April 27, 2018 – The Executive Ad Hoc Committee of the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County voted yesterday not to renew the Executive Director’s contract, an apparent reversal of last month’s decision. Joanne Drummond’s job title was changed to Chief Operating Officer for the remainder of her contract until June 30, 2018, but no new job description was provided.

As noted in the March 22, 2018 minutes of the previous board meeting, “Chairman Cassella announced that the board had voted to renew Drummond’s contract from July 1, 2018-June 30, 2019 with changes to the job description.

Also at that meeting, the resignations of board members David Hanson, Warren Knox and JoAnne Fites-Kaufman became public.

According to Dennis Cassella, the current Chairman of the Board, the Executive Committee voted yesterday to split the current job of the Executive Director into two positions: Program Manager and Grant Writer/Administrator. At this time, no specifics or candidates have been identified.

Cassella stated Drummond was the only constant staff in the Fire Safe Council organization for over 12 years. However, the Board felt it was time to reorganize and refocus the mission of the Fire Safe Council. “After consulting with our partners, who want us to focus more on prevention, we decided to take a good solid look at what services we provide,” Cassella said.

Asked about sexual harassment claims mentioned in the Board minutes, he explained the Board had hired an HR consultant who determined that the claims did not rise to harassment. The HR firm retained by the Fire Safe Council is also under contract with Nevada County Consolidated. Cassella conceded other staff had complained about remarks made by some Board members and the entire Board will receive training on both the Brown Act and sexual harassment. “In the age of the #MeToo movement, there is no tolerance whatsoever on sexual harassment.”

Drummond declined to comment on the ongoing situation but said she had retained legal counsel regarding in light of her performance evaluation and other matters.

8 replies on “Turmoil at the Nevada County Fire Safe Council”

  1. This just frosts me. Joanne has put her heart and soul into making this county more fire safe. She is everywhere: organizing volunteers for the booth at the fairgrounds, at the spaghetti feeds, co-ordinating scotch broom pulls, the chipping program, and neighborhood clearing projects. What more could you ask of her? Just like Sammies Friends, who can fill those shoes better than Joanne Drummond?
    Perhaps it is time for another town hall.

  2. As a member of one of the Firewise Communities, I can attest that Joanne Drummond is that one–in–a–million lucky chance that our community has benefited from for twelve years. She is literally irreplaceable, and why would we want to replace her? She is doing a fantastic job, and providing far more value than we have the right to ask. And she has the outstanding results and the awards to prove it.

    I say the board should immediately and sincerely apologize to Joanne, give her a new extended contract she can plan her life around, and a healthy raise (with more to come). And yes, sure, give her some competent help (completely under her able direction) to relieve some of the burdens of leadership she has been carrying all these years.

    Let’s hope the members of the board come to their senses before it is too late and the community suffers a completely avoidable self–inflicted ‘shot in the foot’. And if the board stays stupid and forces her out, then it will definitely be time for a new board.

  3. Joanne Drummond is one of this counties most valuable assets when it comes to Fire Prevention. There are so many Firewise Communities and awareness because of her. Joanne’s unending energy and enthusiasm for what she does is commendable and appreciated. Quote, ‘After consulting with our partners, who want us to focus more on prevention’, isn’t that what Joanne does, and who are “our partners”? Doesn’t the Fire Safe Council support the community? Aren’t the 50,000+ people in Nevada County the ones that benefit? We are her partners…

  4. I am a Fire Safe Council Advisor and a member of a Firewise Community. I am appalled by the Board of Director’s decision to not renew Joanne’s contract as Executive Director of the Nevada County Fire Safe Council, as well as their disrespectful and unprofessional treatment of her. Joanne has worked tirelessly for over 12 years to educate the public and make our county more fire safe. She goes way above and beyond the call of duty to accomplish her job; without her positive and incredibly knowledgeable leadership and perseverance, I really cannot imagine how the Fire Safe Council and our Fire Wise Communities will continue to thrive. We need Joanne’s dynamic leadership and the Board of Directors needs to change course, as they appear to be going off the rails.

  5. I have devoted a lot of time and energy this past year to making my neighborhood fire safe. For my efforts I was nominated, and elected as Nevada County’s Fire Safe Volunteer of the year.

    But that award should have gone to Joanne (she qualifies as a volunteer for all the overtime she puts in speaking at numerous neighborhood weekend meetings.) None of those efforts of mine would have been possible without Joanne. I just carried out programs that she initiated and faithfully monitored. Because of her, my neighborhood is now safer.

    It is incomprehensible that the Fire Safe’s Executive Ad Hoc Committee should voted not to renew Joanne’s contract. That was not only foolish, it was dangerous. The committee itself has become a fire threat to the citizens of Nevada County.

    There needs to be a mechanism by which members are held accountable. First we need to have a roll call on how each member voted, and some mechanism by which members may be removed for malfeasance in office. I would recommend that representative of the county’s Fire Wise council get together on a vote of “no confidence” to be sent to the Ad Hoc Executive Committee.

