Grass Valley fire chief Clarabut to resign |

Grass Valley fire chief Clarabut to resign

Faced with pressure from the state’s employee pension program, Grass Valley leaders will also contend with the loss of part-time fire chief Tony Clarabut, who is scheduled to resign his post July 31.

The Grass Valley City Council met in a closed-door meeting Tuesday to give direction to municipal staff on how to proceed with his impending vacancy, according to City Manager Dan Holler.

Formal actions on the city’s staffing of a fire chief are expected at one of the city council’s upcoming bimonthly Tuesday night meetings, Holler said.

“I’d like to believe I was productive,” Clarabut said. “It’s been a great experience for me.”

“We deliver the service as one entity. The way the three agencies’ firefighters work together is a testament to their service to their communities.”
Tony Clarabut
Retiring part-time fire chief

Clarabut, who moved to Nevada County in 1983, worked for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection for 35 years before he retired in 2006 as a unit chief for Nevada, Placer and Yuba counties. After his retirement, he worked for 15 months as the fire chief in Ukiah, Calif.

Amid the city’s efforts to form a shared administrative agreement with Nevada County Consolidated Fire District and Nevada City Fire Department, Clarabut joined Grass Valley in an interim capacity in 2008 to replace Jim Marquis, who resigned to take a position as a battalion chief in Washoe County, Nev.

“When I signed on five years ago, I didn’t anticipate being here for five years,” Clarabut said.

Since 1997, Grass Valley, Nevada City and Nevada County Consolidated fire departments have operated under an agreement in which the closest resource of any three is sent to a blaze. The departments often back each other up and respond to the same emergencies. Part of the goal in hiring Clarabut was to have him help facilitate a shared administrative between the three agencies, he said.

“We deliver the service as one entity,” Clarabut said. “The way the three agencies’ firefighters work together is a testament to their service to their communities.”

Clarabut pointed to the financial downtown stemming from the 2008 pop of the housing bubble as derailing joint talks with the three agencies.

“We continue to work with Consolidated and Nevada City to look for options to bring us together,” he said. Nevada County Consolidated is expected to hire a new full-time fire chief in the coming days, whose position is not expected to include administration of Grass Valley and Nevada City’s fire agencies.

When Clarabut came on board, he did it as a part-time employee, which allowed him to continue to collect his pension and allowed the city to avoid paying a pension cost.

However, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System has recently been cracking down on the practice of council-appointed department head positions held by annuitants, saying that a city must hold an active recruitment for a regular employee concurrently.

Grass Valley isn’t alone in its reliance on part-time retirees to lead departments amid financial hardships.

Nevada City is currently searching for a new police chief to replace Jim Wickham, who is also a public pension recipient. City leaders have argued that Nevada City is a full year from when it expected to have the finances to support a full-time chief. Nevada City Manager David Brennan is also a part-timer, eying a departure as the city’s budget stabilizes enough to support a full-time executive.

“PERS does not care about a local governments’ financial situations,” Brennan told The Union in April. “They are only concerned with getting as many people paying into the system as possible.”

Clarabut said that after his resignation, he plans to volunteer his time to wrap up three projects — hiring three firefighters using voter-approved tax revenue, revising the joint operational agreement with the three agencies and finalizing a contract for a new fire engine.

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email or call 530-477-4236.

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