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Board should heed Grand Jury’s advice

While it is not surprising to see staff turnover when a new board of directors arrives with a different philosophy than the previous one, this week’s Nevada County Civil Grand Jury report is a reminder to any board member on the dangers of micro-management.

The report was a result of an investigation regarding the departure of a large number of Nevada County department heads and key employees. The report acknowledges many of the employees left for various reasons, but that some county department heads left because they were “publicly criticized and demeaned” by members of the Board of Supervisors.

The 2002 general election saw voters change the face of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors. A conservative Robin Sutherland and Drew Bedwell had unseated the more liberal Elizabeth “Izzy” Martin and Bruce Conklin, giving the board a conservative majority with Supervisor Sue Horne.



At the core of those campaigns was Natural Heritage 2020, which was introduced as a process to inventory our environmental assets, but became a lightening rod for private property rights advocates who saw NH 2020 as a threat. Just weeks following that election, the board essentially mothballed NH 2020.

In its recommendations, the Grand Jury correctly pointed out that “the success of the enterprise of county government depends upon the hard work of each county employee,” but went on to say that the board should “help them progress on their career paths, to shield them from divisive county politics, to provide a meaningful and timely performance evaluations, and to continue to award them with adequate compensation in relation to their peers in the surrounding counties.”




Not exactly. The board represents the people, or the citizens, of Nevada County. It sets policy and direction based upon the needs and desires of its constituents (you). It holds the CEO, or county manager, accountable to execute those policies and directions. It also has a fiduciary role to ensure that our tax dollars are spent efficiently and that they are providing the services we expect.

As a result, the board should always be working through the CEO and not through the individual managers, or employees. Unless it is by agreement or arrangement through the CEO, or county manager.

The Grand Jury pointed out that county employees are professionals and capable of setting aside their own viewpoints or philosophies in an effort to get the job done. And those who cannot, need to leave. It’s no different in any private business or company in the country.

There is a tendency for elected board members – whether it’s a county board or school board or water board – to want to get involved in the details or day-to-day management of the agency. As the Grand Jury report illustrates, however, there is a line that must be respected at all times.

We hope the Board of Supervisors takes this report for the constructive criticism it is and it works to better understand its role and its relationship with the managers and employees who are diligently working for us.


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