hydrangea blossoming

hydrangea blossoming
Hydrangea on the Edge of Blooming

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Implications of Decisions Made

Updated below:
Much of the reaction to the Fire Commissioners' recent actions has been that sooner or later, someone would get inadequate rescue services because no one would be here to make a timely response to a 911 call.  In mid-September, it was said, such a call had come in and the reponse had indeed been slow.  Chief Carleton was here but he had no backup for awhile.  Eventually, former Chief Skinner arrived and they got a transfer to hospital going.  But it had been very slow.  One commenter on the APB e-edition said he had been listening on his scanner to the call and that Carleton had been frantic.  Others, including Skinner, said there had been no significant problem and that Carleton had done everything correctly.

Just another 'he-says-she-says" story, was my response.  If you have no first hand information of your own, you have no way to judge between two people who tell different stories of the same event.  You might have some feelings about it, but in the face of no information, your feelings really aren't worth much even though some people frequently do like to assert their feelings as if they were facts.

Now, however, the APB's October issue, mentioning this event as an illustration of a larger issue of inadequate EMS coverage, reports that Chief Carleton "acknowledged it took longer than desirable to get the patient transported because they could not rendezvous with the helicopter."  (Italics added.)

To remedy this problem of inadequate coverage, and to try to maintain 5-day coverage, the Chief, again according to the APB, has upped the pay for "a week day coverage shift from $80 to $140" as of October 1.

I've attended all the weekly meetings that have been announced since August 16 except for a 5-minute meeting held last Tuesday afternoon to approve the minutes from the previous meeting.  (A friend attended and described the time sequence and activity immediately after it concluded.)  At no time in those meetings has there been any discussion of increasing pay.  In fact, what little discussion of pay to anyone other than the Chief has been about NOT paying an administrative clerk some $6,000 or $7,000 as had been previously approved.  So who makes these budget decisions and when did they make them?  It's going to cost more than $6,000 to increase the shift pay by 75% over the entire year.  And then there is the additional pay to Assistant Chief Shields.  And the more-than-Kiniski-pay to Carleton.  Whoever was thinking that this "new direction" was going to be a money saver needs to return to his calculator.

Meursing talked transparency at the last meeting.  Such decisions are supposed to be made in public meetings so that the public can evaluate the work of the Commissioners.  Those of us who have been attending the meetings for the past 6 weeks certainly did not see these new pay decisions coming.  Let alone being discussed or being made.

Maybe these are decisions that are somehow delegated to the Chief.  But it doesn't sound like much of a way to make significant decisions about public business if that is the case.

Update: Monday the Commissioners responded to an inquiry about the raising of the stipends:  "Stipends are under the direct control of the fire chief and yes when finalized we will have them on the agenda for commissioners approval."  

Logically, stipends cannot be under the direct control of the fire chief if the Commissioners have to approve them.  The Fire Chief may recommend, but the decision and the responsibility lies with the Commissioners.  The Commissioner speaking for all the Commissioners, says this is a "checks and balance system."  No, it is a direct hierarchy system.  The Commissioners are responsible.  Whether they like it or not.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Word Spreads

Yesterday afternoon, I walked into the back yard only to interrupt a trio of raccoons (this would be mom and the two little ones, and not the one who was here a day or so ago, who I think is maybe Mom's brother) poking around under the two farthest away plum trees.  Late lunch at the Plumtree Restaurant.  I stopped and watched for a few moments, wondering why they never got to the other two plum trees, not to mention the apple trees.  Plenty of fruit between both of these: maybe they don't have a great sense of smell?  Or maybe already enough food under the plum trees they were stalking.

Of course, they saw me immediately (great hearing), but they were a safe distance away, so just gave me a glance and went on about their business.  A few plums more, however, plus a race by the littlest one up and down the plum trunk, and they started to move diagonally away from me.  Then, the baby discovered the pecan tree to which the clothes line and the clothespin bag is attached.  Up he goes, poking his tiny paw out, trying to get hold of the bag.  Mom chitters at him while I run inside the house to get my camera.  By the time I get back, Mom has convinced Little Baby to get right down from there.  And she is giving me a very irritated look as I snap away with a flash attachment even though I'm a long ways away. (You can see all three in the photo: mom is on the right, looking at me, little baby is just getting down from the trunk, and bigger baby is over to the left right under the blueberry bush.  The clothespins are safe!)

