Our View: First, a few questions | TheUnion.com

Our View: First, a few questions

It’s a question people are asking — what is going on with the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County?

For an entity billing itself as a nonprofit, local volunteer organization, the answer would seem to be: plenty. A further question would be, how much of it is legitimate concern, and how much is dirty laundry?

The Fire Safe Council, which usually flies under the radar, has made recent headlines. First, there’s a letter from a Nevada City attorney making serious allegations about financial shenanigans. County officials are looking into it. At least one Fire Safe Council member thinks a lawsuit against the nonprofit is in the works.

Then there’s the $140,000 proposed salary, not including benefits, for Jamie Jones, executive director and CEO. That salary is in a three-year contract renewal, which could be voted on at the council’s Aug. 26 meeting.

Some eyebrows have been raised about that salary, especially since the previous CEO — Joanne Drummond, who had an abrupt departure a few years ago — was making around $85,000.

Inflation is bad, but it’s not that bad.

Add to this an ongoing audit of the council, and you’ve got the makings of a fiery debacle.

Or, alternatively, maybe nothing at all. The council is the body that requested the audit of itself. A nonprofit can pay its executive director whatever it wants. And what attorney representing a former worker for any business or nonprofit wouldn’t make these claims? A lawsuit is supposedly on the way, and the stage must be set.

Also, shouldn’t a nonprofit with significantly higher revenue when compared to a few years ago properly compensate its CEO as it sees fit? A higher salary is arguably warranted.

Maybe. However, considering the allegations and their seriousness, the Fire Safe Council would be wise to cool its heels, take its time, and proceed slowly.

Fire is a paramount concern to everyone who lives in Nevada County. We harden our homes, prepare our go bags and hunt for companies willing to insure us.

The Fire Safe Council of Nevada County is at the center of many of these efforts. It prides itself on its involvement in safety efforts and education. Its defensible space clearing and wood chipping programs are regular occurrences this community needs.

The council’s reputation can’t just be good. It must be impeccable. That’s why it should wait until the completion of the audit, and the answering of any questions from board members and the public, before approving Jones’ contract renewal.

Serious allegations have been made. Approving a salary this high before those allegations have been addressed would send the community the wrong message.

Sure, any attorney can shoot off a letter making allegations. But in this case, county officials are looking into these claims. Moving forward at the council’s August meeting with potentially only preliminary audit reports would look bad.

Let the experts do their work, and then provide time for the council to discuss the audit publicly. Be sure to give notice about the meeting when this discussion will occur, and listen to public comment.

Because everything is better when the people’s business is done in the open.

The Fire Safe Council of Nevada County is a nonprofit, but it functions as a quasi-governmental body. It has open meetings and provides its agendas online.

It also has a donation button on its website, where people can give money.

“We are dedicated to making Nevada County safer from catastrophic wildfire through fire safety projects and education,” the website states. “We accomplish this mission by providing valuable training, community outreach, and fuel reduction services at no cost, or very low cost to the residents of Nevada County.”

Sounds good. But first, there are some questions.

The weekly Our View editorial represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com

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