Nevada County withholds clerk applicants
Sun News Service
Nevada County officials refused Monday to say who applied for the empty county clerk’s position or who was on the panel that selected Greg Diaz as the top candidate.
The Board of Supervisors interviewed Diaz ” the sole candidate out of six who applied ” in public Tuesday at a special hearing in board chambers for possible appointment.But the supervisors delayed until next Tuesday a decision on whether or not to hire Diaz.
“The board wanted to follow the typical (human resources) process, so that information can’t be released,” said Laura Matteson, the assistant county executive officer, on Monday when asked for the names of the other five applicants.
Jim Ewert, an attorney for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, strongly disagreed.
“The Public Records Act only exempts an individual’s personnel file,” Ewert said. “Candidates for appointed or elected office don’t fall into that.”
Board members told County Executive Officer Rich Haffey on April 19 to stick with the normal human resources process for the appointment, which includes anonymity.
“We don’t give out the names of panel members (who screen the applicants) or those who don’t make the cut,” Haffey said.
Panel members would not want to serve again if they saw their names in the newspaper, Matteson said.
Haffey turned the matter over to the county counsel’s office to see whether the names could be released.
“At this point, I don’t have a response,” Assistant County Counsel Michael Jamison said late Monday afternoon. “It’s one of those areas that aren’t clearly explained by the Public Records Act, and then it gets into the public need for disclosure or nondisclosure.”
Matteson was a member of the panel that chose Diaz as the top candidate. She said she could not say why he rose to the top during interviews.
“We signed a confidentiality statement when I went on the panel,” Matteson said. “I can’t release that information based on the confidentiality agreement.”
The confidential agreements are “a very common thing we do with all our professional panels,” Haffey said.
Current county Auditor-Controller and Acting Clerk-Recorder Marcia Salter also served on the panel with Matteson, along with two unknown clerk-recorders from neighboring counties and a representative from the Secretary of State’s elections office. Salter said she could not divulge who the other panel members were, and she had signed a standard practice confidentiality agreement to not talk about the process.
She did say Diaz rose to the top from among the other candidates because “he had past experience as a clerk-recorder in San Francisco.”
Diaz, who lost to Kathleen Smith in a relatively close race in 2006, said, “I have no comment until the process is over. If things work out, give me a call.”
Diaz spent eight years as San Francisco County’s clerk-recorder and has lived here since 2003. He said he was interested in the job and wanted to provide the office with stability immediately after Smith’s resignation in April.
The Board of Supervisors demanded Smith step down after finding out she had been working as the City of Rio Vista’s city clerk for about one month while still working as the Nevada County clerk-recorder.
Ewert said there was a similar information dispute between The Feather River Bulletin in Plumas County and Gov. Pete Wilson in the 1990s. At that time, Wilson refused a request for a list of names being considered to fill a Plumas County Supervisor seat, which the state Supreme Court upheld.
But the Plumas case only applies to appointments by governors, not appointments by supervisors. No other cases have come before the courts since then that extend Wilson’s executive privilege to county or municipal governments, Ewert said.
He also said Prop. 59 ” a law 83 percent of voters approved in 2004 to bolster the state’s open meetings and records laws – also restricts a court’s ability to apply the Plumas case to county or municipal government.
“The California Constitution presumes records are public unless a specific exemption applies,” Ewert said.
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