After a series of procedural errors, the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District appointed Ronald Pennington — the original choice — to a recently vacated seat on the board.
While the appointment itself was noncontroversial — it was approved unanimously by the board members during a special meeting on Monday — the way it was arrived at raised some eyebrows.
In September, Pennington was appointed to replace former Director Bob Rhodes, who resigned his position in August for unspecified reasons.
Lisa LaBarbera, former Human Resources director for Consolidated Fire, said on her personal blog that the board failed to follow appropriate protocol when it made the appointment.
LaBarbera said the fire district failed to follow California Government Code 1780, which stipulates: “The district shall notify the county elections official of the vacancy no later than 15 days after either the date on which the district board is notified of the vacancy or the effective date of the vacancy, whichever is later.”
Consolidated Fire Board Chairman Warren Knox conceded the error and restarted the process by properly noticing the board vacancy and scheduling a special meeting for last Friday.
However, after The Union noted the special meeting was not appropriately advanced — because the agenda was not sent out until Friday morning to advertise a meeting that would take place later that night — the board moved the meeting to Monday morning.
During the special meeting, which lasted less than five minutes, board members noted Pennington could not be present due to a prior engagement.
“He will be sworn in as soon as he is back in town,” Knox said, “likely the November regular meeting.”
In September, Knox said the board’s misstep was inadvertent and said the district continues to strive to be “as transparent as possible.”
One of the factors in appointing Pennington was that he narrowly missed being elected in last November’s general elections, Knox said.
Pennington received 4,652 votes, losing a seat to current board members Tom Carrington (7,055), William Habblett (5,817), Warren Knox (5,949) and Rhodes (4,842), who were elected to the four open seats in November. Pennington, incumbent John Leonard (4,294) and Linda Chaplin (4,399) all missed being elected.
Pennington’s seat will come up during the next election.
“We thought it was appropriate to let the people speak in this particular case and not have an opinion from the board,” Knox said.
It has been a tumultuous year and a half for Consolidated Fire, which saw a mass exodus of administration, deep division among board members, a prolonged hiring effort for the new chief and dissension in the rank and file firefighters, culminating in a scathing grand jury report that accused the board in particular of being derelict in its duty.
Since, the board has attempted to right the ship, Knox said, requiring district counsel to be present at meetings, forming a citizen oversight committee and changing accounting practices to allow for greater transparency.
Knox said the board is “very concerned about the issues the grand jury brought up.”
The board has pointed to the hiring of a new leader, Fire Chief Adolf Zubia, as the pivot that will turn the district’s fortunes while mollifying disgruntled firefighters and worried constituents.
The board will meet for its monthly regular meeting 7 p.m. Thursday.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.
- The story has been updated to reflect that Lisa LaBarbera’s blog still contains the post cited in the article.