Public pleads with Nevada County supervisors over Fire Safe Council situation | TheUnion.com

Public pleads with Nevada County supervisors over Fire Safe Council situation

Several people at Tuesday's Nevada County Board of Supervisors meeting slammed the recent decision of the Fire Safe Council to forego renewing Executive Director Joanne Drummond's contract and asked county officials to investigate the move.

Some of those people, who spoke during the board's public comment period, claimed issues with the Fire Safe Council's ability to obey the Brown Act — the state's open meetings law. JoAnn Fites-Kaufman, who recently resigned from the council's board of directors, pointed to both Brown Act violations and accusations of sexual harassment. She urged supervisors to push for change in the council's leadership.

"The Fire Safe Council is rapidly devolving into a board with group think, acting in a manner that is outdated and at times illegal," Fites-Kaufman said.

In her resignation letter Fites-Kaufman states a complaint she made was improperly distributed to council directors and violated both her and Drummond's privacy. She also expressed disappointment over the failure to renew Drummond's contract.

"… I cannot in good conscience continue to volunteer under the current leadership and working environment," she states.

Steve Chandler, with Lake of the Pines' firewise community, called Drummond's departure a public safety issue.

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"Mr. Scofield, you guys do — are compelled to act on public safety," Chandler said, talking to Supervisor Ed Scofield. "The county is better off with Joanne Drummond as its director."

Scofield told those who spoke that he understands their frustration. However, he said supervisors have no power over council personnel.

"We have no jurisdiction over the Fire Safe Council," Scofield said.

The council

Council Chairman Dennis Cassella has said his organization at its April 26 meeting opted against renewing Drummond's contract — a turnaround from the board's March 22 decision to renew it for a year.

The change stemmed from an investigation sparked by Drummond, who in March made accusations Cassella declined to specify. An investigation into her allegations found no basis for them, but it did reveal a hostile workplace, Cassella said.

"The people who get hired, if they make six months, that's rare," he added.

A 12-year veteran of the Fire Safe Council, Drummond has declined comment.

Cassella praised Drummond's ability in obtaining grant money. However, he added that her job — which includes oversight of those grants and running the Fire Safe Council — has become overwhelming.

The council decided to split its executive director position into two positions: a grants application manager and an operations manager.

Cassella said Drummond indicated no interest in having her position divided.

"Her contract will end June 30," Cassella said. "We feel we need to go in a different direction with the staffing and with the council."

Dispute

According to council minutes, Cassella became chairman at the March meeting after the former chairman resigned the previous month.

At the March meeting Cassella announced the board unanimously approved a one-year renewal to Drummond's contract, with changes to the job description, records state.

"Drummond responded that she did not feel the recent HR investigation was complete or impartial and that she is considering not renewing her employment contract," minutes state.

A month later the council reversed its decision and didn't renew Drummond's contract.

Fites-Kaufman, the former council director who spoke at the supervisor meeting, states in her April 13 resignation letter that the decision against renewing Drummond's contract was premature.

"… I feel it was premature given multiple uninvestigated issues brought forth by the Executive Director and myself, as well as a lack of a completed performance evaluation," Fites-Kaufman states.

Former Chairman Warren Knox resigned in February, David Hanson in March and Fites-Kaufman in April.

The Fire Safe Council declined to release the resignation letters from Knox and Fites-Kaufman. The latter emailed a redacted version of her letter to The Union. The council released Hanson's letter.

Hanson in his March 20 letter states he can't dedicate the time and effort necessary to resolve unspecified issues.

To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email ariquelmy@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.