Nevada County Consolidated Fire District board in hot water for error |

Nevada County Consolidated Fire District board in hot water for error

Nevada County Consolidated Fire District watchdogs are crying foul on yet another procedural gaffe made by the board of directors.

On her personal blog, Lisa LaBarbera, former Human Resources director for Consolidated Fire, said the board failed to follow appropriate protocol when it appointed Ronald Pennington as a replacement for the recently exited Bob Rhodes.

Rhodes resigned his position on the board that has been characterized by acrimony, tumult and dissent for the past two years in August, less than a year after winning a seat in last November’s general election. Rhodes has not responded to phone calls seeking comment.

NCCFD Chairman Warren Knox said the board deliberated and decided to appoint Pennington because he received the most votes of a candidate not elected to a seat on the board during last year’s general election.

“We thought it was appropriate to let the people speak in this particular case and not have an opinion from the board,” Knox said. “We are trying to be as transparent as possible.”

LaBarbera said the fire district failed to follow California Government Code 1780, which stipulates: “The district shall notify the county elections official of the vacancy no later than 15 days after either the date on which the district board is notified of the vacancy or the effective date of the vacancy, whichever is later.

On Monday, Knox said the district “may have inadvertently forgot to post the announcements that the position was open.”

Knox said the fire district had been unable to contact its legal counsel since the issue was initially raised and is attempting to iron out the details regarding the state’s code.

While the district’s legal counsel Jim Curtis was not at the meeting, his assistant was and neglected to raise the issue, Knox said. The district’s legal counsel has been at the center of controversy, as Curtis’ consistent absence from meetings during the 2012 calendar year was cited by the Nevada County Grand Jury as a major factor in the board’s mismanagement of the district during that period.

Knox said the board is “very concerned about the issues the grand jury brought up,” and he and other board members have vowed to improve board operations. The board passed a resolution in early July requiring legal counsel to be present at all meetings with only Rhodes dissenting.

Knox further said avoiding a special election, which could cost in the tens of thousands of dollars, is paramount for the cash-strapped district.

“An election is expensive, and we can’t afford it,” he said. “We want to legally get an appointment in place.”

If Pennington is appointed, his seat would come up for election during the next regular election, Knox said.

Pennington received 4,652 votes, narrowly missing a seat on the board. Current board members Tom Carrington (7,055), William Habblett (5,817), Warren Knox (5,949) and Rhodes (4,842) were elected to the four open seats in November. Pennington, incumbent John Leonard (4,294) and Linda Chaplin (4,399) all missed being elected.

Rhodes did not provide rationale for his resignation in the terse one-sentence email he delivered to the board via email July 29.

In one of his last public appearances, Rhodes verbally sparred with Director Keith Grueneberg over the agency’s budget.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email or call 530-477-4239.

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