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Team-building talk turns testy

Previously buried bitterness burst into the open at Tuesday’s Grass Valley City Council meeting during a discussion about team building.

The council – a threesome due to the absence of Mark Johnson and Patti Ingram – was scheduled to discuss hiring Yvonne Bartlett to conduct a team-building session with the council and senior city staffers.

Instead, Councilman Dean Williams said the planning process for the team building session “broke down,” and he accused Mayor Gerard Tassone of exceeding his authority.

The two spun their high-backed chairs to face each other, trading sharp comments, their anger palpable.

The disagreement stemmed from their membership on a subcommittee formed in April to plan for a team building session. The two councilmen had different ideas about what was required of the subcommittee and what type of team-building exercise to conduct.

Williams said he believed the two-person subcommittee would work together to craft a call for proposals that would be used to solicit offers from local team builders.

So he was miffed when Tassone asked City Administrator Gene Haroldsen on Sept. 8 to send out the solicitations without his approval.

“I am dismayed, but not surprised, that you and Gene chose to send out the team building workshop request for proposals without accepting my request to discuss our differences about it,” Williams wrote in a Sept. 12 e-mail to Tassone and Haroldsen.

There was no need to meet, Tassone said, because Williams wanted something that was not possible – to focus the team building workshop on the four major developments proposed for the outskirts of Grass Valley.

“We can’t do that, that was not the council directive,” Tassone said.

The goal of the team building session was to improve understanding and respect within the council and between the council and staff, to discuss city goals, and to work better as a team, Tassone wrote in a Aug. 10 e-mail.

But Williams had hoped to have the session focus on a “real life situation,” the consideration of the four major developments, and hire a consultant “whose main expertise is helping cities plan for growth.”

By asking Haroldsen to send out the proposals without Williams’ OK, Tassone had “exceeded (his) authority,” Williams charged at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I did not exceed my authority,” Tassone responded. The mayor then tried to end the discussion, pointing out the council lacked the three votes needed to act.

Williams attempted to continue the discussion.

“Dean, stop it, please,” Tassone said.

Councilwoman Lisa Swarthout stepped into the fray.

“My understanding was that we were going to do a team building exercise,” Swarthout said.

“That’s right, you see why we need it,” Tassone said.

Williams then turned to Haroldsen, asking him what was to be done if a two-member subcommittee doesn’t agree.

After pondering the question, Haroldsen responded: “I’m not sure we have specific procedures for ad hoc committees … Obviously, there’s not consensus here.”

Are the five councilmembers equal?

Again, Haroldsen responded: The mayor and the vice mayor are selected leaders, but all five members vote on issues.

“I don’t need to keep talking about it tonight,” Williams said.

“I don’t need to hear about it (at all),” Tassone responded.

The council agreed to postpone the issue until Ingram and Johnson return.

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To contact staff writer Becky Trout, e-mail beckyt@theunion.com or call 477-4234.