The Nevada County Consolidated Fire District has become wracked by strife between administration and the rank and file, which boiled over into a physical altercation involving Chief Tim Fike, who has been placed on paid administrative leave as a result.
According to a report filed by the Nevada County Sheriff's Office on March 16, Fike grabbed the throat of firefighter Kevin Greene after a verbal altercation on the night of March 15.
Fike has been on paid administrative leave since April 19, according to NCCFD Board Chair Warren Knox.
Meanwhile the district's board of directors hired a private investigator to look into the incident, while simultaneously negotiating a financial settlement with Fike, who has agreed to retire.
At 7 p.m. March 15, the NCCFD board of directors held a meeting where it certified the results of a controversial March 8 election, wherein voters of the district approved a $52 increase in annual property taxes to help fund a fire district financially hindered by the economic downturn.
Previous to the meeting, Local Union 3800, which represents the district's firefighters, took a "vote of no confidence" in relation to Fike's tenure as chief.
According to several written correspondences authored by Local 3800 Union President Wyatt Howell, and delivered to the board, the union was dissatisfied with how Fike conducted negotiations over union concessions that included reductions in overtime pay, cost-of-living increases and health insurance benefits.
After the board of directors March 15 meeting, Fike walked into the engine bay at Station 84 in Nevada City at 9:30 p.m., according to the sheriff's report.
He encountered firefighter Kevin Greene, who had also been at the meeting, and according to the written statement compiled by the NCSO, Fike grinned at Greene, reached up with his hand, grabbed Greene's throat and said:
"I know you were one of the instigators."
Fike then told Greene he would not be getting a raise, to which Greene replied:
"Chief, this is not about raises."
Acting Fire Chief David Ray confirmed Thursday he had witnessed the incident.
In a statement to law enforcement, Fike called the incident "a gigantic misunderstanding." Fike admitted that he violated Greene's personal space, but said the incident was just a jest and that he did not behave aggressively.
In a follow-up interview, Fike said he stands behind the initial statement to law enforcement and could not further comment on the matter as he was engaged in ongoing negotiations with the fire district over his imminent retirement.
Greene reportedly told law enforcement that he did not feel as though the altercation amounted to a joke and wanted to press charges.
Ray told law enforcement that while the incident was not an assault, it was inappropriate for a member of management to put their hands on an employee, the report states.
Once the statements were compiled, the report was forwarded to the office of Nevada County District Attorney Cliff Newell.
Newel said he did not purse charges in the matter, because he the incident amounted to little more than "two adults behaving badly."
"By the letter of the law it was probably battery, "Newell said on Thursday. "But is was too de minimus (a trifle) to charge; frankly, it would have been a waste of taxpayer dollars to prosecute."
Knox, the district's chairman, said the board launched an independent investigation of the physical altercation as soon as it learned it occurred.
The board placed Fike on leave during the April 19 board meeting and placed him on paid-administrative leave after it received the investigative report, Knox said. Fike was still on paid administrative leave as of Friday morning, which is a violation of the NCCFD personnel code.
The code states that an employee may be placed on a paid leave of absence for "a specified period of time not to exceed 15 working days."
"In point of fact," Knox said, "I did not know about (the 15-day limit), the board has been proceeding according to advice from legal counsel."
Furthermore, the negotiation for a financial settlement with Fike, who had two years left on his contract has taken place without any public disclosure of the physical incident or the financial implications of a severance package.
"We are working through a process where there is an employee evaluation and it's a personnel matter, which we are required to keep confidential," Knox said.
The NCCFD 2012-13 Preliminary Budget, dated May 15, indicates the line item relating to the Fire Chief's salary was budgeted for $109,802, but the projected actual amount for the fiscal year is $180,163, representing a $70,361 discrepancy.
NCCFD Board Treasurer Mark Bass confirmed the discrepancy was related to Fike's retirement negotiations, but said that the document represented a preliminary budget and negotiations with Fike have not been finalized.
The $70,000 figure includes vacation pay, comp time and other costs related to the retirement of the chief, Bass said.
When asked if the public should have been made aware of the negotiations prior as to provide input on the process, Knox said the matter was "very complex" and the legal advice the board received indicated negotiations between the board and Fike constituted a personnel matter, and as such needed to be kept confidential per the Brown Act, which regulates public disclosure laws.
Both Bass and Knox said the outcome of negotiations will be reached soon and will be disclosed to the public upon completion.
Howell and Greene were both reached by The Union, but declined to comment.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email email@example.com or call (530) 477-4239.