Stinging report stirs city response
Nevada City council members will hold a public meeting on Monday to discuss their response to a harsh county grand jury report that said the city failed to properly collect bills, kept poor records and provided too little oversight.
The grand jury report, titled “Asleep at the Wheel,” appeared to spare no one in the city’s government, criticizing the city manager and City Council members. The report requires a written city response to the jury’s findings by Aug. 28.
Most city leaders generally agree with the grand jury’s claims but said the problems largely are behind them. The city has updated its bill collection process and addressed other concerns, they said.
“Ninety percent of those things mentioned in the report are fixed,” according to City Manager Mark Miller.
Nearly $61,000 in business license fees not previously billed have been collected, Miller said when the report was released. In addition, 30 water and sewer bills erroneously billed at lower rates were corrected, he said.
Council members hold mixed views, although most agree with Miller.
Councilman and former mayor Steve Cottrell doesn’t think the city has done enough. City leaders knew about the concerns for a long time but didn’t act appropriately, according to Cottrell.
“It took 30 years to get to this point,” said Councilwoman Barbara Coffman. “We can’t fix it overnight.”
The city “absolutely” has made significant progress on bill collections, Coffman said.
When the grand jury began preparing its critical report on Nevada City, the city was in turmoil, said Councilwoman Sheila Stein.
The report said city Clerk Cathy Wilcox-Barnes had “failed in a material manner” to perform both her duties as city clerk and operations supervisor, a position she had held for some 20 years.
For her part, Wilcox-Barnes sued the city for wrongful termination soon after her operations supervisor position was eliminated.
In the 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 is pending and seeks damages that could exceed $2 million.
Stein said the situation in the city has improved, however. “Absolutely, we’re on the right track now,” Stein said.
Completed audits and the 2007-08 budget demonstrate the city’s recent improvements, she added.
Stein wants more than one meeting to discuss the grand jury response.
“I don’t see a need to rush the response,” Stein said. “It’s not something I want to say let’s jump into with both feet.”
Miller thinks the response can be handled in a single meeting.
The special City Council meeting is set for 6 p.m. Monday at Nevada City Hall, 317 Broad St. Citizens can offer their opinion on the city’s response during public comment.
To contact Staff Writer Greg Moberly, e-mail gregm@the union.com or call 477-4234.
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