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December 20, 2013
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Consolidated Fire director demands $14K from Grass Valley

A Nevada County Consolidated Fire District director has accused Grass Valley city officials of using proprietary information from the fire district without permission and recommended the board issue a letter demanding $14,000 in payment.

Director Keith Grueneberg on Thursday said Grass Valley officials inappropriately used a list of fire chief candidates that Consolidated Fire paid about $27,000 to have compiled — a claim Grass Valley’s interim city manager denied.

Early in 2013, Consolidated Fire contracted with Fire Force One and its principal, Ron Coleman, to have the consultant generate a list of more than 80 candidates that was eventually whittled to one — Adolf Zubia. Zubia resigned last month after a disagreement with Grueneberg that took place at the beginning of his stint continued to worsen, and ultimately Zubia said that it undermined his ability to lead the district.

Grueneberg said he heard from multiple sources, including a fellow board member and several firefighters, that Grass Valley used the candidate list to conduct interviews with potential candidates.

“I think they should have to pay half of our consulting costs,” Greuneberg said. “If they use our list, they need to help us pay for it. They never asked permission for us to use it.”

Consolidated Fire Counsel Jim Curtis said the first step is to review the contract to see if it there were proprietary confidentiality clauses embedded in the agreement.

“I don’t know what they are talking about, because as long as I’ve been here, we haven’t done any recruitment for a fire chief,” said Jeff Foltz, who has been working as Grass Valley’s interim city manager since the resignation of former City Administrator Dan Holler in late August.

Grass Valley’s former fire chief, Tony Clarabut, retired shortly before Holler’s exit. Since then, Mark Buttron, the department’s battalion chief, was appointed as acting fire chief. While that was originally supposed to be a short-term arrangement, Buttron’s interim contract was extended until June 2014 following Holler’s resignation. Foltz said the extension allows the city to continue to pursue a joint administrator with Consolidated and possibly other area fire districts.

“Everyone is trying to work toward that goal,” Foltz said.

“It’s a great opportunity for the city, Consolidated (Fire) and Nevada City to renew their efforts with a (Joint Powers Authority) they started in the last couple years to see if we all can’t work together and have one chief.”

Consolidated Fire Director Ronald Pennington and board Chairman Warren Knox both advocated for a diplomatic approach, particularly given that Consolidated Fire is attempting to cooperate with other regional fire agencies in an attempt to look at cost savings to be achieved through greater collaboration.

“We need to be careful,” Knox said. “We are looking for a political solutions collectively. I don’t think we should stir the pot in a negative direction.”

Grueneberg said the district “shouldn’t give away $14,000.”

Pennington backed Knox, saying there was not enough information to make an informed decision.

“There is a new atmosphere, a new sense of a collegial approach to shared concerns,” Pennington said. “I’m not so sure the request (for $14,000) is appropriate. I think we should be careful and not shoot from the hip on this.”

Knox said he would take the responsibility of perusing the contract for confidentiality language and perhaps issue a letter to Grass Valley, if appropriate.

“We’re trying to solve a communitywide problem here, an effort that has a lot of merit,” Foltz said. “Grass Valley isn’t interested in getting into the gutter to look at that kind of stuff. We’re here to solve problems.”

Grueneberg’s accusations and their potential impact on joint-chief discussions are a matter for Consolidated Fire’s board to deal with, Foltz said.

“We aren’t going to let that kind of stuff interfere with the overall objective of how we are going to get a joint chief,” Foltz said.

“It’s water off a duck’s back.”

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email mrenda@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.


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The Union Updated Dec 21, 2013 08:45AM Published Dec 24, 2013 01:57PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.