gvfdAccounting and interpersonal dysfunction is thoroughly detailed in public records that the Golden Valley Fire District (GVFD) and one of its board members released December 19, after serving notice to terminate the employment of the centerpiece of the controversial swirl, bookkeeper Nicole Guerrero.  The documents include the findings of an investigation of a harassment claim Guerrero has lodged with the GVFD, Board member Rhonda Brooks’ response to that report, a draft of a preliminary audit of district finances for 2014 and a timeline of accounting failures compiled by Assistant Fire Chief Jack Yeager. The totality of the information includes plenty of finger-pointing and a degree of the “he said, she said” syndrome, explanations of some of the various controversies that have been bubbling for months and exposure of embarrassing financial failures and in-district feuding.
guerreroYEAGER TIMELINE: 
Yeager’s report referenced 35 instances of late, no, or past due payments from the GVFD to the IRS during Guerrero’s  time as Administrative Manager from December, 2012 to September, 2014. The failure to forward withheld income tax revenue in a timely manner has the District working to abate or reduce $14,000 in interest and fines proposed by the IRS. 
Yeager’s report check-listed 16 payment problems involving three insurance companies, 23 payment problems involving utility bills (Frontier and Valley Pioneer) and 13 payment issues dealing with credit cards. It also noted other failures related to banking practice and the petty cash fund. Payroll errors involving sick leave and vacation time are noted as well. Failure to make proper adjustments for step increases were resolved through provision of back pay to four District employees, including Guerrero’s husband. Another issue simply noted in the Yeager report, but detailed in the harassment probe findings, is the discovery of roughly $100,000 in checks and cash in a Guerrero office drawer that were supposed to have been deposited in District bank accounts.
AUDIT DRAFT:

“Delinquent payments appeared to be pervasive and widespread,” stated the preliminary audit draft prepared by accountant James Saunders. “The District has paid a significant amount in late penalties and interest which should not have occurred.” 
The Saunders draft noted that the District enjoyed a history of proper payment to the IRS before Guerrero took over the books. “A change in District administrative staff resulted in a failure to follow procedures established by the District,” it said. “The District management has knowingly failed to follow IRS rules for the payment of wages.”

Fire Chief Thomas O'DonohueGABRIEL REPORT: 
While the Yeager and Saunders reports are quite clinical in nature, the findings of harassment claim investigator Stacy Gabriel provide a glimpse of discord and animosity coloring relationships involving Guerrero, District Fire Chief Thomas O’Donohue and Board member Brooks. Gabriel determined that there’s no substantiation of Guerrero’s claims that she suffered workplace retaliation by O’Donohue and that the Fire Chief failed to protect her from sexual harassment allegedly inflicted by one of his friends. Her conclusions regarding Brooks, however, are a different story. Gabriel noted interviews conducted with staff members revealed that Brooks’ interactions with Guerrero and O’Donohue were exceedingly unprofessional. Her report noted that witnesses collectively labeled Brooks as “abrupt”, “brash”, “harsh”, “rude”, “obnoxious”, “confrontational” and “rough”. “Brooks acknowledged her communication style can be curt and aggressive. She further acknowledged that her working relationship with the Chief and Guerrero is tense and that she has yelled and directed profanity (including the “F” word) at the Chief,” Gabriel’s report stated. “However, she insists Guerrero and the Chief provoked this harsh reaction by obstructing her ability to carry out her financial oversight responsibilities.”  Gabriel concluded that Guerrero was derelict in her duties and lacks the skills, aptitude and discipline to fulfill the duties of Administrative Manager, but that Brooks was still out of line. “The fact that O’Donohue and Guerrero may have mismanaged District finances or obstructed Brooks’ efforts to carry out her financial oversight responsibilities does not justify her actions,” Gabriel’s report said of Brooks. “Her angry outbursts and personal attacks against those she dislikes has created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation among District staff.” The report touches on a great deal of District history including the Board’s July, 2013 censure of Brooks, Board member complaints about Brooks to the County Attorney’s office and separate recall campaigns targeting Brooks led by Board member Steve Robinson. It also noted that O’Donohue regularly defended Guerrero, even in the face of mounting evidence of her ineptitude.  “The Chief can be criticized for not removing Guerrero from the Administrative Manager position sooner. He excused poor performance for too long, perhaps because they had become personal friends,” Gabriel’s report said. “In this investigator’s view, the Chief allowed his professional judgment to be clouded by his personal relationship with Guerrero.” Gabriel further concluded that the Chief failed to remove Guerrero from her bookkeeping duties more quickly because he  believed her poor performance was a product of harassment by Brooks. Guerrero offered Gabriel the same excuse, while underscoring the scope and severity of her bookkeeping blunders. “While Guerrero concedes she made “little” clerical errors on occasion, she either blames these errors on others or feels they should be excused because of her hostile working conditions,” the report said. That Guerrero’s co-workers did not want her to return to the office is also noted in the report Gabriel issued on October 14. A notice of intent to terminate her employment was delivered roughly two months later, after Guerrero had been paid about $11,000 in salary and benefits during the three months she was on administrative leave.

brooksBROOKS REPONSE

Brooks attempted to defend herself and clarify matters addressed in the Gabriel report in her November 11 letter to Bill Whittington, the GVFD’s primary legal counsel. Part of her explanation is that becoming upset is a natural byproduct of staff’s failures, and resulting embarrassment to the District. 
“I lost patience with O’Donohue and used the F bomb,” Brooks’ letter said. “Repeated inaction from O’Donohue from repeated requests for the same thing (information) finally made me snap. I don’t have a good excuse for that.” Brooks also complained that, while the board hired Gabriel to investigate Guerrero’s harassment claim that also targeted the Chief, Gabriel also took time to investigate O’Donohue’s complaints about Brooks. Brooks contends that was improper and beyond the scope of her duty. Board member Mark Vanik confirms the Board hired Gabriel to probe the Guerrero claim. He said, however, that Gabriel was also directed to examine the Chief’s allegations regarding Brooks, given connecting and overlapping issues and matters of concern. Brooks contends she is being made the scapegoat for costly and embarrassing accounting chaos that is ultimately O’Donohue’s responsibility as Chief of the Fire District. She argued the financial flops fall on O’Donohue’s shoulders because he hired and kept an incompetent Guerrero on board too long. “O’Donohue put her in that job when she was not qualified for it and it was his purview to keep her or remove her,” Brooks’ letter said. “O’Donohue is trying to attach his complaints to someone else’s claim, and trying to blame me and the Board for this mess that is clearly his responsibility.”

 

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