How Nevada City handles its citizens’ requests to discuss rationale for setting salaries

In May 2014, the City of Nevada City agreed to pay  Mark Prestwich a base pay of $97,500 per year to be City Manager. Mark’s experience — including an eight-year stint as special projects manager/assistant to city manager in Sacramento and six years as assistant to the city manager in Napa, among other positions — is HERE.

Last week, the city agreed to pay interim city manager, Catrina Olson, a base pay of $115,000 per year to be City Manager — an 18 percent increase over what Prestwich was offered four years earlier despite a period of low inflation (details HERE). Olson joined Nevada City in 2007 as finance manager and has since been promoted to other positions including assistant city manager (as of October 2013).

I sent an email to the staff and Council asking that the latest contract be pulled from the consent agenda and discussed in public — a reasonable request given the circumstances.

That didn’t happen (City Attorney Hal DeGraw apologized for an error in the staff memo that I pointed out, but that was it), and the contract was approved without discussion.

It’s too late for public discussion, but I filed an FOI request to learn the rationale for setting the salary, as well as why other salaries were no longer on the website. Here’s what I got (including my misspelled last name):

“Dear Jeff Peline (sic),

In response to your items requested:


1)   Request for public records that describe the rationale for the base pay of the current City Manager: There is no such document  summarizing the rationale and the Public Records Act does not require the City to create a record that does not exist at the time of the request. However, all of the documents considered by the Council in deciding upon the City Manager compensation, consisting of a comparison agreement document will be made available for your inspection.  A copy of the documentation used by Council during the contract negotiations will be available to you at City Hall (Will call).

2)   Request for a list of the base pay for the City Manager, City Attorney, City Planner, Police Chief, Fire Chief, Public Works Director, City Engineer and Parks and Recreation Supervisor: Staff salary information was formerly on the City website, but was taken down July 25, 2018, for updating. The information was put back up on the City website on July 27, 2018, after council approval of new MOU agreements and can be accessed at  The only position for which you requested base pay that is not listed on the City website is that of City Attorney, a contract position, and a copy of the City’s agreement with Jones & Mayer for legal services will be made available for your inspection.  The following links display all the current positions as well as the contracts. – This will take you to all the City Labor agreements except for the Police Chief and City Manager – This has a summary sheet of all current positions within the City.  We do not currently have a Public Works Director.

Per your request , this information can be made available for your inspection at City Hall, 317 Broad St., Nevada City, CA 95959, any time after 7/31/18 during normal business hours of 9:00 – 12:00 and 1:00 – 5:00 if you call me in advance at 265-2496 x 134.  There will be no charge for this inspection unless you want copies, in which case the charge will be $0.25/page.”

Thank you,

Loree’ McCay
City of Nevada City
Administrative Services Manager”

A follow-up email added: “The original City Manager job recruitment flyer stated the pay as $115,000. That is what was agreed upon prior to any appointments by Council, and that is considered on the lower side of wages for the position.”

Thanks, but I still don’t know the rationale for setting salaries (including an 18 percent increase that far outpaced the recent inflation rate) — and neither do other residents.

I’ll post what I learn when I get a chance to review the “comparison agreement document” (whatever that turns out to be) when I get a chance next week.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

19 thoughts on “How Nevada City handles its citizens’ requests to discuss rationale for setting salaries”

  1. From Facebook: “Susie Cunningham Bavo: Rationale and the City Council? Surely you jest.”

    Well, I guess it would have been helpful to pull the item from the consent calendar and hear the public explanation, as I requested. Is anybody listening, though?

  2. Good Evening,
    I have just listened to the Council Meeting of July 25. Why didn’t Erin Minett have the item pulled for discussion?

    1. I emailed the staff and council, asking that it be discussed. It wasn’t. Look: It’s an 18 percent raise during a period when inflation was around 6 percent (see post), and the predecessor had more experience. There also was another qualified candidate, I understand. Again, just looking for a public explanation — not to vote it down. Instead, Duane apologized to Catrina that I had the audacity to even bring up the issue, and Hal called the factual error in the memo (there were two, in fact) a “typo.” After experiencing the City handling of neighbors’ concerns about a “granny unit” that towered above our neighbor’s house, I’m not surprised. Disappointed. Yes. Surprised. No. We are major contributors to the City, including donating money to cover a shortfall in the budget for the Amgen bike race. The good news is that we have new sidewalks in our neighborhood; of course, we voted to spend the money to build them. The real concern is whether Nevada City can remain independent in light of its rising costs, pension obligations, County IOU, flat population, etc., and whether City Hall is up to that challenge.

