Contested race for Nevada City treasurer leaves some wondering — why does the position still exist? | TheUnion.com

Contested race for Nevada City treasurer leaves some wondering — why does the position still exist?

It's a position that pays a whopping $100 a month. It's a position that everyone agrees is essentially nominal in nature.

But come June, there will be two people running for the position of treasurer in Nevada City.

And while this race will not cost Nevada City anything extra — there is already a city council election and a measure on the ballot — the fact that current City Clerk Niel Locke is running against him has incumbent Treasurer David McKay scratching his head.

Both the city clerk and the city treasurer are part-time positions that are largely ceremonial or advisory in nature. The actual finance and clerk duties for Nevada City are handled by City Manager Catrina Olson and Administrative Services Manager Loree McCay.

According to Nevada City's website, the treasurer's responsibilities include serving on the audit committee and reviewing the city's monthly warrant register, and reviewing the city's investment quarterly reports.

Both Locke and McKay agree that the position does not require much work.

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"It's a volunteer position, basically," McKay said.

In February, when Locke decided to run for treasurer while also serving as clerk, he told The Union being the city clerk takes about four to six hours a week while the treasurer position takes no time at all.

"There is nothing to do," Locke said.

So why are there two candidates vying for an office that means nothing — and why do the positions of city clerk and city treasurer still exist?

History

City clerk and treasurer became elected positions in the 1920s. Because Nevada City is a general law city, those offices cannot be abolished by the city council — it must go to a vote. And the electorate of Nevada City has defeated two such moves in the last 30 years, McKay said.

The question of whether one person can hold both offices has been answered differently in the past.

Since 2002, Locke has served as treasurer and clerk at different times. And for a brief period in 2011, he served simultaneously in both capacities when the treasurer at the time, Andy Howard, resigned.

But in 2012, when Locke was up for another term in both offices, City Attorney Hal Degraw told the city council that California law prohibited candidates from running for two elected positions.

As McKay — who was on the council at the time — explains it, "the city attorney said this was not OK, that we had to have a special election or the council could appoint someone for two years. I volunteered."

McKay then ran again for treasurer in 2014, unopposed. Locke ran again, unopposed, for city clerk in 2016.

"All of a sudden, Niel wants to do both again," McKay said. "I believe this is a conflict of interest. This doesn't feel right."

Degraw said he believes Locke can run for treasurer because he is not running for clerk during the same election.

"It comes down to a question of whether they are incompatible offices," he said. "If they are incompatible, he can only hold one."

But because the duties don't conflict, Degraw said, Locke can hold both positions.

"They don't really have any cross-over duties," the city attorney said. "The clerk comes in and opens the meetings and sign resolutions. The treasurer is basically an advisory position in regard to financial matters."

From Degraw's perspective, Locke would have had to choose which office he wanted to run for if they were on the same ballot.

And that's the distinction McKay has an issue with.

"If you can't run (for both) in same election cycle, then why is it OK when they are staggered?" McKay asked.

He said he had posed the question to the Secretary of State's office, but had not yet received a response.

This might be the last time the issue ever comes up, however. Locke said his ultimate goal if elected is that by 2020, both offices will be appointed and not elected.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.