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Napa County recording incident remains a mystery

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Napa County Administration building

The Napa County Administration building.

Who made a possibly illegal audio recording of a Napa County staff meeting and why is a mystery that an investigation ordered by the Board of Supervisors couldn't solve.

The recording of the July 27 staff meeting circulated among some members of the public. Supervisors expressed concern an ethical breach had occurred and the confidentiality expected in staff meetings had been violated.

The Board of Supervisors on Sept. 13 asked that an investigation be done. County officials told the Napa Valley Register that Kramer Workplace Investigations did the work at a cost of $5,600.

On Nov. 8, Human Resources Director Christine Briceño reported back to the Board of Supervisors. She went straight to the point.

“Unfortunately, the results were inconclusive and no credible evidence was presented identifying who (made the recording) or why the meeting was recorded and later released,” she told supervisors.

The Register on Thursday asked Napa County to release the Kramer Workplace Investigations report, redacted if need be. As of Monday afternoon, the county had yet to accept or rebuff the request, saying only that the matter had been referred to county counsel.

Supervisor Diane Dillon, at the Nov. 8 meeting, expressed hope that the county takes the recording incident seriously. Although it can't be proven who did the recording, the deed was done, and Dillon wanted the county to find ways to "heal" the matter.

Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said the county is “better than this” and that the recording won’t “define who we are, we have to move forward.”

“We had to do this (investigation) to send a message that we will not tolerate these kind of actions in the county of Napa,” Pedroza said.

The apparently secret recording took place during a staff meeting held by then-County Executive Officer Minh Tran. Tran talked about his employment situation a day before the Board of Supervisors released him.

A resident during the July 28 Board of Supervisors meeting read a transcript of Tran’s remarks.

Supervisors didn't treat the matter as some type of whistleblowing effort, if indeed that was the motivation. Dillon said the recording left a cloud hanging over the CEO's department.

California law forbids recording confidential communications unless all parties consent. Punishment can be a fine up to $2,500 or imprisonment for up to a year, or both.

Also at its Nov. 8 meeting, the Board of Supervisors:

  • Declared November to be Adoption Awareness Month. The county has 88 children in foster care because of abuse or neglect who are in need of a "forever home." County Health and Human Services is celebrating a decade of providing adoption services and has finalized more than 200 adoptions, the proclamation said.
  • Discussed adopting the latest California building standards for the unincorporated county. New standards will include installing wiring so gas stoves, gas water heaters and other gas appliances can easily be converted to electric and requiring additional fire-resistant construction steps in areas with high wildfire danger.

Three hummingbirds battle over a Mexican sage in Napa.

You can reach Barry Eberling at 707-256-2253 or beberling@napanews.com

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.

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