Other Voices: A response to the grand jury report is deserved
If you are interested in Nevada City’s future and have not yet read the grand jury report titled “Nevada City: Asleep at the Wheel,” you should do so. A PDF version is available on The Union’s Web site: http://www.theunion.com/article/20070531/NEWS/105310178&SearchID=73283146113396
Although news reports have concentrated on our financial missteps and internal misadventures, the report is actually divided into three primary elements: Financial lapses, status of the city clerk and day-to-day operation of the city. There is a nexus between some items, but there are issues that stand apart from financial blunders or rifts between elected and appointed city officials.
The City Council is now required by law to respond to the grand jury’s findings and recommendations, and we will do so. My goal is that we respond with thoughtful, well-reasoned candor. Responses along the lines of, “Thanks for bringing that to our attention; we will certainly take your concern into consideration,” will not do in this instance.
If ever the public deserved self-scrutiny from its elected leaders and if ever a grand jury deserved a righteous response from a government agency, this is the time.
Recognizing that this editorial column is solely my opinion and does not necessarily reflect the judgment of any of my colleagues, let’s take a look at some of the issues raised by the grand jury that are not specific to alleged financial mismanagement or personality clashes:
1) “At the time of the jury’s investigation, there was insufficient oversight of the city’s administration of various grant programs and loans.”
2) “During the (recent internal) transition, the city manager directed the expert financial consultant not to discuss prior history of the city’s financial affairs with the new finance manager.”
3) “Historically, there appears to have been little, if any, supervision of the office operations supervisor by the city manager.”
4) “During his tenure, the city manager has fallen short in the performance of duties assigned by the City Council.”
Not to point an accusatory finger solely at the city manager, the grand jury also found:
1) “At the time of the jury’s investigation, it did not appear the City Council had ever conducted a comprehensive performance evaluation of its city manager.”
2) “The City Council historically appears to have abdicated its oversight responsibilities in favor of a comfortable relationship with the city’s senior administrators – they have, sadly, been ‘asleep at the wheel.'”
3) “Members of the City Council should, with the assistance of the city attorney, review their statutory and fiduciary duties and assure that senior management is doing its job.”
4) “Whatever the cause of the city’s difficulties, it is inescapable that ‘the buck stops with the City Council.'”
Although most of the media focus has been on our financial failings and our former office operations supervisor (who is also the current elected city clerk), there appear to be other problems at 317 Broad Street. The City Council must now have the courage to deal with those problems, including our own shortcomings – individually and collectively.
Clearly, I’m as much to blame for the dysfunctional mien inside City Hall as anyone; perhaps even more than others. I’m the senior member of the City Council (15 years) and have been mayor since last July. I recognize and accept my share of the responsibility for our internal calamities, pledge to do everything I can to find solutions and am confident that my colleagues will join me as we selflessly attempt to correct past errors.
The grand jury is to be commended for its commitment to truth and for reminding all of us that the buck, indeed, stops with the City Council. Let’s hope we are collectively up to the challenge and that Nevada City residents will soon have a greater sense of confidence in their elected and appointed public officials.
Steve Cottrell is the mayor of Nevada City, and the opinions expressed in this column are solely his.
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