Residents roast Nevada City council at meeting
Numerous Nevada City residents ripped their city leaders Monday night for financial mismanagement as citizens and the council members took their first turn at formally responding to a critical Nevada County Grand Jury report.
“If it was in the private sector, I’m not sure all of you would have a job,” said resident Steve Crowder.
Crowder, residents and city leaders responded to grand jury charges that the city didn’t properly collect bills, kept poor records and provided too little oversight.
The Nevada County Grand Jury report, titled “Asleep at the Wheel,” criticizes the city manager, city clerk and city council members. The report requires a written city response to the jury’s findings by Aug. 28 and city leaders agreed they may need another meeting to finish the city’s response.
“Each and every one of us should be ashamed,” Crowder said of the jury’s critical report.
Specifically, the report criticizes City Manager Mark Miller for the city’s not having any experienced accounting personnel and having outdated financial software prior to April 2006. The report also said Miller directed an expert financial consultant not to discuss prior history of the city’s financial affairs with a finance manager who was hired earlier this year.
“I’m shocked,” said resident Bill Pranckitas. He said he didn’t think city leaders’ plans offering pay raises up to as much as 11 percent for department heads this year was appropriate in light of the report.
“You don’t get raises for failure,” Pranckitas said.
Most city leaders said they generally agreed with the grand jury’s claims. But as they went through the findings and recommendations Monday, they said the problems are largely behind them.
The grand jury found 26 boxes of unorganized paperwork, substantial unopened mail going back five years and some city records dating back to the 1980s.
“Those boxes don’t exist anymore,” said Loydyne Lane, a financial consultant the city hired in April 2006. The paperwork from the boxes has been filed in the appropriate places, she said.
The city updated its bill collection process, added new software and addressed other concerns, council members said.
The report also said elected City Clerk Cathy Wilcox-Barnes had “failed in a material manner” to perform both her duties as clerk and in her appointed position as operations supervisor, which she held for 20 years.
The grand jury recommended holding an election to determine if the clerk position should be converted to an appointed job ” as is the case in Grass Valley.
“It’s a valid point,” said Councilman Steve Cottrell referring to appointing the clerk position. “But we have asked voters this question in our recent history,” he said. Citizens rejected a ballot initiative calling for the clerk’s appointment in the mid-90s, he added.
Council members didn’t take a stand on the whether the position should be appointed or elected but did say they would discuss it the issue at a future meeting.
Clerk term lasts to 2010
City Council members eliminated Wilcox-Barnes’ position of operations supervisor last summer, and she sued the city for wrongful termination soon after. She is seeking damages that could exceed $2 million.
Wilcox-Barnes’ current term expires in 2010. The City Council has made no move to declare the position vacant nor ask her to step down, even though Wilcox-Barnes no longer attends council meetings, keeps no office hours and refuses to accept any direct communication with council members or city officials.
To contact Staff Writer Greg Moberly, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4234.
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