Grand jury questions irregularities in administrator’s contract
Nevada County’s top administrator received a new contract under improper circumstances, the civil grand jury charges in a special report released Friday.
The charge from the 1998-99 civil grand jury stems from a new contract for County Administrator David Brennan, negotiated late last year by the Board of Supervisors
The incident occurred last December, when Supervisor Sam Dardick, then board chairman, signed a contract for Brennan “without proper authority,” the grand jury charges in its interim report.
The grand jury recommends in the report that District Attorney Mike Ferguson determine if the Brown Act, the state’s open-meeting law, was violated.
The panel also urges supervisors to implement procedures to prevent another such situation.
Asked if he will look into the matter, Ferguson would only say he was writing to the grand jury foreman to clarify some issues.
Supervisors held closed-session reviews of the county administrator on Nov. 10 and Dec. 8, 1998.
Dardick was absent from the December session, and the other four supervisors testified that they expected to see a draft contract for their review.
On Dec. 15, Dardick and Brennan “executed” the contract extension without the knowledge of the other four supervisors, the grand jury charges.
Two supervisors who were voted out of office last November, Rene Antonson and Fran Grattan, left the board Jan. 4 and have testified that they did not seen the contract signed on Dec. 15 until their interview with the grand jury on Feb. 22.
One of the current supervisors who attended the Dec. 8 meeting testified that she had not seen the signed contract until a week before her grand jury interview in late February.
Although the “she” in this passage of the grand jury report is unidentified, it apparently refers to Supervisor Karen Knecht, the only woman on both the present and previous boards.
Board Clerk Cathy Thompson testified that she received the executed contract on Jan. 15, a month after it was signed, the grand jury reports.
No reason was given for the delay.
The current board chairman, Peter Van Zant, announced the contract a week later – 42 days after the contract agreement was signed, the grand jury says.
“The failure to vote and publicly record that vote on the closed contract session indicates a breakdown of board discipline,” the grand jury concludes.
Supervisor also faulted
The grand jury also faults the supervisors for failing to consult with the county counsel and for reportedly failing to follow open-meeting rules set down in the Brown Act.
Brennan insists the whole problem stemmed from misunderstandings among board members and between himself and the board.
His new contract outlines the terms and conditions of employment and conditions to terminate the contract, he said.
It did not change his current $92,796 annual salary.
A closed session of the board will be held Tuesday to resolve any remaining misunderstandings, Brennan said.
As for the open-meeting charge, County Counsel James Flageollet said the Brown Act does offer a provision to cure a violation of the kind described by the grand jury, if it did occur.
The “cure” is to publicly announce the decision, as Van Zant did on Jan. 26, Flageollet said.
No vote was announced at that time, Flageollet said, but that, too, could be cured with a subsequent announcement.
Supervisor Knecht concurred with the grand jury report.
There should have been a vote on the contract but there wasn’t, she said, and the county should have made a timely public announcement on the contract.
Knecht says she is “totally ticked off” about the problems the grand jury highlighted and worries about the apparent lack of communication on the board.
“I have been on the board for six years, and nothing like this has ever happened,” Knecht said. “I am not sure how or why this happened.”
Supervisors Van Zant and Dardick could not be reached for comment Friday.
Former Supervisors Grattan and Antonson also could not be reached for comment.
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