Report: ‘Climate of fear’ for county staff |

Report: ‘Climate of fear’ for county staff

Nevada County’s top elected officials have been charged with bullying county employees by demeaning them during public meetings and making them feel at risk of losing their jobs, according to a Civil Grand Jury report released Wednesday.

“A climate of fear exists when employees see managers being publicly demeaned by Board of Supervisor members, high-level employees leaving in significant numbers, and what they perceive as micro-managing occurring,” reads one of the Grand Jury’s conclusions.

“I compliment the Grand Jury on the fact they tried to be balanced,” said County Executive Officer Rick Haffey.

However, “there are some (findings) I did not agree with,” Haffey said. “I personally know 80 to 90 percent of the employees and I don’t see a lot of fear existing here.”

Turnover of the county’s staff in the past three years is what prompted the investigation by the Grand Jury, a group of 19 volunteer citizens that serves as watchdogs for the public.

The Grand Jury found that the exodus of almost two dozen county department heads and directors stemmed from:

• Their job duties becoming politically charged and uncomfortable.

• Retirement.

• Better opportunities arising.

Resignations have been accompanied by a variety of explanations, from “personal and professional reasons” to charges that the entire structure of county government is laced with micromanagement problems.

Hank Foley, who resigned last summer as director of the Community Health Department, said at the time that he was tired of the “county bureaucratic system.”

“Micromanaging goes on endlessly in this county,” he said in 2004.

“They’re continuously questioning and second guessing.”

Haffey explained that while a few individuals may have left on sour notes in recent years, a majority of those who left did so either because of a better opportunity or to retire. He said the Grand Jury failed to look more seriously at factors such as demographics and an aging population that desires higher paying pre-retirement jobs.

The new Grand Jury report criticizes Haffey and his predecessors for not acting as buffers between the employees and their elected supervisors. The political climate in the county has been heated at times during the past few years as board members reflected widely differing views in the county, often split on issues such as growth and property rights.

This may have added to some discomfort on occasion during meetings, but “it happens everywhere … no more so here than anywhere else. It is not a hostile environment,” Haffey said.

He added that the atmosphere of the board meetings is different now with the newly elected board, describing it as more “collegial.”

The report also found that the county is in sound financial health and that Haffey, department heads, and staff “are to be commended for their hard work in streamlining many of the county’s departments.” Major budget cuts in the past few years have forced the county to eliminate 82 positions in the past two years, but there has been only one layoff that occurred because of a tight budget, the report stated.

Only one elected supervisor, John Spencer, returned phone calls from The Union about the Grand Jury report Wednesday, and Spencer declined to comment because he had not yet read the report.

The Grand Jury itself has a policy of not commenting on its reports.

The Board of Supervisors has until June 22 to respond to the Grand Jury report, but Haffey said that regardless, he will be using the information to look at the way the county is being run.

“I take Grand Jury reports very seriously,” Haffey said, “and I see it as an opportunity to take a closer look.”

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