Report: Wilcox-Barnes failed to perform as clerk |

Report: Wilcox-Barnes failed to perform as clerk

Nevada City Clerk Cathy Wilcox-Barnes is “no longer performing the material duties” of her elected office, according to a Nevada County grand jury report released Wednesday.

That scathing report also said Wilcox-Barnes had “failed in a material manner” to perform both her duties as city clerk and operations supervisor, a position she held for some 20 years before being fired last year.

Wilcox-Barnes sued the city for wrongful termination soon after her operations supervisor position was eliminated. According to her lawyer, M. Catherine Jones, that suit is scheduled for a discovery conference in July. In that suit, Wilcox-Barnes alleges she “suffered great anxiety, humiliation, embarrassment, anger, loss of enjoyment of life and severe emotional distress” resulting from her treatment by the city. The suit seeks damages that could exceed $2 million.

That operations position was eliminated after an extensive audit discovered numerous record-keeping and billing problems.

Wednesday’s grand jury report essentially affirmed the findings in that audit.

The grand jury also recommended the city abolish the elected city clerk position Wilcox-Barnes still holds and make it an appointed position.

Wilcox-Barnes was first appointed city clerk 20 years ago and has been re-elected every four years since. Her current term does not expire until 2010.

The city also created the operations supervisor position to coincide with Wilcox-Barnes’ appointment as city clerk 20 years ago.

City Attorney Jim Anderson said the city has essentially been operating without a city clerk for some time.

“At this point, we are functioning, but not with a city clerk,” Anderson said. “Barbara Coffman (the city councilwoman) tried to set up a way to handle those duties, but we couldn’t get Cathy, or her attorney, to sign up for it.”

Anderson said the city even made office space, complete with a compact disc player, at City Hall available to Wilcox-Barnes so she could perform her elected duties, but it “never worked out.”

“She never comes in,” Anderson said. “All ordinances must be certified by the city clerk and that is being done. I call her and leave a message, and she sends someone over to pick it up, and it’s returned by the same person. All of the other stuff (normally done by the city clerk) is being done by staff.”

Jones said her client is still Nevada City’s elected clerk. Jones declined to provide details of her performance of those duties.

“I can’t discuss it,” Jones said. “It’s just not appropriate. (Wilcox-Barnes) will be preparing a response to the grand jury. We have two months to do that, and I’m sure there will be a lot of detail included in that response.”

In its investigation of the city clerk’s position, the grand jury found that:

• Deeds conveying real property to the city had not been recorded.

• City ordinances and council resolutions were not being maintained in an organized manner, were not readily accessible to the public and had not been codified, indexed, or published since 1990. It also found that minutes to council meetings had not been filed in 12 years.

• The city has had to hire additional staff to handle the city clerk’s duties.

The grand jury recommended the city conduct a special election to “make the office of city clerk an appointive position” and determine if that position should report to the City Council or city manager.

Anderson said Nevada City voters turned down that idea 10 years ago but that it may be time to revisit it. Asked if the city had any recourse if it believes it is operating in violation of statutes governing the city clerk’s duties, Anderson said he plans to review the appropriate codes to see if the city can make an interim appointment. “The pending lawsuit (for wrongful termination) makes it difficult,” he said.

Anderson also said the grand jury report was “pretty close” to what the city’s own audit discovered.

“I’d have to disagree with the notion portrayed by the grand jury that we were asleep at the wheel,” said Anderson. “The reason we are in litigation today is because we saw things that weren’t right and tried to fix them. You can always argue that we should have done it earlier, but we were not asleep at the wheel.”

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