During the first Economic Resource Council meeting since parting ways with Executive Director Robert Trent after he spent just seven months on the job, Board Chairman Robert Bergman downplayed the situation.
“I just want people to understand Trent wasn’t fired and he didn’t resign,” Bergman said. “It was after thoughtfully discussing the goods and bads and interests of the ERC (that) the executive committee decided not to renew a contract with him.”
The decision was unanimous, Bergman said, adding Trent was an independent contractor brought in to work with the executive committee and to assist in carrying forward the obligations under the county contract.
Bergman cited a two-year agreement with the county that was renegotiated, which was extended for three months.
“At the end of that was the end of the relationship,” he said. “It really doesn’t require much further explanation.”
Bergman described the ERC bylaws as “deficient is a nice way to say it,” while downplaying the importance of an executive director.
The bylaws fail to detail the responsibilities of the executive committee, he said.
“The executive committee is really the operative body, almost like the president and the operating officers,” Bergman said. “There isn’t even a mention of the executive director (in the bylaws). There is reference to a president and I guess you could equate the two together.
The executive committee appears to be the decision-making body on the day-to-day operational view of the organization. If you really look back at the history, it’s always been that way.”
The consulting agreements like those with Lani Lot and Shannon Pelline, Trent’s consulting agreement, former Executive Director Jon Blinder’s consulting agreement, the rental agreement and all business activities had been handled by the executive committee, Bergman said, adding, “Whether or not it should continue that way is something we need to visit that’s certainly in the interest of the board members, and for fairness and clarity.”
He said such details should be worked out with a strategic planning meeting.
While Bergman devalued the position of executive director, a June 24 staff report from Nevada County indicates otherwise.
The report describes the ERC’s effort to enhance tourism on behalf of the county as “suffering a number of setbacks resulting in ERC having four executive directors over the last two years.”
“The past changes in leadership at the helm were unforeseen, disrupted progress and created some inconsistency in the work flow,” stated the report authored by Board Analyst Eve Diamond.
Bill Neff, chairman of the Center for Nonprofit Leadership board, said many organizations have the board set policy while the leader implements the policy.
Conversely, many fledgling nonprofits have a hybrid configuration where the board not only establishes parameters, but is involved with day-to-day activities.
“The drawback in the more open-ended and undefined format is that it is not a very attractive environment for experienced executive directors,” Neff said.
Stephen De Sena, a board member who represents the Nevada County Association of Realtors, questioned his role.
“What is my role beyond rubber-stamping consent items, looking at the agenda and attending a public forum for an hour and a half on a Thursday morning, and to sit on the work group that has been very successful that we put together through the ERC?” he asked.
Bergman described the ERC as a participatory organization in which companies or community organizations can interact in a public setting, and provide input on investor-related issues.
“It’s participating in the sense of being there, helping to organize something you have the time and skills to contribute,” Bergman said. “As far as the operational stuff, that’s something that requires a little more definition.”
“We tried to bring on somebody who could help us through the transitional period,” Bergman said of Trent. “Moving forward, it’s really difficult to find the level of person who everybody would really like in an executive director role as an employee on the amount of money available.”
De Sena attempted to make a motion that the ERC have at least one business meeting per month to discuss things within the organization only.
Chair-elect and Grass Valley City councilwoman Lisa Swarthout stated that according to law, the only time the council can meet in private is for items such as pending litigation and personnel matters.
“It sounds like there’s an issue with the way it’s been set up and the organization of the people who have been appointed being public officials, that there’s some conflicts in the fundamentals of the organization,” De Sena said.
Swarthout said the council can research such private business meetings, that such concerns could be brought up during a strategic planning session. She added the last time a session was organized in May 2012, board members did not even attend because organizing a common time was so difficult.
Staff Writer Matthew Renda contributed to this article. To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.