Next they wander over to the blueberry bushes while Bigger Baby plays 'fight' with Mom, who brushes him off repeatedly.  Then Bigger Baby grabs for a blueberry branch and starts to try those berries, while I roar like a lion at him.  Apples? Yes. Plums, yes.  Blueberries, no.  They all freeze, and then walk, with great dignity, ten feet further away, abandoning the berries.

An hour later, they are still roaming around in the back of the yard, but there's no fruit back there, so I guess they've found something else for afternoon entertainment.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hey! Somebody Opened a Restaurant

The plums are excessively with us.  That's what comes from planting FOUR Italian plum trees in one backyard (along with numerous other fruit trees).  Maybe somebody gave them to the many back previous owners/planters.  Who knows?  In any case, each year I grieve the fact that we have too many plums and that almost everyone I know also has too many plums and that one can eat a certain number of them and make some jam and make a plum klafouti or two and even freeze a few bags, but there is no way that two people can use up all those plums.

This year, i decided to do a series of small quilted pieces all based upon one of  the plum trees.  I do one 4"x6" piece each week and, as I get enough done, sew them into rows.  By December, I'll have 49 separate pieces and a wall quilt about 3 feet by 4 feet, and also a much closer understanding and appreciation of at least that one plum tree than I have previously had.  (You can see the first 34 or so here.  The site includes the "quiltlet" and the photo that I took to work it from.)

So I find myself paying a lot of attention to the plum tree because I have to produce a different image from it each week.  In the interest of getting a feel for the quantity of plums, I put a blue tarp under it so I could actually see the plums when they ripen and fall.  If I didn't do this, I really can't see them because they fall into the somewhat long grass and, like dyed eggs at Easter, they hide themselves very well until you step on them and they go squash underfoot.

This afternoon I was looking out the kitchen window at the tree and 'what to my wondering eyes should appear' but a single raccoon, maybe one of last year's young raccoons, sitting on the blue tarp and systematically eating every single plum in sight.  I've never noticed the raccoons or the deer to pay any attention to the plums.  Similarly, they appear to be indifferent to apples.  But this raccoon had a taste for it; or maybe he just liked the idea of there being a tablecloth.  When the plums were pretty much all gone, she hustled off, perhaps to tell the rest of her family about the new restaurant that had just opened.

Raccoons!  They just never cease to interest and entertain me...

Monday, September 24, 2012

Just Bein' Peaceful

On Saturday, International Peace Day was celebrated by a small but enthusiastic band of folks at Lighthouse Park in the mid-day.  Maybe 25 or so people, little kids to elderlies, met up, displayed peace flags, sang some peace songs, danced, spoke about their own efforts to contribute to peace all round and peace in their own lives.  Then we all shared an extremely varied lunch and talked to one another about many things, not just peace or the world's lack thereof.

We are mostly all, of course, frustrated about the amount of violence that is ongoing throughout the world, pretty much regardless of whom it is directed toward.  There's a terrible human need to focus on who is to blame?, as if that, once settled, would mean that everything else would then work out just fine.  But that's pretty much a fool's errand outside of a courtroom, where the authorized task is to determine guilt and innocence.  Nevertheless, it is worthwhile, surely, to spend a couple of hours a year, down at the beach on a sunny day reminding ourselves that peace is our aspiration, even if not a realistic goal, in our own lives and in the whole world.  Be of good hope, my grandmother (born in 1898) would say.

Whoever broke the arm off the statue in the Seattle Peace Park surely was not of good hope.  What would bring about such an action...twice?  Some things I will never understand, never even be able to imagine, no matter how hard I try.

