April 23, 2024: For Immediate Release from Fire Safe Council Board of Directors: Unauthorized Grand Jury Report is Deeply Flawed.   

Nevada County residents need to know upfront that the Fire Safe Council (FSC) and its Board of Directors have multiple layers of financial and management protocols in place based on sound, legal, transparent, and professional practices. The FSC is subject to annual audits and additional external audits requested by our funders and the County of Nevada. These are the checks and balances we undergo regularly in addition to complying with all 501c3 transparency requirements, including 3rd party audits, and tax filings. Our eligibility status has never been at risk, nor has it been scrutinized by any Federal, State, or private funders. However, the FSC is not subject to investigation by the Nevada County Civil Grand Jury (GJ). The Grand Jury is an arm of the County Superior Court. It investigates and issues reports to improve local government efficiency. Its job is investigating issues related to improving Nevada County government efficiency, nothing more. As an independent 501c3 non-profit, not formed by a public agency, FSC is not subject to Grand Jury investigations, despite our past cooperation with GJ requests. The Grand Jury has no more right to investigate the FSC than they do any other local independent non-profits. The GJ was made aware they had no authority after the GJ issued its unauthorized report in 2022. Regardless, the Grand Jury continues to ignore their lack of authority to investigate the FSC, repeating the same disproven claims in their latest unwarranted and unauthorized report. While FSC has no legal obligation to respond to this rehashed GJ report, we will respond to their allegations within 90 days, as the report requests, because FSC believes in transparency and wants the public made aware of how badly the Grand Jury has performed. The GJ raises issues that understandably are of concern to the public. The simple fact is that these allegations and findings are meritless and misleading. Following are our responses to just some of their most off-base findings: 

  • That $2 million mysteriously disappeared: False - No money disappeared. Every penny in FSC’s past and current budgets is accounted for, internally and externally. The GJ used outdated financials with a duplicate entry, a simple clerical mistake by a former FSC Controller that was long since corrected. The GJ did not clarify this correction with a qualified accounting source before publishing their report. Fact-checking potentially slanderous and damaging statements before publishing a flawed public report is the most basic of Grand Jury obligations, and they failed.
  • That FSC operates without a “required license”: FalsePer the California State Contractor’s License Board, we are not required or qualified to have a “contractor’s license.” Nor are other similar non-profits or agencies like CAL FIRE, or the Yuba Watershed Institute, who recently signed a vegetation mitigation contract with Nevada County. We are an exempt, Eligible Entity operating successfully and safely for over 30 years with the blessing of our Federal, State, and County partners. We possess all required licenses and certifications. The County Grand Jury should have done their homework.
  • That FSC unlawfully removed a past Director without cause or explanation: FalseFSC bylaws, standard for most non-profits and posted on our website, state, “Any Director may be removed, with or without cause, by a 75% majority consent of our Board at any time.” We legally removed a Director, for cause, almost 3-years ago in 2021. This is an internal, private HR matter as is standard practice for agencies and employers in California.
  • That FSC experienced turnover of finance personnel. We acknowledge and agree. We’ve had turnover, like any agency, municipality, or employer, which unfortunately makes our current staff’s jobs more challenging. Working with multiple vendors and their requirements is demanding work and it is a challenge to recruit high-quality candidates to fill critical positions. Given our fiduciary responsibility to our funders and transparency to the community, we expect highly skilled, competent, and performing talent to be at the core of our finance team.
  • That FSC was uncooperative: False - FSC either provided or directed the GJ to the FSC website to access any/all qualified public record documents requested in the past. Our FSC Board chair, on counsel’s advice, notified the GJ that FSC Board members and staff were not available to meet with the GJ for their unauthorized investigation. FSC’s Executive Director confirmed this in a follow-up letter to the GJ. The GJ report describes this as “a complete refusal to cooperate” while conveniently misleading the public by making no mention that the letter from the Executive Director and legal counsel clearly demonstrate the GJ has no authority to either subpoena records or require in-person appearances of FSC Board members or staff. It also fails, again, to mention that the GJ did and still has access to all publicly available information on FSC’s website. The GJ is fully aware this does not include confidential HR-based personnel documents.
  • That we somehow violated the Brown Act: False - The FSC, as with most non-profits not formed by a public agency, is not covered by the Brown Act unless an elected official sits on our Board. FSC previously followed Brown Act guidelines when an elected official sat on our Board. Since the Brown Act no longer applies, we now implement internal checks and balances more aligned with a 501c3 non-profit Board’s operations. The GJ’s claim that FSC violated the Brown Act is a false, misinformed statement, and another example of the Grand Jury not doing their homework.

 There are more findings in the GJ report, primarily about fiscal management, including unclarified data. We are thoroughly researching and trying to make some sense of what they are alleging. We are fully confident that all our financial and management processes are sound and legal and will address every comment made by the GJ transparently and accurately. For questions or comments please contact Pete Williams, Fire Safe Council, Chairman of the Board at board@areyoufiresafe.com