Suspension sparks showdown at city council meeting
The Union staff writer
Local residents filled Nevada City City Hall Monday night for a heated discussion of the city government’s suspension of Cathy Wilcox-Barnes, who holds an elected office as city clerk in addition to a full-time position as office operations supervisor.
Wilcox-Barnes was officially placed on “paid administrative leave” from her full-time position by Nevada City City Manager Mark Miller two weeks ago, a decision Miller said he made in order to evaluate Wilcox-Barnes’s job only as office supervisor.
Wilcox-Barnes said the suspension has prevented her from fulfilling her duties as city clerk, saying she had her keys confiscated and her communication with co-workers cut. She has also said that city clerk and office supervisor blend together as positions, because city clerk requires more than part-time hours and because the position pays $100 per month.
Drama heightened at the meeting when Yolanda Bachtell, who is challenging Wilcox-Barnes for her seat as city clerk, attempted to take over the city clerk duties for the meeting, which were not being performed by Wilcox-Barnes, who was seated in the audience.
Bachtell walked to the table in the front of the room and said she had already been “duly sworn” early Monday afternoon by Wilcox-Barnes as deputy city clerk, and asked Tammy Byrd, who was recording the minutes, to leave the table, so she could take over.
Mayor Conley Weaver told Bachtell to “sit in the audience, please,” where she could take notes and City Attorney Jim Anderson would review them and decide which to use for the official record.
Most residents who attended Monday’s meeting supported Wilcox-Barnes, either by clapping or commenting, with several criticizing the timing of the suspension as too close to the June 6 election, and emphasizing the importance of the city clerk’s position for making available public records.
Catherine Jones, Wilcox-Barnes’ attorney, said at the meeting that her client had had a dispute with Miller when he asked her to dispose of certain records, but then Jones was interrupted by the city council, with Councilmember David McKay saying, “You’re trying a case here.”
Jenny Darlington-Person, a Nevada City attorney, said she had attended the meeting only to sit in silent support of Wilcox-Barnes, but the proceedings moved her to speak.
“This isn’t objective,” Darlington-Person said, referring to a letter Miller handed out before the meeting, which said the city was conducting an “objective review” of the city clerk’s position, adding that Wilcox-Barnes “has resisted and failed to cooperate adequately” with efforts to provide her with “professional outside assistance” to ensure the public’s interests are being served.
Darlington-Person also criticized the council, whose members said they cannot speak about a personnel issue. She said they are responsible for Miller, adding that Miller had not been objective by writing the letter, and several people present raised the letter over their heads in agreement with the point.
Not all the residents present were against the suspension of Wilcox-Barnes.
Verne Taylor, Nevada City’s director of public works, spoke in favor of Miller at the meeting, saying he had the support of many department heads and administrative assistants who work for the city. After the meeting, Taylor declined to give specific reasons for supporting the suspension of the office supervisor.
Most present, however, supported the office operations supervisor and city clerk.
Barbara Coffman, a challenging candidate for one of two Nevada City council seats up for election in June, said she had difficulty obtaining records from the city after Wilcox-Barnes was suspended.
Rev. John MacDonald, who said he might have known Wilcox-Barnes for a longer time than anybody else present, told the council, “God is here, too … You have a responsibility to be straightforward and honest.”
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