    And we need to get on this now, before they can do more damage.
    Jim Hurley

  6. The Fire Safe Council Board in response to “…partners, who want us to focus more on prevention” did not renew their Executive Director’s, Joanne Drummond’s, contract. What a strange action to take when everything that Joanne did in her position was about prevention. I am an active member of the Lake Vera Round Mountain Firewise Community. She taught me and my colleagues so much about fire prevention that we never realized. She taught us how to help our neighbors learn about prevention . She helped us to fund fire-prevention projects. She taught us how to work together and provided the physical tools to help us remove hazardous vegetation. She brought us together with our firefighters to learn from them and to help them prevent fires in our community. It isn’t Joanne’s contract that should not be renewed, it is that of some short-sighted board members who shouldn’t be renewed.

  7. A few days later, and I’ve learned more. It looks like the Board is going for stupid. Really stupid.

    Follow along, if you will. First they renew Joanne Drummond’s contract, then an ‘ad-hoc’ Executive committee meets and decides not to renew, very possibly (to my understanding) violating the Brown Act (the law which basically directs that all meetings be transparent to the public which the non–profit or public agency serves), presents this decision to the board for approval, which it does without resistance. You should know that several board members have resigned recently precisely over the high handed actions of and lack of response by the leaders of the board, issues including the fact that the board did not review or renew her contract under the terms of her contract. The rump that remains is now totally controlled by a couple of strong personalities. Their plan? One of the members of the board is going to take over the executive functions that they hired Joanne Drummond to do, i.e. micromanage the entire operation, but without her twelve years of experience and twelve years of contacts and GOODWILL that she has accumulated! There are about twenty-five neighborhoods that have submitted applications to start the process of forming their own associations, and these are now on hold.
    There are fifty–seven days before Joanne’s contract expires. As of this moment, there are no job descriptions for the two positions the board has decided to replace Joanne’s with, no search underway for a successor, no planning for an orderly transition period. This is a catastrophe in the making for the Fire Safe Council and the Coalition of Firewise Communities, the organization that represents and co–ordinates all the Firewise Communities that Joanne has built up and are in the process of forming.

    My frank opinion is: there is small group of ‘good old boys’ that resents a powerful woman (who they hired and directed to take charge) who has formed by far the most successful program of its type in California. Nevada county has well over half the Firewise Communities in the state, and if the pending applications come to fruition, will have the great majority. These are ‘best in the nation’ achievements! That is too much success and power for the good old boys. Joanne is in the limelight (and gets recognition and awards) because she is simply brilliant at what she does, and has more vision and grit and determination than some of the board can handle. The claim that, “having consulted with our partners” (whatever that means), they are ‘going to focus on fire prevention’ is just plain, unadulterated, high grade BS. What do they think the Firewise Communities are set up for, and are doing right now? Yes, fire prevention, and the education and co–operation that goes with it. Practical, ongoing fire prevention on the ground, encouraging neighborhood by neighborhood to take the fire danger on our urban–wildland interface seriously and do something about it, right now. And then, the necessary co–operation between Firewise Communities so that together we can be even more effective. All this has been initiated by Joanne Drummond. Some fool thinks he is going to just step into her shoes and continue her work seamlessly?

    You should know the Board is pretty much self selected and self elected; that is, there are no general elections to the board. It started off with good intentions, trying to prepare the community to be better prepared after the 49er fire. But it is seems to me that over the years it has lost its initial vision and has become consumed with power struggles that are threatening the original mission. One example: it has been pointed out many times over the years that secretive meetings and secretive decisions violate the Brown Act. The response by the leaders of the Board has been that the Brown Act does not apply to them! Only very recently did they finally consult a lawyer and find out, yes, the Brown Act does apply, has always applied, and they are not dictators of their little realm. Another example, the recent changes in the by–laws to reflect their recent decisions. One member of the board, a non–lawyer, undertook this without consulting a lawyer (by–laws have clear and binding legal consequences for the members of the board and the organization, so this matters), and bulldozed it through the rest of the board. This tendency to lawlessness and high–handedness is going to cost them very dearly. Not only are they going to lose the services of a truly competent, resourceful, visionary leader with unique executive abilities, they are losing the trust of the community in general. Going forward, who is going to trust those who make such foolish decisions? Particularly when the pathetic, childish and self–serving motives are so apparent to any casual observer?

    One final thing. Did you know that Joanne Drummond raises the funds for her own salary? That’s right, she not only finds funds and grants for the program, she finds the money to pay for herself!
    Truly, the Firesafe Council is run by a board of fools…

  8. After some reflection, I want to add that I am by no means castigating every individual member of the board. I don’t have a breakdown of the votes, but I sincerely believe that there must have been some opposition to the direction and actions the board has taken over the last year. So, to those that opposed, kudos. To those who ‘just went along’ in the wake of more powerful personalities because it was easier to not make waves, shame. And to those individualists who believe that they are always right, that apologies merely show weakness, and that encouraging other lights in the team to shine dims their own glory, please stand down and get out of the way.

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