Bruce Conklin: ‘We made a wise decision’
I was elected to the Nevada County Board of Supervisors in 1998, took office in 1999, and served until the end of 2002. Most of my previous working life was spent in environmental restoration. But as a supervisor, I realized I could play a role in preserving our built environment as well.
Private parties had done a good job of restoring old homes and businesses in Nevada County. However, our historic public buildings were neglected. So in 2000, I called together representatives of 17 groups who owned, used or were otherwise interested in our older public buildings ” the Grass Valley Veterans’ Building, St. Joseph’s Community Center, Miners’ Foundry, Marsh House, the Nevada Theater and the old County Hospital. This new Historic Buildings Alliance met periodically from then until I left office.
The Alliance wrote a mission statement: “To restore and reuse Western Nevada County’s historic public buildings.” Although no one in the group specifically represented the North Star House, it was the most frequently mentioned project and became the Alliance’s goal number one.
The Alliance jointly explored various funding sources and shared project information. In 2000, the Legislature approved recreation bond based funding for the Empire Mine underground tour project, Miners’ Foundry and the Music in the Mountains Fairgrounds facility. Unfortunately, Governor Davis vetoed all of these, and the Legislature failed to support Assemblyman Aanestad’s requests to fund other historic preservation projects. We were all disappointed, but agreed to keep looking for support.
Meanwhile, I also served as Chairman of the Nisenan Park and Recreation District Formation Committee. Over time, more than 20 citizens served on this committee and made recommendations to the Board of Supervisors.
I met with Dr. McAteer to initiate a joint county-schools after-school and summer recreation program for school-age children. This was a first-ever joint endeavor of this type in our county and was successful. I suppose I was gaining a reputation as a supervisor interested in historic buildings, parks, recreation and young people.
In the 2002 election, I lost to Mr. Bedwell. Despite a close result and careful recounting, it was clear he won fair and square. However, there is always a period after an election when the incumbent stays on to finish the term. When I was elected, it was six months before I joined the board. The outgoing incumbent made many weighty decisions during that period.
During the 2002 campaign, candidate Mrs. Sutherland said we need more roads, not parks. Candidate Bedwell said that our backyards are our parks. Should the 2002 outgoing supervisors have deferred to them the decision on what to do with the one-time bequest from Dryden Wilson, who loved parks so much that he helped create one in Auburn? Of course not. A lame-duck board is still the board until the last day of its service, not a day longer and not a day less. In light of the new board’s subsequent acts, I’m more convinced than ever that we made a wise decision that benefited the county for generations to come.
The Union asks why I did not abstain from voting on the Dryden Wilson bequest contract with the Land Trust. I did not abstain because I had no financial interest in the Land Trust, its board, its projects; nor any suggestion that I would have an interest in them in the future. Neither did I abstain from voting funding for the City of Grass Valley, Nevada City nor the Truckee-Donner Land Trust, all of whom received funds at the same time and for similar purposes.
The Union says I did not abstain from a vote because I did not foresee running for supervisor again. Does anyone think my ethics, or any other supervisor’s ethics, come from a desire to be re-elected? My ethics come from my New England puritan heritage, informed by history and law.
The Union implies that because the Land Trust and I each did our homework in checking laws, regulations and ethical standards before my hiring, we must have been guilty. Our thoroughness only shows our respect for the law. The Land Trust board and staff maintain high standards of integrity.
The Union also says I wrote a detailed job description for the North Star House project manager. I did not write the job description. I’m told that I competed fairly with 13 other applicants for the Land Trust job. We all submitted detailed written statements of qualifications and were interviewed by a six-member screening committee. Finalists were interviewed by the Executive Committee, which made a unanimous recommendation to the full Board of Directors.
The Union quotes a letter purportedly written by a Harvard professor saying that I made errors at the North Star House. He never came to the house while I was project manager, never called me or wrote to me and never questioned any Land Trust activity while it was going on. I was an agent of the Land Trust, not a decision-maker. The Land Trust board makes North Star decisions guided by an expert committee, including two architects. The project manager simply carries out those decisions.
I defend the Land Trust’s decisions. They did a good job of saving the North Star House in a short period of time. The person who donated the Julia Morgan House to the Land Trust has consistently praised their work. I am confident the Land Trust will continue making good decisions.
The Union says my work for the Land Trust presents at least an appearance of conflict of interest. Yet it is The Union which has the power to create these appearances. They do so selectively.
Years ago, one previous supervisor left the board to start a special interest group which to this day is the most active and influential board lobbyist. While this group never received public money, it has probably affected the county treasury more than any other single group.
Another previous supervisor went to work for an alcohol recovery agency funded by the board on which he sat. Although he is now retired, I have often praised his work for that agency and his dedication to helping people get off drugs and alcohol.
Yet another supervisor voted to create a grant-making agency as one of her very last acts in office. In the first round of grants from this agency, she was a successful applicant. I applauded her work then and I still support what she does.
I would not likely agree with these other former supervisors on land use issues but I would not attack their honesty, integrity or dedication to the causes and the nonprofits with whom they work. They are making use of what they learned as county supervisors to continue working for community betterment.
One of these former supervisors made more money per year than I did as Land Trust project manager. One of them made less. I suspect they continue to volunteer much of their time, just as I do. I believe these former public servants did nothing wrong.
My experience and education prepared me for this work. My passion for the project motivated me to work hard. Hundreds of people who are familiar with the project have seen the results.
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