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Was it a survey or an investigation? Depends on who you ask

By Debra Moore

[email protected]

A long meeting was anticipated for the Plumas County Board of Supervisors on June 6, with no planned breaks. But they received an unexpected one when County Counsel Gretchen Stuhr abruptly left the chambers, prompting Board Chairman Dwight Ceresola to call for a 10-minute recess, which ultimately lasted a little longer.

The interruption came during a discussion of the agenda item placed on the agenda by County Counsel Stuhr regarding an amendment to an “agreement between Plumas County and Municipal Resource Group, LLC for additional investigations; increasing compensation by $40,000 for a total amount not to exceed $48,000; effective February 14, 2023; approved as to form by County Counsel; discussion and possible action.”

Municipal Resource Group was hired by the county to discover why employees were leaving the Sheriff’s Office. During a May 2 meeting Chairman Dwight Ceresola read a letter with some of the data provided by the group. However, after interviewing all five supervisors, it was learned that three weren’t aware of the letter, and two read it for the first time that morning. Additionally, there was no agenda item authorizing the work done by Municipal Resource Group.

Stuhr told the board that this item should have been brought to the supervisors in February but “unfortunately there was a miscommunication in my office.”

Chandler Peay, who is president of the Plumas County Sheriff’s Employees’ Association, addressed the issue. “We now aim to add another $40,000 to investigate employees?” he asked, adding that totals $48,000 in taxpayer money. He asked the county leaders to collaborate with one another and to be transparent. He didn’t see the need to go outside of the county to pay for an investigation.

Stuhr told Peay that it has been her policy that if “department heads are to be investigated, it is not done in house.”

County Administrative Officer Debra Lucero was quick to step in and clarify. “These are not investigations of a department head,” she said, rather they were the result of an employee complaint.

Peay tried to make a comment, but District 3 Supervisor Tom McGowan stopped him.

Board Chairman Dwight Ceresola said, “The survey was requested by me.” Ceresola used the term “survey,” rather than “investigation,” which has been a matter of contention as to what it was — though the contract uses the word investigation.

Then Sheriff Todd John addressed the issue. “As far as the survey goes, we have not been able to receive it,” Johns said, and then asked again, “Was it a survey or was there an investigation?” Regardless, his concern was that he wasn’t given the results — the explanations for why employees are leaving — and without that information he can’t make improvements. “I think the passionate response by the president of the association is echoed by many, not just in the department, but within the community,” he said.

District 4 Supervisor Greg Hagwood addressed the issue and said there are certain situations where it becomes necessary to bring in a neutral third party to conduct an investigation. “As a former department head I am acutely aware of the necessity to do just that.” Hagwood said he was aware that the situation has “rubbed some nerves.”

Then District Attorney David Holllister spoke out. He said that he asked if this agenda item pertained to the Sheriff’s office and was told that it did not, but apparently it did. Hollister held up a letter dated Feb. 1 “where our county counsel contracts with this company.” He said the document should have been attached to the agenda as explanation. “This is a Brown Act violation,” he said. … “We are paying for an investigation of this sheriff’s office that was not authorize by this board.” He said the public would have no idea about the true nature of the item being considered by the board. “This is the public’s money,” which he said is the reason he repeatedly sought clarification. “There seems to be a great deal of public interest in this,” Hollister said. “The public should know whether an additional $40,000 is going to this investigation.”

As he was speaking, County Counsel Stuhr said that she would bring the agenda item back at the next meeting. “This is part of the reason I’m resigning,” she said and then left the room. (Later in the meeting the board accepted her resignation as agendized.)

Ceresola called for the 10-minute break and as individuals were exiting the room a tense exchange could be heard between Lucero and Hollister.

The meeting came back into open session at roughly 11:44 a.m. and Ceresola announced that the item would be moved to the June 13 meeting.

The aftermath

The day following the meeting, June 7, Sheriff Todd Johns reiterated his desire to obtain the information uncovered by the group. “If it’s an investigation, then I understand why it can’t be shared, but they claim it’s a survey. If it’s a survey then they can share the information, they can’t have it both ways.”

Johns was also frustrated at the pay raise offered to sheriff’s employees that morning — 3 percent per year for the next 3 years. “Even if they gave the employees the entire 9 percent now, they would still be the lowest paid in the state,” he said. When asked what he would like to see, he said “20 percent.” That’s the amount he brought to the board at the beginning of year that he could cover for the remainder of the fiscal year. He would like to award the 20 percent raise and then seek ways to continue to pay employees at the increased rate. “They don’t support public safety,” he said, and is working on a public safety initiative to raise those funds.

Chandler Peay, president of the employees’ association, also expressed frustration with the pay increase that was offered and the refusal of the county to release the results of the investigation. Of the former, he said it would require at least a 12 percent raise immediately to bring Plumas in line with comparable counties. He also submitted a Where I Stand regarding the issue of the investigation, which can be read here.

4 thoughts on “Was it a survey or an investigation? Depends on who you ask

  • I’ve conducted an investigation/survey using an investigative firm known as “paying attention for more than five minutes,” and the conclusions as to why county employees are leaving in droves are as follows:

    “Low pay and lack of housing.”

    There, now can the county send me $40,000?

  • If the “study” was a survey then the results must be made to the public. If it was an investigation, the results must be presented to the PCSO employee association. But either way, $40,000 is a bit much for a small county like ours to pay for such a product. Could the Plumas County Grand Jury not take this on?

  • Watching the BOS meeting, what I gathered was this firm was paid $295.00 an hour to complete an investigation which included a survey of past employees. They actually paid $325.00 a hour but will be reimbursed having discovered the error after payment. The investigation was never brought to the public or to a grand jury. In addition, only the PCSO was investigated. If it was a “survey” why was only the PCSO surveyed? During this same meeting we heard of the loss of 4 to 5 employees in Child Welfare alone in the last 5 months. Why is the county not surveying this department? There were errors mentioned at the board meeting as well that the public has yet to be notified of. Finally, a 3% raise in comparison with what another employee mentioned her reason for leaving (68% more in wages) is laughable. The BOS is basically “defunding the police.” Time for the BOS to start being more transparent. We are all paying for this in more ways than one.

  • This sounds like “the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing” with agenda’s in each one of those hands. If the folks at the top have a hard time communicating I can imagine the issues and concerns with the folks underneath them.

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