Acknowledging that the sudden resignation of Fire Chief Adolf Zubia after three months on the job presents another setback for an organization mired in leadership dysfunction, board Chairman Warren Knox said the district is left with no choice but to move forward in quest for another leader.
“We have to work on finding a replacement,” Knox said.
The board spent $28,000 in hiring Ron Coleman to prepare a list of candidates that included Zubia, and it remains unclear whether they will be able to recoup those funds or if Coleman will help compile a list of candidates for the new search.
“Obviously, (hiring a consultant) did not work with Zubia, and we are stuck trying to find another process,” Knox said.
The board must decide as a whole on how to proceed during its November regular meeting next week and Knox said the board will engage in an “open and clear” debate relating to the hiring process.
Knox said the board was surprised by the announcement, which was made by Zubia at a Tuesday special meeting.
“What I know about Zubia’s reasoning is in his press release,” Knox said.
Zubia said he will return to his hometown of Las Cruces, N.M.
Consolidated Fire has drawn increasing scrutiny as its former management team, assembled under former Fire Chief Tim Fike, has crumbled, leaving the organization without viable long-term leadership until Zubia was appointed by the board in July.
Director David Hanson had hailed the hire as a “major turnaround” for the district, but Knox acknowledged that Zubia’s resignation is both an impediment to the effort and another public relations hit to a district encumbered by controversy.
The board hired an interim chief — Jerald Johnson, a retired chief who lives in Nevada — in May to provide leadership after Division Chief David Ray stepped away from the district while professing a distaste for the administrative aspects of the job.
Johnson stayed on after Zubia was hired to help bring the new chief up to speed and is currently employed by the district. It is unclear whether he will assume the helm in the wake of Zubia’s departure, which is scheduled for Nov. 30.
Zubia’s resignation comes at a time when the fire district is attempting to get its financial house in order.
Knox has repeatedly said some of the more scandalous story lines that have emanated from the district over the past year and half have distracted people from the looming problem: the financial solvency of the district.
“I think we as a community need to come together and recognize that the fire service in Nevada County is not fiscally viable,” he said. “Can we really afford a $100,000 salary on a chief that administers a district with only 12 people? There are places we can look collectively to save money. We need to eliminate all the overhead that we possibly can.”
Consolidated has continued to explore an operating agreement with the Nevada City and Grass Valley fire departments in hopes of reaching a cost-sharing arrangement, although no deal has been reached to date due to various factors, not the least of which is the undue turmoil in the organization’s leadership.
“We have to do some deep soul searching about how we operate in the future in order to be solvent,” Knox said.
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“Can we really afford a $100,000 salary on a chief that administers a district with only 12 people? There are places we can look collectively to save money.”
Consolidated Fire District board chairman