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Nevada County Consolidated chief leaves due to board issues

Photo for The Union by John Hart
John Hart | The Union

Adolf Zubia, who is scheduled to serve as Nevada County Consolidated Fire Chief until Nov. 30, resigned because of not making progress in the fire district as quickly as he felt was needed.

“There were some board members with agendas that didn’t seem to align with the mission of the fire district,” Zubia told The Union.

Several sources close to the situation said that Zubia was frustrated by a tentative agreement struck between board members and the union representing the firefighters that would have stripped management of its power.



Zubia would neither confirm nor deny the assertions, saying his loyalty to the district needed to remain intact.

However, strife between Zubia and Director Keith Grueneberg was evident, as Grueneberg said he has not spoken with Zubia since his first official day on the job, when the chief asked him to resign.




Grueneberg said the chief told him he was a blockade to cinching an operational agreement with Grass Valley and should resign.

“For a chief to ask a board member to resign is very inappropriate,” Grueneberg said. “If I had done this as chief of Elk Grove, I would have been fired immediately. I’ve been in this community since 1971, and he’s been here a week, and he tells me I need to resign. It’s an insult to me.”

Grueneberg has been at the center of much of the controversy surrounding Consolidated Fire’s governance since Tim Fike parted ways with the district nearly 18 months ago.

Grueneberg claimed that Consolidated Fire subsidized firefighting operations in both Grass Valley and Nevada City, an assertion that rankled many city officials. A deal is yet to be struck.

Grass Valley City Councilman Dan Miller said negotiations where in the preliminary stages and declined to delve into any specifics regarding the process.

Grueneberg was the subject of an unsuccessful recall effort orchestrated by former Consolidated Fire Human Resources Director Lisa LaBarbera, who failed to collect the necessary signatures to move forward.

He was accused of circulating racially insensitive material via public emails — a charge he vehemently denies.

The Nevada County Grand Jury issued a report in July that alluded to Grueneberg’s personal relationship with Wyatt Howell as inappropriate, particularly as Grueneberg was representing the board and Howell was representing the union in contract negotiations.

“I developed a friendship with Wyatt since I got here … I didn’t know him from Adam,” Grueneberg said. “I’d like to think I’m friends with everyone there.”

Grueneberg insists he has a working relationship with the union.

In November 2012, the board voted to restore concessions to the union, which included salary increases and other benefits to the rank and file. The vote came just eight months after the board successfully advocated for a $52 tax increase on its constituents that it said was needed to keep some stations open.

LaBarbera said the full concessions were not budgeted for and cited the policy move as the main reason Grueneberg should be recalled and replaced.

Grueneberg responded by pointing out that three other directors voted for the resolution and he was being unfairly singled out.

Consolidated Fire Board Chairman Warren Knox has continued to fret that if the organization continues on its current track, solvency will be an imminent concern.

“The real problem is the level of services that are expected and what we as citizens are willing to pay for that,” Knox said.

Knox said a holistic approach to how fire service is delivered countywide is needed to solve the fiscal problems that beset many of the independently operating special fire districts in western Nevada County.

Fred Buhler, who is a former board member and a resident of the district, said that too great of a percentage of Consolidated Fire’s expenditures is dedicated to salary and benefits.

Buhler is on the district’s Citizen’s Oversight Committee but made sure to clarify that his comments reflected his personal feelings and not the collective thought of the newly formed committee.

Buhler said he was disappointed with the current direction of the fire district.

“I am disappointed that Chief Zubia is leaving so soon,” he said. “Chief Zubia is the fourth chief in the past 18 months that it would seem has not been supported by the board.”

The grand jury also chastised the board for micromanagement of its administrative officials.

“The (board) has undermined the authority of the fire chief as the Chief Executive Officer of the (district) and inserted themselves into a management role in violation of internal by-laws and policies and procedures,” the report states.

Fike left last summer and was replaced by David Ray, who retired in May after expressing a distaste for the political machinations afoot in the district.

Jerry Johnson was brought in as the interim chief and was replaced by Zubia, although he stayed on with the district, and as of press time remains employed on a part-time, temporary basis.

“I think it is important that the residents in the district become more aware of the problems that have evolved over the past 18 months and participate more in meetings and take an interest in what is going on,” Buhler said.

“It is disappointing to see only two or three people show up when there are serious problems.”

Nevada County Supervisors Hank Weston and Nate Beason echoed Buhler’s comments.

“I don’t understand why the constituents of the fire district are not demanding more information from the board,” Beason said.

“Somehow the governance has to change on the board,” Weston said. “It starts with the public who elected them.”

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


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