Next year, think to come to the Peace Day meeting here in Point Roberts.  It's an honorable event and deserves more attendance if only to remind us on that one day that we can try, once again, to be of good hope.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

In Which We Discuss Transparency

Tonight's Fire Commissioner's meeting had a single purpose, to appoint a new Commissioner to replace Mr. Gellatly.   However, Chairman Meursing first offered a few bits of homely advice to the 20 or so attendees.  First, he was happy to see them there and hoped they would continue to attend in the future, though it was unfortunate that they had not shown up in the past.  This allowed him to segue into his main theme: "it would have helped with transparency."

Transparency, it turns out, is the Commissioners' hope for the future operation of the fire district.  They had, he said, never bothered much with it in the past, adding that that was probably because no one came to the meetings so there was no one there to be transparent to.  (I would like to add here how I understand transparency in this peculiar Washington format: it is to discuss and make decisions only in public session (with some exceptions for discussing personnel issues in Executive Session because of privacy concerns), and thus to establish a clear and publicly available record of the commissioners' actions.  It does not require the public to be there, although in most instances, the local news media represent the public's interests in the matter of transparency.)

Next, Mr. Meursing's desire for transparency led him to demand that in the future the All Point Bulletin's coverage of the Fire Commissioner meetings should no longer be slanted, subjective and inaccurate.  Such practices must be replaced by fairness and objectivity and presenting all sides.

And then we went on to the "transparent" act of appointing a new Commissioner.  Two individuals had applied for the post.  Each had sterling resumes, it was said by the Commissioners.  Each was "interviewed" which meant that they were asked whether they understood that "the Board acts as a unit, not as individuals" whatever that might mean.  Each was offered the opportunity to say what they had to offer to the position: one talked about the importance of listening to others; the other talked about applying his previous experience to this job.  We were offered brief summaries of their CV's.  At no point did either Commissioner ask either of the future Commisioners any insightful questions, or even how long they'd been in P.R., or whether they'd ever held public office of any kind, or had any comparable experience.  No questions were allowed by attendees.

And then: voila!  Mr. Riffle moved to name Candidate B as the new Commissioner and Mr. Meursing seconded the motion.  And lo, and behold, Candidate B became the new Commissioner.    Candidate A was the guy who irritated Meursing so much at the last meeting that he almost threatened to have him ejected.  But I don't know that that influenced the vote.

And then the public got to talk.  I felt the need to point out to Meursing that if you attack the newspaper for slanted, etc., coverage, you'd better have some examples of it because otherwise it is just his useless and loose opinion flopping around: and bad manners to boot.  The APB editor urged Meursing to write the paper anytime he had questions about the accuracy of its coverage, assuring him that his letter would be printed and any inaccuracies corrected.  Meursing, to my ear, seems to think that if HE thinks something is biased or slanted or inaccurate, then that's all there is to be said.  Meg Olson was only there for the last 5 minutes of the August 15 meeting, it was charged, and thus how could her coverage have been accurate?  Yet, the facts--based upon the minutes--were as I stated them in a blog post a few days ago: the meeting was in public session for only 3 or 4 minutes, so what would she have missed?  Well, said Meursing, she talked to Nick and she didn't talk to me so she got only one side.  Would you have talked to her about why you fired Nick, Meursing was asked.  No, he replied.  So....?????

Another run around about the re-paving of the fire station parking lot followed:

Q: At a July meeting, they had made one of those 1-2 motions to have Riffle contact somebody to prepare a request for bids for this $91,000 job.  Had that bidding request ever moved forward?
A:  No, says Mr. Riffle.  We decided not to go ahead with it because of the cost and not knowing how much money we'd be having this year.
Q: Ah, but in the interests of transparency, when was that decision not to go ahead made, since there is never any mention of it in the minutes after that July record?
A:  We didn't make a decision; we tabled it.
Q:  Well, to table it, don't you have to make a decision to do that?
A:  No, insisted Meursing.  We didn't make a decision.  We just tabled it.  That's Washington State rules.
And with that, the meeting ended.

