STOREY COUNTY, Nev. (KRNV & MyNews4.com) - There's growing concern in Storey County these days about a contract between the Storey County School District, and now former county commissioner Greg "Bum" Hess. It's a deal that's paid Hess $1.1 million since 2008 to oversee school construction projects like the installation of solar panels.
Hess earns five percent of every project to oversee the construction, and $75 an hour when he does the construction himself.
Storey county resident Dale Beach is among those who are questioning whether a top county official should have been put on the school district payroll in the first place.
"I'm concerned that it's inside trading and it's probably not legal. If it is legal, it shouldn't be," Beach told News 4.
Beach says he's concerned that Hess, who served as county commissioner from 1999 up until last year, used his influence as commissioner to get hired by the school district. And he's concerned about the amount of money the school district is paying Hess. More than $411,000 in 2010 alone, according to figures provided by the Storey County School District.
The head of the Storey County School Board, Cathylee James, would not comment on the deal when we asked her about it, and no one answered when we knocked on her door in Virginia City.
Storey County Superintendent Rob Slaby said he was told by the District Attorney not to talk about the deal.
So we asked the District Attorney himself, Bill Maddox, if this is a so-called "sweetheart deal" for Bum Hess? "You know without knowing the work that he did I don't know," Maddox told us. "I think the school district is happy with the work that he does and the price that they have to pay to get it done."
Maddox says there's nothing illegal about the arrangement because the school district is a seperate government entity from the county.
"Was it illegal? No. That's how I'll respond to that question. Was it inappropriate? I guess that's in the eye of the beholder." Maddox said.
The Storey County School District did advertise the position back in 2008, and the item did appear on this school board agenda on May 21 of 2008. The county says Bum Hess was the only one who applied for the position back then. Something Dale Beach says he's surprised to hear.
"That's possible but for a $1.1 million, why? What's not to like about taking a bite out of that?" asked Beach.
And that amount may be the the highest in the state. Our research shows that while most other school districts also pay someone to oversee school construction. The range statewide runs from 1.5 percent of each project in Elko up to 4.4 percent in Clark County. No other districts pay out 5%, like Storey County does.
And, since 2008 the district superintendent has renewed the deal with Bum Hess each year, by simply signing on the dotted line as the contracts show. So the school district continues to employ Hess but the school board does not get a vote on whether the contract is renewed each year.
That has residents wondering if this arrangement with a top former county official is a good deal for them?
"Every decision they make should get value for me as a taxpayer. It shouldn't be on who it is and who it ain't," said Beach.
News 4 did talk to Bum Hess on the phone. He says its important to keep in mind he has a full crew that he has to pay so he says he is not pocketing all of the money the school district is paying him for those construction projects.
Hess is due in court on April 9th for a preliminary hearing on a battery charge. District Attorney Bill Maddox says if Hess is convicted, the county will decide at that time whether to fire him or keep him on the payroll.