Marin Independent Journal
Taxpayers need to pay more attention to the local boards they elect or risk problems like the ones that developed at the Novato Fire District, according to the Marin County Civil Grand Jury.
Among other things, the board and district have been sued by former chief Marc Revere, alleging defamation in an ongoing lawsuit stemming from Revere's abrupt 2012 resignation amid accusations of misusing public funds. The grand jury wrote a report without findings, "a cautionary tale for voters and boards of directors alike," to avoid influencing the lawsuit, officials said.
"We were gratified to find that the (board) had learned from the mistakes that were made and had instituted needed changes and new policies, for which they should be commended," the report said.
"However "... the problems "... are not unique to this particular board," the report said. "This is a cautionary tale" that "may motivate taxpayers to pay more attention to the activities of local boards," the report said.
"We wanted to state the facts as we knew them, but we didn't want to come to any conclusions that would impact the outcome of the (lawsuit)," said Nadine Muller, the jury foreperson.
"It (the report) shows that we have put into place new committees and passed new policies," said board Vice President Tomas Kaselionis. "We are putting a lot of effort into making sure we don't let the organization fall into where it may have been during the prior chief's tenure, and that goes from the perspective of board engagement as well as staff engagement." Kaselionis was not interviewed by the grand jury for its report, he said.
The grand jury's investigation was sparked by a complaint lodged in May 2013 alleging that the board "expended taxpayer money in a frivolous manner with no regard for maintaining essential services, following internal policies, California law or government transparency."
In response, the grand jury investigated the board's oversight, fiscal management and transparency.
When the grand jury interviews people, it is done on a confidential basis so they will speak freely. Hence, Muller would not identify any of the sources interviewed.
Regarding oversight, "numerous sources" said fire department morale was at an all-time low when Revere ran the department, and department members said command staff was in "a constant state of fear and intimidation," the report said.
"The claim filed by the battalion chief against the former fire chief and deputy chief contained serious allegations," the report said. This was referring to the fact that the district reached a $250,000 settlement in 2013 with a former battalion chief who claimed verbal abuse and retaliation by Revere and former deputy chief Eric Nickel.
However, "The board members interviewed by the Grand Jury maintained, nevertheless, that they were not aware of any complaints about the chief," the report said.