Nevada County Consolidated Fire District recall moves forward
Former employee of the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District Lisa LaBarbera is forging ahead with the effort to recall Director Keith Grueneberg, while the board member insists he is being unfairly targeted due to his attempts to reform the agency.
LaBarbera, who was the human resources director at Consolidated Fire before stepping down in January, announced she and her fellow recall proponents are nearing the halfway point of their stated goal to collect 4,500 signatures from residents living in Consolidated Fire’s jurisdiction.
On Saturday, LaBarbera set up a booth outside of Kmart in Grass Valley to educate the public about the recall effort and garner signatures.
“This will be the first of many public venues for signature collection,” she said in a news release issued Friday.
LaBarbera lists several reasons for distinguishing Grueneberg from the other six decision makers on a Consolidated Fire board wracked by seemingly ceaseless controversy and acrimony for the last year and a half, culminating in a blistering grand jury report released in June.
As the lead representative for the fire district, Grueneberg inappropriately negotiated a collective bargaining agreement favorable to firefighters, which restored salary step increases and benefits retroactive to the beginning of 2012, which was not anticipated in the fire agency’s budget, LaBarbera said.
The director also circulated an email that LaBarbera said contained racially insensitive material.
Grueneberg, who was the fire chief at Elk Grove, also undermined the authority of former Fire Chief Tim Fike, ignored provisions of open meeting laws, entered into financial agreements that lacked proper protection for the agency and engaged in behavior unbecoming of a board member, lacking civility and decorum, LaBarbera said on her recently constructed website, recallgrueneberg2013.wordpress.com.
Grueneberg refuted LaBarbera’s assertions, saying he made no decision without the approval of other board members and the former HR director is out for revenge due to his efforts to rectify a district he said was badly in disarray.
“The whole thing is totally uncalled for and is just a bunch of misrepresentation,” he said. “It’s retaliation against me.”
Grueneberg said that soon after joining the board in 2010, he began delving into its operations.
He unearthed violations of fair labor standards, an improper cessation of leave accrual for an injured firefighter and the cover up of a near-death accident at a training incident, he said. The director incurred LaBarbera’s resentment after he began questioning members of administration regarding what he perceived as systemic problems, Grueneberg said.
“These are the kind of people we are dealing with,” he said. “I am busy trying to repair the district, and they just keep trying to tear it down.”
Firefighters Wyatt Howell, Randall Gross and Patrick Mason provided documents to The Union that they claim prove that LaBarbera was acting inappropriately as HR director. They claimed she indelicately publicized personal employee information and improperly steered employees toward health insurance plans that financially benefited the district but were not necessarily in the best interest of individual firefighters.
LaBarbera hit back, contending the firefighters were unhappy with her as their wallets took a hit when the district’s budget became constrained, and she was placed in the unfortunate position of messenger. After an article appeared where Howell and other firefighters questioned LaBarbera’s motives in recalling Grueneberg, the former HR director remained undaunted.
In a budget subcommittee meeting in early June, LaBarbera pointedly asked Treasurer Mark Bass whether the fire district was setting aside money to fund a special election. At the time, Bass said the district would withdraw money from a contingency fund if an election were to occur.
The estimated costs for a special election range from $16,000 to $50,000. The fire district must assume cost responsibility, according to Assistant Registrar of Voters Gail Smith.
LaBarbera must collect 4,388 signatures by Oct. 1. If an election were to take place, it would feature two “contests” — the recall vote and, if Grueneberg is recalled, a candidate for the open seat must be chosen.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email email@example.com or 530-477-4239.
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