Local attorney David Weiner took advantage of the Open Forum portion of the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday morning to share his legal opinion regarding allegations of wrongdoing by District 2 Supervisor Ray Nutting.
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Representing the supervisor, Weiner summarized a large packet of documents at the public podium and concluded that according to the Fair Political Practices Commission, there was “no conflict of interest” related to Nutting’s use of several California state fire prevention grant programs.
Weiner cited a 14-page “Background Research on Nutting Ranch Cost-Sharing Grants” that describes the history of the nearly 700-acre ranch that was homesteaded by a great-grandfather in 1906. Family-owned since that time, Ray Nutting and his brother Tom Nutting have shared ownership of the property since the death of their parents in a plane crash in 1986.
“… the brothers have sought to manage the ranch as a productive forest and to reduce fire risk in the high fire hazard area served by narrow roads and substandard emergency vehicle access,” the document reads in part.
Toward that end, the Nuttings have applied for and been awarded several grants to complete specific tasks directed toward fire suppression and prevention through “vegetation management plans” as defined by the state’s Cal Fire agency, formerly the California Department of Forestry. Two different but related programs offer funding for different activities to different users. They are the California Forestry Improvement Program, known as CFIP, and Proposition 40 grants. The former is primarily funded by timber sale revenues from the state’s demonstration forests.
The latter created a $2.6 billion bond by California voters in 2002 of which about $30 million was earmarked for “forest improvement and wildlife hazard reduction projects designed to reduce fuel loading that poses a threat to watershed resources and water quality.” Due to legal constraints built into the law, Cal Fire could not deliver Prop 40 monies directly to private landowners or entities. Instead, the grants could be made to public or non-profit organizations, which then can administer the grant programs with private individuals. Both grant programs are based on a reimbursement after completion of the agreed-upon scope of work. They are considered “matching fund” grants, 75 percent from the state and 25 percent from the landowner.
The grants at issue were administered through the Sierra Coordinated Resources Management Council, and while Nutting in his role as a county supervisor serves as a representative of the county to that agency, he has no influence on funding decisions, according to the documents presented by Weiner.
Prop 40 funding is coordinated through the Placer County Resource Conservation District. The SCRMC is a joint powers authority representing Amador, El Dorado, Placer counties and several resource conservation districts within those counties. Again, according to the discussion documents, “… SCRMC has delegated its administrative responsibilities to Placer County RCD. Placer County RCD staff administers the program with substantial direction and oversight by Cal Fire.”
Weiner’s documents include a copy of an email from a Placer County RCD staff person. She states that Nutting applied for and was awarded two Prop 40 grants between 2007 and 2012. The invoice for the earlier project was submitted in May 2009. The second project has been partially completed, and a registered professional forester (required under the terms of the grant) has been paid $4,200.
“No invoices have been submitted to SCRMC/Cal Fire for reimbursement to date for the work being performed by Ray Nutting under the terms of the second grant contract,” the document notes.
A legal technicality remains regarding whether or not Nutting should have declared (on a Form 700 Reportable Income document required for public officials) some or all of the revenue received for the 2009 invoice. His attorney advises that because Nutting (in his role as an elected official) had no influence over the awarding of the grants or funds, there was no conflict of interest, within the scope of the FPPC or the Political Reform Act of 1974.
“During one of a series of recent meetings at the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office, Supervisor Nutting learned that the DA’s Office was considering whether Supervisor Nutting should have disclosed the 2009 Cal Fire Prop 40 grant cost-sharing income on his FPPC Form 700,” Weiner’s summary notes. “Mr. Nutting filed an amended statement with the FPPC because of the implication that his disclosure was deficient — not because he believed it was required.”
DA Vern Pierson responded by email Thursday to the Mountain Democrat’s request for information, saying, “No comment due to the ongoing investigation.”
Following Weiner’s presentation Tuesday, several members of the audience addressed the board and expressed support for Nutting. Steve Tyler called Nutting “more public servant than politician” and challenged the implication that Nutting had been involved in an inappropriate “conversion of public funds.”
That term was used by Chairman Ron Briggs in a letter last month which he explained was an effort to “show there’s no funny doings and nothing will be swept under the rug” with respect to the board’s response to the allegations against Nutting. Briggs acknowledged that the letter was his own work and his own opinion and did not necessarily reflect the views of other supervisors.
Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or [email protected]. Follow @CDaleyMtDemo.