Grand jury: Nevada County Consolidated fire board ‘woefully’ derelict
June 17, 2013
Grand Jury recommendations:
1) All members of the Board should actively seek out and attend training regarding the roles and responsibilities of board members in special districts.
2) The Board should work with the Fire Chief to develop a comprehensive policy and procedures manual consistent with existing federal, state, and local laws and regulations.
3) The Board should ensure the policies and procedures manual includes thorough review of all contracts and agreements to protect the NCCFD from unexpected, unnecessary, and excessive expenditures.
4) The Board should actively seek the advice and expertise of legal counsel in all matters that may lead to potentially litigious issues.
5) The Board should ensure the Fire Chief has clear authority to implement the newly developed policy and procedures manual and to manage the day-to-day operation of the NCCFD.
6) The Board, collectively and individually, should not subvert the NCCFD organizational structure and chain of command and should not interject themselves into the management of the day-to-day operations of the NCCFD
7) The Board should develop and implement policy to facilitate open and ongoing communication with NCCFD personnel.
8) The Board members should conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the public’s expectations of persons elected to positions of public trust.
9) The Board should maintain a professional relationship with Local 3800 to ensure there is no perception of impropriety or undue influence on decision making by the Board.
10) The Board, management, and staff should forge an active partnership in the rebuilding of the NCCFD’s public image and should actively communicate with their constituents to restore and maintain the public’s trust.
The Nevada County Consolidated Fire District board of directors has fallen "woefully short in (its) roles and responsibilities," according to the Nevada County Civil Grand Jury.
In a scathing report issued Thursday, the grand jury said the seven-member board collectively and individually engaged in secrecy, attempting to conceal key operational and personnel decisions, along with an exhaustive list of other examples of outright malfeasance.
"The board has failed to follow or has knowingly chosen to ignore the various NCCFD rules, ordinances and regulations, as well as California's open meeting laws," the report stated.
The board failed to appropriately use its legal counsel, illegally gave firefighters retroactive step increases despite assuring the public it would not do so, illegally hired employees, signed contracts it was not authorized to sign, circulated racially insensitive material and illegally invited members of the public into closed session meetings, according to the report.
"(T)here is an expectation of a higher standard of behavior by the Nevada County Consolidated board of directors as individuals elected to positions of public trust by the citizens," the report stated.
The report also said the board further overstepped its bounds by undermining former Fire Chief Tim Fike, subverted decisions made by other members of administration and intimidated employees while engaging in mismanagement and micro-management by the board.
Chairman Warren Knox answered questions about the report after a budget subcommittee meeting Thursday, acknowledging the district's serious deficiencies. But Knox said the institution was already taking steps to correct those.
"There was nothing in the report that really surprised me," he said.
Knox said he agreed the board should not be involved in the day-to-day management of the district but should hire the appropriate people to run the district.
"We are trying to hire a chief," he said.
The report concluded the district lacks a comprehensive policy and procedures manual, and the board members fail to operate as a cohesive unit.
"(The) Board of Directors is dysfunctional and is wracked by discord, acrimony, back-biting and mistrust among board members," it read.
"As such, the meetings of the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District Board of Directors are acrimonious and lack professionalism, civility and respect between board members. Additionally, the board has exhibited a lack of civility, decorum and respect toward some employees of the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District."
Knox did not refute the characterization of the board as dysfunctional but said he would not discuss matters of personal strife between board members in a public way.
"I have never as a manager discussed any types of things like that," he said. "My job is to make sure the district runs well, and we have to work with everybody."
The lack of executive leadership and micro-management by the board of directors fostered an unhealthy working environment for administrative staff, which has led to personal hostility among administrative staff, the board and the district's employees, according to the report.
"This unhealthy environment led to the physical separation of administrative staff, resulting in additional time and effort being expended to provide administrative services," the report reads.
The grand jury laid out 10 recommendations, including that the board of directors train on basic operations of governance.
Clayton Thomas, vice president of Local 3800, which represents rank-and-file Consolidated firefighters, said the union looks forward to helping the fire district implement the recommendations.
"We agree with the 10 recommendations, and we want to work cooperatively as a group with the administration and the board to implement these changes," Thomas said.
The board is legally required to respond to the report by Sept. 13.
To read the entire report, visit http://nevadacountycourts.com.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.