      1. Hi Jeff,
        My understanding of how the consent calendar operates, someone from the audience has to be present to express their concerns. The Council members have already asked their questions and/or sought outside sources to answer the questions.

      2. Yes, our household also helped prop up Duane’s bike race after he failed to secure his sponsorship. It was about the race and the town, not Duane. He has been a poor example of a Mayor. I cannot believe how rude and dismissive he was of Erin on her first night on the council. He would be wise to replay that meeting an watch himself in action.

      3. Catrina also was rude and dismissive to Erin when she asked a finance question. Hal is always rude. They also could benefit from watching the replay.

  3. Niel:

    Actually, any member of the city council can ask that a Consent item be pulled and discussed. And if an item is pulled, the public is entitled to comment.

    A member of the public may also stand for recognition and ask that a particular Consent item be pulled for general discussion, and that kind of request is typically honored, but it is most often done by a councilmember. Sometimes by staff.

    Don’t know who told you that “someone from the audience has to be present to express their concerns,” but they gave you some bum information.

    1. Hi Steve,
      There was no one in the audience that requested the item to be pulled and no Council/staff member asked for clarification.

  4. Thanks Steve. I spoke to the California Newspaper Publishers Association. The Council and Staff was notified in advance by a citizen and asked to remove the item for discussion. The item should have been removed and discussed. Period.

      1. Neil, One more time: I sent them all an email in advance of the meeting asking that them item be discussed. They received it but did not do that. Instead, Hal downplayed the two errors in the memo, and Duane apologized to Catrina that I had the audacity to question the issue.

  5. Here’s what the agenda reads:
    “All matters listed under the Consent Calendar are to be considered routine by the City Council and will be enacted by one motion in the form listed. There will be no separate discussion of these items unless, before the City Council votes on the motion to adopt, members of the Council, City staff or the public request specific items to be removed from the Consent Calendar for separate discussion and action.”

    Nowhere does it say the public must do this in person at the meeting. It was done via written communication in advance of the meeting, and the communication was acknowledged. I clarified this with the California Newspaper Publishers Association as well.

    The heart of the matter is whether the City wants to be transparent or not. Walk the walk; don’t just talk the talk. It’s shameful, really.

    1. In the meetings, I have attended there always has been a human, staff/council, audience to request the item to be pulled. Then the person seeking the information asked the Council/staff for clarification. What were your questions to be clarified ? I did not read about the information you were requesting.
      BTW my name is spelled- NIEL !!! Spell checker is wrong !!!

      1. Niel,
        I am typing this on a phone, and it autocorrects to the conventional spelling. My question was for the council and staff to explain the rationale for an 18 percent raise compared to what the more experienced predecessor was offered four years ago when inflation has been about 6 percent over the same period.

  6. Good morning Jeff. My name is Katherine Scourtes and I have been reading and enjoying your posts for a long time. I have been a news reporter for KNCO way before they became a propaganda machine, I’m the president of the local chapter of UNA-USA and I’m a friend of your neighbor Helen Williamson. All this so I can establish my credibility with you and spur your interest to open and perhaps post part of the following article from the Guardian, which shows how blind racism can deprive a society from the best of the best.

    For future reference, I’m also a news junkie, and I read many legitimate news sources from all over the world, so would you be open to me sending you occasional interesting articles? As an example, I recently read in Deutsche Welle that back during Hitler’s time the Nazis abducted about 400,000 Arian looking children from their families in the occupied territories and had them adopted into Nazi sympathizer families in Germany. There are very few survivors who know this happened to them and one of them is asking for compensation through the German courts.

    Anyway, be well and enjoy the cool weather.


    On Mon, Jul 30, 2018 at 7:02 PM, Jeff Pelline’s Sierra Foothills Report wrote:

    > jeffpelline posted: “In May 2014, the City of Nevada City agreed to pay > Mark Prestwich a base pay of $97,500 per year to be City Manager. Mark’s > experience — including an eight year stint as special projects > manager/assistant to city manager in Sacramento and five years as a” >

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