Grand Jury slams Truckee Fire: Switchback CEO addresses contract
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 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.
Last June, the fire board opted to not renew Kellerand#8217;s contract and to put him on paid administrative leave; he later retired in December when his contract expired.
According to a Friday correspondence from Phyllis Keller, Kellerand#8217;s wife, Bryce Keller is still considering if he wishes to comment on the grand juryand#8217;s findings.
On Friday, Switchback President Brinn Talbot said her company typically assumes the individual entering an agreement has done his or her due diligence in gaining necessary approvals.
and#8220;I would assume a high-level individual hiring a public relations firm is taking the initiatives on their end for appropriate approval,and#8221; Talbot said. and#8220;We are hired by them, but not requested to manage who they report to for approval.and#8221;
When entering into the contract, Talbot said Keller did not mention board discussions or approvals.
and#8220;Keller basically asked us to help him with his communication and media relations outreach and signed an hourly agreement and we started right away,and#8221; Talbot said. and#8220;There were some immediate needs he had regarding miscommunication and media relations and therefore Switchback was hired immediately to assist.and#8221;
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 chiefand#8217;s employment contract did not allow the board to question the chiefand#8217;s operational decisions.
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 districtand#8217;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 boardand#8217;s July 19 meeting.
and#8220;Itand#8217;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 juryand#8217;s findings, yet agreed to the public discussion of the findings.
Brent Collinson, the districtand#8217;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 juryand#8217;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.