When clerks collide

DA says accusations against county officer overblown

Candace Grubbs talks with the press following an announcement that accusations against her were greatly exaggerated.

Candace Grubbs talks with the press following an announcement that accusations against her were greatly exaggerated.

PHOTO BY Tom gascoyne

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey chalked up recent controversy within the Butte County Clerk-Recorder’s Office to a personality conflict “between two strong ladies.” Ramsey made that statement during a Tuesday, March 4, press conference, following a couple of investigations into alleged misuse of employee time by longtime Clerk-Recorder Candace Grubbs.

The matter apparently started late last year when County Counsel Bruce Alpert asked for an investigation into allegations by Laurie Cassady, the assistant county clerk, that Grubbs was disrespectful to employees and created a hostile work environment. The subsequent report by Grass Valley attorney James Curtis, who interviewed Cassady and seven office employees, concluded that the dysfunction in the office was the result of the interaction between Cassady and Grubbs.

“Ms. Grubbs and Ms. Cassady will raise voices when dealing with each other and it leads to screaming matches and door slamming,” the report says.

“The dysfunction in the office in terms of how Ms. Grubbs and Ms. Cassady interact with each other appears to be significant,” the report concludes. “In addition, Ms. Cassady, much more so than Ms. Grubbs, treats the staff in the office inappropriately and is creating a stressful and unhealthy work environment.”

One employee interviewed in the investigation claimed that she had been used by Grubbs “for what appear to be personal matters.” This included looking into county properties that were for sale and gathering information “on properties growing marijuana close to Ms. Grubbs’ property.”

The investigation led to a letter of reprimand on Feb. 13 from county Chief Administrative Officer Paul Hahn to Grubbs.

“I cannot state strongly enough the inappropriateness of using county employees for personal endeavors,” Hahn wrote. “There are no circumstances under which this activity can be condoned.”

Hahn said timesheets for the employee showed that she did 9.75 hours of work for Grubbs’ personal matters, and that cost the county about $300 in employee benefits and wages.

He brought in the District Attorney’s Office for a second investigation, which was conducted by Francisco Zarate, chief deputy district attorney. In that report, Zarate says his office was unable to get a copy of the original investigation cited by Hahn because county counsel said it was “subject to attorney-client privileges.”

However, Zarate did get the time sheets showing the work the employee did for Grubbs’ personal gain. The research on properties for sale and those growing marijuana was considered county-related work, Zarate said. There was, however, a request by Grubbs that the employee look into the easement rights of property owned by Grubbs’ deceased mother. That took an estimated quarter of an hour and, as such, Grubbs was asked to write a check to the county treasurer for $17.34 to cover that cost. The work requested by Grubbs was done on the employee’s computer, which has direct access to the county Assessor’s Office.

“There were two law sections we were looking at: civil misappropriation of public funds and unlawful use of public resources,” Ramsey said at the press conference. “State law does not apply to the … ‘incidental and minimal use of public resources such as equipment or office space for personal purposes including an occasional telephone call.’”

He said the report was sent to the California Attorney General’s Office, which agreed that the decision to charge Grubbs $17.34 was “a well-reasoned exercise of our prosecutorial discretion.”

For her part, Grubbs—who is facing a challenge in her bid for re-election this year—said she was caught off guard by the whole thing.

“I sincerely apologize for asking a staff member to do something for me,” she said. “That being said, you can’t take it back; when you’re busy and you do something like this, you can’t take it back.”

She also said that she and Cassady have worked together for the past 27 years and are indeed good friends and that the original investigation was poorly conducted.

“I don’t think anybody who came into this office will say they’ve heard hollering or anything like that. In fact, it’s a very quiet office. My assistant and I have been friends for a long time. We work closely. It’s like two married people: Sometimes you don’t hear each other.”

Cassady echoed Grubbs in her assessment of their relationship.

“I have the utmost respect for Candy; she has never asked me to do inappropriate work. We’ve known each other for 28 years and our families know each other. She is a wonderful boss and person, but we are both perfectionists and strong-willed people.”