discussion about the city manager’s performance.

Her assistant forwarded the memo to the city’s human resources department, believing it was already delivered to the City Council, according to the report, released by the city last week after a public records request from the Review-Journal. The memo was never delivered, and the report found that Liu had time to send it “if she wanted to.”

Liu was appointed city manager in 2014 with a starting salary of $190,000. It was raised to $220,000 in 2016.

If Liu had succeeded in January, then the $30,000 retroactive raise would have been prorated to run from November 2015 to September 2016, city officials said.

An addendum to the report on Feb. 28 also found that Liu had her city-issued cellphone wiped clean, making for a potential violation in city and state public records laws.

Documents obtained last month by the Review-Journal confirmed that an FBI agent has visited North Las Vegas City Hall at least twice to look into the allegations against Liu.

The move toward arbitration late Wednesday caps two months of unusual events involving Liu. An argument over water infrastructure funding at Apex Industrial Park ended when Liu fired Juden on Jan. 9 without consulting the city attorney.

Afterward, she sent an email to the City Council stating that hiring Juden was “the biggest mistake that I have made,” and characterized his presence as bringing “widespread fear and damage” to City Hall.

Even though Liu rescinded her statements and reversed her firing of Juden the following day, city officials said her actions violated personnel policies and procedures.

City officials have not determined whether to search for a permanent city manager or allow Juden to remain in the role.

Contact Art Marroquin at amarroquin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @AMarroquin_LV on Twitter.

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