Political naivete by Land Trust | TheUnion.com

Political naivete by Land Trust

I’m responding to the series of blistering editorials and articles from The Union criticizing the Nevada County Land Trust’s hiring of Bruce Conklin as project manager for the North Star House project. After reading these, I sat down to write an equally blistering rebuttal. As president of the board of the Land Trust, I felt that I could not sit idly by and watch my staff, board, and volunteers being unfairly attacked with false accusations of conspiracy.

As a longtime board member, I know that my colleagues are extremely ethical, and I know that we have a paper trail to back every one of our statements: that there have been no conspiracies, that there was no “prior deal” with Conklin, that he was selected through a competitive process, and that we can properly account for all spending on the project.

It was clear, of course, that The Union had mounted a serious concentrated attack on Conklin and that the Land Trust was the most convenient vehicle available to reach him. The publisher of The Union was unwilling to meet with me to discuss the facts, although he did meet with one of my board members. I knew then that my “other voice” must be scathing and hateful, and I spent extra time carefully crafting mean-spirited phrases, hoping one might bring The Union to its knees as it continued its assault on our well-respected nonprofit organization.

Then, as I exchanged some e-mail discussions with The Union, the paper suggested that the Land Trust just admit that it made a mistake and go on. Perhaps the time has come to do just that. I tossed the retaliatory writing in the trash and started over.

The Land Trust absolutely did nothing wrong, but it is clear now that our organization, which prides itself on political neutrality, was guilty of serious political naivete in choosing Conklin. The highly ethical board members who made the selection were focused strictly on his nonpolitical qualifications, including his volunteer following, his relationship with the landowners and his passion for historical building conservation. We were quite simply unable to foresee how much controversy his selection could cause in the long run.

So, to our faithful members and volunteers, we absolutely guarantee you that we have done nothing wrong, illegal, or unethical in handling the North Star House project. This may be the first time that our staunch political neutrality did not serve us well.

However, we remain committed to that philosophy, but now with better qualifications on avoiding potential problems. Now that Conklin has long since left our staff after considerable accomplishment, we plan to avoid hiring high profile, controversial political personalities in the future for the obvious reasons.

We invite all to join in the tours of North Star House while we happily leave the political commentary to others. We regret this controversy and we ask all residents, businesses, and entities for your continued support for our excellent projects and programs, including North Star House.


Andy Cassano is the volunteer president of the board of the Nevada County Land Trust, a nonprofit California corporation facilitating voluntary conservation and recreation projects. They may be reached at 272-5994 or at http://www.nevadacountylandtrust.org.

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