Jenell Schwab
jschwab@sierrasun.com

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June 18, 2012
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Truckee PUD board responds to Nevada County Grand Jury investigation findings

TRUCKEE, Calif. — The Truckee Donner Public Utility District board of directors will make changes to written policy and district code following a recently released Nevada County Grand Jury report that criticized the way the board handled a 2010 complaint about a former member.

The board made the decision at its June 4 meeting in Truckee. The adjustments will be made despite assertions by board members the Grand Jury's findings were misplaced.

“We are choosing to move on,” said TDPUD spokesperson Steven Poncelet in a follow-up interview.

An anonymous complaint filed with the Nevada County Grand Jury in April 2011 spurred the investigation and eventual recommendations in its May 31 report. The complaint alleges that former director John Hillstrom was not a TDPUD resident and was thus ineligible to serve on the board.

The Grand Jury — after conducting interviews with TDPUD staff, four members of the board, the district's legal counsel, the U.S. Postal Service and district residents — not only found deficiencies in the district's code, but also found fault with the way General Manager Michael Holley and the board handled the complaint.

According to its report, the Grand Jury found communication between Holley and the board to be in need of improvement, further finding the board showed a lack of “engagement and responsiveness.” The findings did not address the issue of Hillstrom's residency.

In its mandatory response to the report, the district board agreed to implement a written policy to govern complaint handling, but also used the opportunity to state for-the-record its communication processes and engagement levels are now — and have been in the past — adequate.

“I feel good about how this board handled this particular situation,” said Board President Tony Laliotis. “Sure, we can always do better. We can always improve our processes — it doesn't mean they are failing now. We'll work with this report and we'll move on.”

In late 2010, Hillstrom's wife found a new position at a hospital in Santa Cruz, Poncelet said. Since the couple was unsure if the job would stick, Hillstrom maintained his residency in Truckee while they tested the waters in Santa Cruz. During this time, the Hillstroms rented an apartment in Santa Cruz. Hillstrom resigned from the TDPUD board in June 2011, when his move was finalized.

TDPUD legal counsel Steve Gross said he was approached by a person asking questions about Hillstrom's residency in December 2010, but the person, when asked, said they were speaking for someone other than themselves. TDPUD later produced documents at the request of a private attorney, who declined to name his or her client. Gross said a formal complaint was never received.

By all accounts, Hillstrom discussed his situation in an open session at the Dec. 15, 2010, and Feb. 16, 2011, meetings.

“John laid it our perfectly. He consulted with counsel. What, because we didn't specifically raise our hands and start questioning, it doesn't mean we showed a lack of engagement,” Laliotis said. “John did his homework, and to me that was more than adequate.”

During these meetings, Hillstrom told the board and public he had spoken to legal counsel over the matter and asserted his status as a Truckee resident. Gross said legal residency is judged by a number of factors, including daily activities such as where a person comes and goes from, as well as a person's intent.

“Everything was above the board here. John addressed the issue of residency multiple times and the board was satisfied. What else can we do?” asked Director Joe Aguera. “I mean the next thing they'll say is, ‘Well, you better get his birth certificate and find out if it's really him or not.' I mean, how far do you go?”

In response to the findings, TDPUD noted the district was not the proper agency to investigate issues of residency.

“The State of California, Office of the Attorney General and the courts, have jurisdiction regarding issues relating to residency requirements for local government officials,” according to the response.

In Nevada County, citizens volunteer to serve as members of the grand jury. From this pool of volunteers, 19 are selected by the Superior Court to make up a grand jury and act as an arm of the court. Jurors serve for a period of one year. For more information on the Nevada Grand Jury visit www.nevadacountycourts.com.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Jun 19, 2012 12:00PM Published Jun 18, 2012 05:13PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.