Grand Jury slams Truckee Fire, former chief for fiscal irresponsibility, intimidating employees | SierraSun.com

Grand Jury slams Truckee Fire, former chief for fiscal irresponsibility, intimidating employees

Jason Shueh
Sierra Sun

Sun File PhotoFormer Truckee Fire Chief Bryce Keller.

TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; After months of controversy surrounding Truckee Fire Protection District directors and former Chief Bryce Keller, the Nevada County Grand Jury has validated concerns, finding the 2010 board was ill educated and lacked fiscal responsibility and that Keller had violated his contract through multiple financial agreements and had fostered a state of fear within the district.

and#8220;…Members of TFPD staff stated they were fearful of and intimidated by the fire chief and would not question his actions or decisions for fear of being fired,and#8221; the grand jury wrote as part of its annual report released Tuesday.

The jury also found that Keller and#8212; who was released on administrative leave in June of last year and later let go in December when his contract expired and#8212; had entered into a rental agreement for the lease of a condominium to house ambulance crews at Squaw Valley, a financial agreement that should have required board approval, and had also contracted without board approval public relations services with Truckee based Switchback PR + Marketing, Inc., among other financial indiscretions.

The 2010 board of directors was also targeted in the report for a lack of education that led to the financial misconduct and poor management of the former fire chief.

and#8220;The lack of education and training of the board members in their roles and responsibilities contributed to insufficient oversight and lack of control of the actions and activities of the district,and#8221; the grand jury wrote.

As evidence of this lack of education, the grand jury said a member of the board (not named) believed the fire chief’s employment contract did not allow the board to question the chief’s operational decisions.

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Recommendations from the grand jury report and#8212; which the district must address by Sept. 19 and#8212; include board training, an improved financial policy to ensure higher accountability, an improved staff communication policy and procedures as well as the implementation of a better communication policy toward the district’s constituents by staff and board members.

Discussing the grand jury findings lightly at a Tuesday, June 21, board meeting, Truckee Fire directors and Interim Fire Chief Bob Bena agreed a public discussion of the findings is needed before a response is given to the county in September. One is scheduled for the board’s July 19 meeting.

and#8220;It’s important to me that after what the fire district has been through that this be something that we, in some depth, discuss the findings of in public and give direction,and#8221; said Director Gerald Herrick.

Herrick is one of three newly elected directors to the board, including Victor Hernandez and Paul Wilford (Wilford was absent Tuesday), who in their campaigns last fall all promised to add transparency to the board to repair its image and restore public trust.

and#8220;I think we need to go through the full process, have public input so the public can make their statements, and with the tone of the board and public input, assemble a draft (response),and#8221; Hernandez said.

Chairman Ron Perea and Vice Chairman Bob Snyder and#8212; both elected in 2006 and who were on the board in 2010 and#8212; did not speak specifically about the grand jury’s findings, yet agreed to the public discussion of the findings.

Brent Collinson, the district’s legal council, said within its response, the district will have to state whether or not it agrees with the findings and recommendations, or if it partially agrees or disagrees.

If the district did not fully agree, Collinson said it will have to state its reasons. Collinson added that the district will also have to state how it would comply with the grand jury’s recommendations.

Bena said he felt the grand jury findings, though negative at first glance, could be used for positive change and a way for the district to reach out to residents.

and#8220;I think were really headed in the right direction,and#8221; Bena said.