I'm hoping that the new Commissioner, Jeff Wilmot, is going to get a quick lesson in "Washington State Rules" and share them with the rest of us.  Really soon.  To help the Transparency, at the very least.

An Open Letter to the Fire Commissioners

I received a copy of a letter to the Fire Commissioners today and, with the author's permission, am posting it here for wider distribution of what seems to me an extremely reasonable request:

After several special meetings and a regular meeting with more sturm und drang than is good for a community of mostly retired people, I have a suggestion.

We've had little real information about what necessitated actions that got us to all this … hints that if we "only knew", we'd understand, or that at some point in the future the whole story could be told, on to Mr. Carleton's saying that he wanted to "take the department in a new direction".  None of the foregoing is particularly enlightening, not so much about past decisions and actions but what it is we are moving toward and the necessity of it.

My suggestion is that at the next regular meeting we begin a dialog between the commissioners and the citizenry who show up about what new direction the department is headed toward, why we needed a new chief to implement that direction, and what is in it for us taxpayers, residents, and voters … how will we benefit from this new direction?  Are we in agreement with this new direction?  (Here is where the commissioners shift into salesman mode.)  Do we have suggestions to enhance this new direction?  How long before we realize any benefits from this new direction? 

Finally, I would hope with real information instead of the many rumors AND instead of being given little to no information at all from our elected (or appointed by our elected) representatives, we can make informed decisions instead of decisions made in haste, anger, uncertainty, and fear. 

We live in a democracy.  You are our elected representatives, but we do, after all, have the ultimate say-so in whether we agree with your decisions and whether we're willing to pay for what it might cost.  I often tell my cats that I am in charge because I have opposable thumbs; fellows, we voters are the opposable thumbs here.  Best to remember that.

Y'all might want to begin to mend some fences.  That starts with a dialog and hard information being disseminated.  It's been a very long while since most of us have been told by our parents/minders to sit down, be quiet, and do as we're told.  I think you might agree that tactic has not been sitting well with those who take the time to attend the meetings.  While no one can know the feelings of the entirety of residents here, I've certainly heard more negatives than I have positives.  And I've had to tell a great many would-be opinionated writers that I cannot put their opinions in Interface. 

I hope you will give hard consideration to beginning the dialog with us … and the sooner, the better. 

Patricia Turner Birchall

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Lives of Raccoons

Last night, the raccoons blew through, removed the clothespin bag from the clothesline, dragged it around the yard, removed all the clothespins, spread them around independently of the location of the clothespin bag, and then went somewhere else to cause some other dislocation.  The lives of raccoons are an endless mystery to me.  It's not easy to get those clothespins out of the bag even when you want to hang up the laundry if the bag is not hanging on the line.

What do raccoons want with clothespins?

A friend replies:

What do raccoons want with clothespins?  To play with them.  That is surely the only answer.

I have several of the soft vinyl sprinkler hoses in different places of the garden.  Once, a young raccoon took a strange passion to one of them.  He managed to drag it from the front yard to the back yard, up a tree, and on the roof of my neighbor's shed.  She called me to come see something I would not believe.

The young raccoon had the 50-foot hose laid out on the roof of aforementioned shed.  He/She was scuttling around on said roof, picking up sections of it, rubbing it all over his/her face and even standing up and rubbing it all over his/her belly.  He did this for a great long while until it became too dark to watch.

The next morning, we retrieved the 50-foot green vinyl sprinkler hose.  It was useless, of course … raccoons have very nasty claws, and this young raccoon had done a real number on it.

Clothespin fetish.  Sprinkler hose fetish. 

We do not know the secret life of any of the creatures we share space with.

Added, 9/17:  More on raccoon life.  Last night, the raccoons showed up and unlooped a house HOSE that was stored on the tree.  I assume they read the blog and remembered how much fun that hose had been previously.  I don't know whether to be more surprised that they use computers or that they read....

