Rules change on clerk called illegal
If the Nevada County Board of Supervisors doesn’t reverse its selection of Fran Freedle as county clerk-recorder, Supervisor Peter Van Zant said Friday, he will appeal to state Attorney General Bill Lockyer.
Van Zant explained that he put the controversial decision back on the agenda next Tuesday because the Board of Supervisors might have violated the law by disregarding a selection process the entire board had unanimously approved.
“We changed the rules midstream,” he said.
But fellow Supervisor Sue Horne, who voted with the 3-2 majority in selecting Freedle on Monday, believes the nomination was legal.
“When I found out this was an issue (on Thursday), I got on the phone and talked with county counsel – nothing illegal has been done,” Horne said. Van Zant also has asked for the counsel’s opinion but said he has not received one.
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The decision has drawn criticism because one of the duties of the clerk-recorder is to oversee elections. The November ballot will include two hotly contested supervisor races: Nate Beason versus Olivia Diaz in District 1 and an unknown set of contenders for the District 3 seat, from which Drew Bedwell resigns as of Tuesday for health reasons.
The clerk-recorder position is a nonpartisan, elected office. The midterm appointment was needed because current Clerk-Recorder Lorraine Jewett-Burdick plans to resign on June 30.
Freedle, a businesswoman, is a former supervisor and an active Republican. She could not be reached for comment Friday evening.
Six of the finalists interviewed by the supervisors Monday were screened by two nomination committees. One panel included county staff; on the other were out-of-county elections officials and an executive of Citizens Bank. The process was agreed upon 5-0 by the board at a meeting on April 13.
The seventh finalist, Freedle, was added to the list at the request of Bedwell, even though the supervisors had not discussed the option of making individual appointments at the April 13 meeting, Van Zant said.
Van Zant, who scoured his records following Monday’s selection of Freedle, found an April 23 memo sent by County Executive Officer Rick Haffey informing supervisors that 11 of the 23 candidates had been culled out before being interviewed by the two panels. Haffey then added, “If any board member wishes to interview anyone from the bottom group of applicants … please contact Gayle Satchwell.”
Haffey and Satchwell, the county’s director of human resources, were not available for comment Friday.
Van Zant said he did not think about the implications of Haffey’s invitation in April. “It never occurred to me,” he said.
But Horne said she noticed it. She was told by Satchwell and Haffey that the board had the latitude to select anyone to serve as clerk-recorder.
“It’s my understanding and knowledge the board followed the process fairly and appropriately,” Horne said.
She said Van Zant should have aired his concerns earlier. “Why didn’t he say, ‘Hey, wait a minute’? He waited until we went through the whole process.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Van Zant said, he plans to ask the board to rescind its nomination of Freedle because none of the other passed-over candidates knew they had an opportunity to be elevated to the list of finalists.
Instead, he said, one of the six candidates selected by the two nominating panels – Louise Jones, Pamela Lee, Joy Massey, Blaine Osborn, Mary Ross and Kathleen Smith – should be named.
Van Zant said he would have challenged the process even if a candidate to whom he was more favorable had been appointed.
“The integrity of the process is every bit as important as the outcome,” he said.
Horne said reappointing a clerk-recorder is a bad idea and that Van Zant’s protest “makes it very difficult at this point.”
Technically, the appointment of Freedle is contingent upon a background check being conducted by the county’s Human Resources Department.
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