Matthew Renda

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August 19, 2013
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Consolidated Fire finds fault with grand jury report

The embattled Nevada County Consolidated Fire board of directors disagrees with the central premises of a scathing June report issued by the Nevada County Civil Grand Jury that claimed the board fell “woefully short in (its) roles and responsibilities.”

Striking a note of defiance intermingled with acknowledgement of “inadvertent mistakes” and promises to rectify deficiencies, the board has crafted a draft response that pointed to a perfect storm of misfortune that led to a perception of a poorly managed fire district.

Factors consisted of a drastically reduced operating budget and the exodus of the entire senior management team, including the fire chief, two battalion chiefs, a division chief, the human resources director and the board secretary within a year period, the board’s response states.

Consolidated Fire directors argued they “stepped into the leadership vacuum to provide coaching, experience and support for firefighting staff that had been poorly developed for leadership roles by previous management.” The board’s response lays blame for apparent administrative dysfunction on departed officials such as Fire Chief Tim Fike and other members of the management staff citing “significant problems in district operations, policies and procedures.”

In response to the grand jury’s allegation that the board’s meetings are characterized by a lack of civility, decorum, respect and common courtesy, the board asserted that “free and open disagreement is the linchpin of democracy.”

The board’s response struck a particularly strident note when addressing the grand jury’s finding regarding “a complete breakdown of organizational structure and chain of command.”

The board accused the grand jury of doing “a grave disservice” and “creating unnecessary doubt in the minds of our community” in regard to the fire district’s ability to administer essential emergency services to the community. While Consolidated Fire has been beset by infighting and acrimony among rank and file, administration and directors, all parties have repeatedly asserted the infighting has not impaired operations.

“This district has not faltered in its mission because of the quality of … firefighters who are still delivering incredible emergency service to our constituents, saving lives, delivering babies, extinguishing wildfires with the confidence of excellent training and well seasoned experience,” the response states.

The board’s response agreed with several of the findings, including the need for a comprehensive policy and procedures manual. The response said officials began addressing the lack in February.

Also, the board acknowledged it did not fully heed its legal counsel, Jim Curtis, and vowed to use legal advice to avoid open meeting law violations and procedural errors.

“There is no question that both as individuals and as a board, we have made inadvertent mistakes,” the response reads. “Recognizing the need, legal counsel for the district is now more actively engaged in all areas of board activity. The seven directors … fully recognize the need to improve and continue their commitment to do so.”

Some of the more damning aspects of the grand jury report dealt with a lack of transparency, as it openly accused the board of acting in secrecy and attempting to keep the district’s issues from constituents.

The board, which has recently taken steps to form advisory committees comprised of citizens and make elements of its budget more comprehensible to the public, further emphasized its commitment to transparency in its response to the grand jury.

“The board is adamant in its desire to create a district that is transparent to our constituents and community, as well as fair and supportive of our employees,” the response states.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email or 530-477-4239.

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The Union Updated Aug 25, 2014 04:30PM Published Aug 21, 2013 01:15PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.