Keith Grueneberg, chairman of the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District Board of Directors, has resigned as the district’s chair for personal reasons effective immediately, according to a Friday news release.
Grueneberg has been at the center of a swirl of controversy since ascending to the position of chair in 2013.
Recently, Grueneberg caught some heat for circulating a potentially offensive email with the subject line of “Hooked on Ebonics?” Fellow director, David Hanson, labeled the circulation of the mail to employees using public email addresses “very inappropriate.”
Grueneberg said the video was a parody and meant to emphasize communication problems between district administration and the rank and file. He also claimed the email was sent privately from one private email to another and the subsequent circulation was out of his hands.
On March 7, speculation was rampant that Grueneberg planned to step in as chief of the fire district during acting Chief David Ray’s impending vacation. Grueneberg said during a special meeting that he had “come to his senses” and realized there would be a conflict of interest.
“I’d be reporting to myself, and I can’t do that,” he said.
Hanson praised Grueneberg for wanting to step up but said the conflict of interest had to be avoided.
Grueneberg ruffled some feathers in both Grass Valley and Nevada City when he asserted Consolidated Fire was essentially subsidizing firefighting efforts in both incorporated municipalities.
“The two cities, in essence, cannot provide essential fire protection,” Grueneberg said in January.
Consolidated Fire was attempting to reach a cost-sharing agreement for a new fire chief that would oversee all three entities but did not want to enter into a Joint Powers Authority Agreement, calling it an additional layer of bureaucracy. Officials from Grass Valley and Nevada City expressed interest in a cost-sharing agreement for a new chief but wanted a means to have oversight of the prospective chief who would be managing their departments.
In November, Grueneberg was part of a board decision to restore concessions to firefighters only eight months after the district narrowly passed a tax measure that added $52 to the annual property tax bill of the average residence within the district.
Lisa LaBarbera, former human resources director for Consolidated Fire, said the concessions that were retroactive to January, amounted to $20,000 in unbudgeted funds for the cash-strapped district.
In November, Grueneberg engaged in a public dispute with board secretary Darlene Bennett over procedures relating to the ratification of the concessions. Bennett is currently on stress leave and has not been seen at recent board meetings.
Grueneberg, who served as a reserve deputy for the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, was recently relieved of his duty by Sheriff Keith Royal.
“There are a lot of dynamics, and he has some other endeavors, and we just felt it was best for him to concentrate his focus (on Consolidated Fire),” Royal said. “Consolidated is in transition, and there are internal concerns.”
“The district’s board would like to thank Director Grueneberg for his dedication and the extra time commitment he has given to district in his role as chairman,” the board stated in a release. “He will continue on the district’s board as a director.”
A new chairman will be elected by the district’s board at a regularly scheduled March 21 board meeting, the release stated. The 7 p.m meeting will take place at Fire Station 84 located at 10135 Coyote St. in Nevada City.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.