I enjoyed Karen Newell Young’s insightful article about former city manager Beryl Robinson in the July edition of the Nevada City Advocate. He was city manager for most of my first three terms on the City Council, so reading Karen’s story with its photo of Beryl standing in Robinson Plaza brought back some fond memories –– one in particular.
In the summer of 1999, I met with fellow councilman Pat Dyer and told him about something I wanted to do. Pat agreed to support the idea –– provided I had the city attorney’s legal blessing.
City Attorney Jim Anderson said if I did what I planned to do, the city would probably not be accused of violating the state’s open meeting laws –– unless, of course, someone complained. That was not exactly the sort of legal blessing Pat was hoping for, but close enough.
For our next council meeting, I requested a closed session to discuss a personnel matter –– namely, an evaluation of Beryl’s job performance. But my request specifically excluded him from being in attendance, and that did not please Mr. Robinson. He was upset.
Beryl’s penetrating glares during the public portion of the meeting that night were a bit intimidating, but I was sure all would end well. He was understandably upset at me for calling a closed session to evaluate his job performance without him being allowed in the room. He even asked before the meeting if there was something I should be sharing with him. I told him everything was fine. He didn’t believe me.
When we went into closed session, the only people in the room were five councilmembers and the city attorney. We talked for 10-12 minutes, then emerged from the closed-door session and reconvened in public.
Beryl was seething, but not for long.
To publicly report out what had been approved in private, I introduced a resolution –– quickly approved by a unanimous city council vote –– affirming that the nub of Main Street would henceforth be known as Robinson Plaza.
Keeping that idea a secret from Beryl –– and getting unanimous approval from the three shocked City Council colleagues who had no idea why I had requested such an unorthodox closed session –– was one of the highlights of my 16 years on the city council.
It’s not easy to fool Beryl, but Pat Dyer, Jim Anderson and I were able to do it. Once.
Later, to celebrate Beryl becoming the longest-serving city manager in state history, the council supported placement of a bronze plaque to publicly dedicate Robinson Plaza. And I was given the honor of writing the plaque verbiage.
When the large bronze plaque arrived, Public Works Director Verne Taylor and I went in search of a slab of granite upon which to mount it. We drove to the City Yard, where hundreds of large granite pieces were in storage, confident one of them would serve our purpose.
After sorting through dozens of large stones at the City Yard, we took what we thought was the ideal candidate down to the plaza-to-be. Once on the ground there, however, it didn’t seem large enough, so we decided to haul it back to the City Yard and find something more suitable.
While waiting at the Union & Broad stop sign, I spotted the absolute perfect granite boulder for the plaque. Unfortunately, it was at the edge of the freeway on-ramp –– state property, not city property.
Verne asked if I intended to have his public works crew steal the boulder, and I said sure –– why not? They could replace it with the one we had in the back of the city truck. No harm, no foul. Right?
On September 16, 1999 –– when the plaque was about to be unveiled –– Verne tapped me on the shoulder, nodded toward the plaque and said, “Let’s hope the State of California doesn’t interrupt our ceremony.”
So far, at least, the purloined granite remains where Verne and his crew put it in 1999.
Amen to that.
Steve Cottrell is a historian, former city councilman and mayor and a longtime Nevada City resident. He now lives in St. Augustine, Fla. He can be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the photo:
In September 1999, the nub of Main Street in front of the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce was dedicated in honor of longtime City Manager Beryl Robinson.
Beryl P. Robinson, Jr. –– a native son and community leader –– for whom Robinson Plaza is named.
Photo by Dave Carter