Chairman of the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors Ron Briggs is calling for a “special board investigation,” among other things, to look into an investigation the district attorney is conducting regarding use of public funds by fellow Supervisor Ray Nutting.
Nutting, who has represented District 2 for more than 12 years beginning with back-to-back four-year terms in the 1990s, owns a 600-acre ranch in the South County that is primarily operated as a timberland. Over the years he has applied for and been granted about $70,000 from the state’s Proposition 40 Fuel Management/Reduction Program. Overseen by Cal Fire, the state’s fire department, the grant finances private landowners for efforts to reduce forest fuels that contribute to wildfires.
The supervisor was interviewed on Sacramento’s KOVR TV April 18, and during the interview, it was disclosed that El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson’s office had opened a “criminal investigation” into possible conflict of interest because of Nutting’s position relative to the Sierra Coordinated Resources Management Conservation District, a Joint Powers Agency that administers some of the Prop. 40 grant funds.
Briggs issued a statement last Friday which said, in part:
“As chairman of the Board of Supervisors for the County of El Dorado, I feel compelled to react to recent statements made by District 2 Supervisor Ray Nutting during an April 18 interview airing on KOVR Channel 13. On camera District 2 Supervisor Nutting admitted to taking over $70,000 of public monies to cut and clear wood from his personal lands. Furthermore Mr. Nutting said he saw no wrong with his actions and plans to continue to seek and use future public money for his personal use.
“Until KOVR’s news segment, the Board of Supervisors was unaware of this activity and unaware of an open criminal investigation by the district attorney.”
In published reports over last weekend, Auditor-Controller Joe Harn said a 2009 invoice submitted by Nutting appeared to be “bogus” and “intentionally misleading.” Harn said the document appeared to be written by Nutting himself to himself.
Early in Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Nutting asked if he could read a prepared statement, and County Counsel Ed Knapp assured him that he had the same rights to speak as any other member of the audience. Briggs then advised Nutting to stand at the podium rather than speak from his seat on the board’s dais.
“Joe Harn is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts,” Nutting read. “I’ve done nothing wrong and facts will show that.”
His statement went on to note that Cal Fire inspectors processed the claim and verified “that the work had been completed, as set forth in the grant contract, before they authorized payment.” He further stated that Cal Fire was “fully aware of what I was doing.”
Harn followed Nutting to the podium.
“I have been the county auditor for 19 years … and in my opinion, it is problematic for him (Nutting) to award funds to the Sierra Conservation Districts and then apply for grants from that agency.”
Nutting also expressed disappointment that “a fellow board member has jumped to conclusions based on politically charged accusations without even looking at the facts. To state that I’m involved in a ‘conversion of public funds’ is inflammatory and frankly hurtful.”
The statement noted that the district attorney had advised Nutting that public disclosure of the grant income was “deficient” and that the information should have been recorded with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission. Nutting, however, stated that he did not believe he was obligated to report the income “because there simply is no conflict of interest.”
After the discussion, Nutting said he plans to request the FPPC issue an opinion on the “potential conflict of interest” and clarify any requirement to disclose the grant income.
After the meeting, Nutting told the Mountain Democrat: “The auditor is not an attorney. He tries to be everything to everybody.”
Briggs’s statement concluded, “On behalf of the Board of Supervisors it is imperative for the public to know we do not condone any conversion of public money to personal use, period. I will be asking for a special board investigation into Mr. Nutting’s activities.
“Finally, the public is to be assured the Board of Supervisors and our county staff will work cooperatively with the district attorney. Should events unfold calling for our board to take unusual or appropriate steps to preserve the integrity of our board, county employees and citizens of the county of El Dorado, we shall do so in a swift and immediate fashion.”
Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or [email protected]. Follow @CDaleyMtDemo.