Keith Grueneberg, who stepped down as chairman of the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District board nearly one month ago, has emerged as a target for those upset with how the district is being run.
Grueneberg was served with papers minutes prior to Thursday evening’s district meeting that notified him of an intent to circulate a petition to recall him from his seat on the board.
Following the meeting, Grueneberg said he had no intention of resigning.
“This recall is totally ridiculous,” Grueneberg said Friday. “It is a waste of money that could be used elsewhere. It’s frivolous.”
The former chairman has been at the center of a swirl of controversy in recent months, much of which centers on the circulation of an email that contained potentially inappropriate and offensive material.
Lisa LaBarbera, the former Human Resources director for Consolidated Fire who stepped down in January, said she was the one who filed the initial notice of intent and will move forward with the recall process with an eye toward holding an election in the fall.
“Grueneberg has violated the trust of the district’s constituents,” the notice states. “First, he did not adhere to the intent of the use of funds from the 2012 Tax Measure. He negotiated and gave back an unbudgeted amount of approximately $20,000 worth of concessions to the firefighters.
“Second, against the intent of the 2012 Tax Measure, as lead negotiator, he has negotiated the proposed January 2013-June 2014 firefighter’s union contract to give a significant increase to Salaries and Benefits, $81,000-$100,000.
“Third, Grueneberg has violated the District’s Discrimination and Harassment Policy, Electronic Communication Policy, State and Federal Labor Laws as they relate to protected class. He circulated a video with racial overtones by email to the Firefighter’s Union President, who then forwarded to other members of the District,” the notices states. “The email was disparaging and derogatory as well as insulting to the administrative staff it was directed toward.
“Lastly, Grueneberg has publicly stated his aversion to keeping the public informed of Board decisions and actions as outlined in California’s state constitution requiring transparency. Grueneberg has violated the role of a board member by taking actions without Board direction, distorting and abusing the reputations of District employees who do not agree with him.”
Grueneberg said the email was not knowingly circulated through public emails.
“If I had done something wrong, I would resign,” he said. “But there is no solid evidence the email I sent passed through the public emails. It was a private email.”
Grueneberg said he believes he is being targeted because he has asked “too many questions” about how the district is managed and sought to introduce comprehensive reform to district procedures and policy.
In November, Grueneberg, along with three other directors, voted to restore salary increases to Consolidated Fire firefighters less than a year after the district pled for constituents to pass a tax measure that added a $52 annual fee.
“The people in this district are very competent,” Grueneberg said at the time. “I’m very impressed with the people here. If they perform satisfactorily, they deserve a step raise.”
Grueneberg said the step increases were part of the 2012-13 budget, but LaBarbera refuted that assertion in part, saying the increases were retroactive to January 2012, and the district only budgeted for increases retroactive to July.
“It was a $20,000 non-budgeted item,” LaBarbera said.
Grueneberg contends that the increases were budgeted for, and the step increases were necessary for a fire district saddled with floundering morale in its ranks.
“You don’t balance a budget off of withholding step increases,” he said, adding he was not the only board member to vote for the increase.
LaBarbera said she has seven days to file the actual petition to recall, at which point Grueneberg will have seven days to respond. LaBarbera said she will eventually need to garner about 4,400 signatures to initiate a recall election.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4239.
“This recall is totally ridiculous. It is a waster of money that could be used elsewhere.”
— Keith Grueneberg,
Former Nevada County Consolidated Fire district board chairman