Pat Butler: Is it personal or personnel in Nevada City?
Nevada City clearly is no longer just a quaint little town known for its shops, history and good times.
Even in the casual atmosphere that defines this community, it’s apparent that operating a municipal government is a daunting task that requires a professional staff with proper resources to do the job.
We’re now learning more about how the inner sanctum of this local government works, or maybe didn’t work, after the city released a thick preliminary report this week that documents what has been described as financial irregularities at Nevada City hall.
The report details transgressions that should concern every resident of the community. Where the responsibility lies for those problems will certainly become the grist for many a discussion in Nevada City.
For those of you who haven’t seen the report, some of the more interesting findings are:
n Twelve undeposited checks ranging from $32 to $5,000, one dating back to October 1990, were found in a safe. One of the checks is for $662.52 and came from an insurance company. Another $136 in cash was found in envelopes in a safe.
n A total of 115 checks were returned for insufficient funds by two banks, including one for $88,583 in June 1997, one for $201,037 in February 1998 and one for $230,400 that was written on April 14 of this year. Overall, the city has written checks for $773,360.52 since 1997 that were returned for insufficient funds. The money was available to pay those bills but hadn’t been transferred from the city’s interest-earning Core account.
n As much as $200,000 a year in water and sewer bills have not been collected for an undetermined number of years. One delinquent account is for $28,000 and another is for $60,185. Overall, 58 accounts had been languishing for 180 days or longer. Other accounts may have been improperly billed.
n The city has collected $26,903 in business license fees while budgeting to collect $60,000 this year. A review of business license fees collected in the previous seven years shows wide fluctuations. The most was $77,912 collected in 1999-2000, while the low mark was $38,270 in 2004-05. A business license fee costs $100. There’s also a $50 handling fee.
n The city is paying auto insurance on 36 vehicles, including eight that it no longer owns. One of those vehicles was sold in 1992.
n Clerical staff had limited access to the city’s computer system while many processes and procedures were not shared with other staff members, which created logjams and delays.
Even before this report was released on Wednesday, battle lines were being drawn throughout Nevada City.
First, there’s the friends and supporters of Cathy Wilcox-Barnes, a native of Nevada City, its first woman mayor and longtime city employee. She’s also the city clerk, an elected position, which demonstrates she has political support as well.
Naturally, they are upset to see their friend subjected to this level of public scrutiny. Some have responded by either attacking the character of City Manager Mark Miller or blaming him for letting these problems occur on his watch.
Miller, who held the post of city manager for nearly four years, does not have the same sort of deep-rooted relationships. The City Council, however, did chose to let the consultants release the preliminary report, which has shed considerable light on the many problems we now know exist within the confines of Nevada City hall.
The next steps will be interesting as Nevada City moves ahead. Will this polarize the community or will the city take the necessary steps to correct these problems and become a more professional operation?
The investigation, meanwhile, continues. The four consultants working on this are expected to release a second report in a month or so.
It is interesting to compare the pace of what is happening in Nevada City, which initiated its investigation in April, to what is going on at the Nevada County jail.
The investigation into the performance of Capt. Kenneth Duncan is now in its sixth month. Sheriff Keith Royal said Thursday that he expects this probe to be completed in another 30 to 60 days. He won’t, however, disclose the nature of the investigation, who is conducting the investigation or how much it is costing taxpayers. We do know that Duncan has earned at least $30,000 while on paid administrative leave.
Royal says he would be violating the law if he discloses this information. Certainly, these are different investigations concerning different types of public employees but this investigation seems to be taking a long time.
Given the amount of time and no doubt money invested in this, it seems fair to expect a full accounting when the investigation is completed.
Pat Butler is the editor of The Union. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 477-4235.
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