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Starting Over

I do think that if the remaining Commissioners would just stand up and apologize for having created such a mess that it might be possible to stagger on until the next election with a little less animosity.  But that is probably asking too much of guys who haven't really spent any previous time on the political circuit where you learn, if only the hard way, that the worst action is not the deed but the obscuring/hiding of the deed.  As Nixon learned the hard way, it's not the crime that will get you; it's the cover-up.

Nonetheless, I found myself poking around on the net last night looking for the crime.  One place I looked was at the minutes of the August 15 meeting, the meeting where Kiniski was fired.  The Fire District minutes are always written with an economy that is bracing.  They are short, to the point, and missing all sense of human interaction (as is appropriate, of course).  But to read, say, the minutes of the August 22 meeting (during which there was great drama of hissing, booing, threats, etc.) is to make one doubt that the minutes had anything at all in common with the actual meeting as experienced by those who attended it.

So, too, with the August 15 meeting minutes.  This is the meeting attended only by Meursing and Riffle.  It begins at 7:01 and goes into Executive Session at 7:03 for discussion of personnel matters.  At 7:12, Chief Kiniski joins the Executive Session meeting.  The Executive Session ends at 7:23.  Thus, by simple arithmetic, the executive session lasts 22 minutes.  The Commissioners return to Public
Session (where business is supposed to be conducted in full view of the public) at 7:23 and vote to fire Kiniski.  They also discuss four additional items including paying Shields $500/month for equipment maintenance, interviewing for a clerk position, and approving some procedure for the volunteers.  All this 'Public Meeting' takes two minutes.  No attendee apparently speaks or is allowed to speak.  No discussion of the motion takes place. The meeting adjourns at 7:25.

Now aside from not understanding how you could possibly do all that open session stuff in 2 minutes (!), the critical part is the 7:03 to 7:23 period: that is when we find Mrs. Scarlett in the Library with the Gun.

You can then read the minutes of the meeting before and the meeting after, but nothing will help you to understand how we got from there to here .  And that is why the Commissioners need to either explain or apologize.  The community's distress, confusion, anger, etc., are really not going to go away if the Commissioners just turn off the lights, pull the blinds down, and pretend they're not at home.  Hope is not, really, ever a plan.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Never actually boring

H.L. Mencken, the great critic of American political life, had this to say about events like the Fire Commissioners' meetings:  

"Herein lies the chief merit of democracy, when all is said and done; it may be clumsy, it may be swinish, it may be unutterably incompetent and dishonest, but it is never dismal-its processes, even when they irritate, never actually bore."

Which is what makes writing about them so difficult.  When you attend a meeting like last night, you are struck by all those qualities.  If I were a New York Drama Critic, "Irritating But Not Boring" might be a good headline for my review.  If I were an investigative reporter for a particularly aggressive newspaper, "Swinish, Unutterably Incompetent and Dishonest" would be the more likely running head.

But, the thing is, to get either or both of those judgments, you'd have to have been there. The major issue of the meeting, as a result of the previous meeting on Sept. 5, was the Fire Chief's contract.  To do justice to the meeting, it really does not suffice simply to summarize what the posted contract says.  Nevertheless, that's what i'll be doing next.  

(The posted contract, signed September 5 is located here if you're inclined to read it.  Sections A and B (section B was under discussion last night is here.)  Section B is where 'errors' were 'corrected' and it is at the bottom of the linked pages.)

The changes were made in Section B which primarily addresses benefits.  The original Section B (from September 5) provoked a lot of irritation from residents, especially because it provided pretty much full-time benefits (e.g, 10 hours of vacation for each month's work) for a half-time job.  The new Section B offers only 3.3 hrs. per month, which means that for half-time work he is getting 1/3 time vacation.  He is still being given a bunch of accrued vacation hours at the beginning of his contract, but now it is 40 hours and in the earlier Section B it was 120 hours.  Similarly, sick leave is reduced, and all pay for holidays has been eliminated.

This is rather a worse deal for the new fire chief, but the real question, of course, is why a contract vetted by legal counsel for both parties and read and approved by the commissioners ever included such hyper-generous benefits.  This would seem to fall under the 'incompetence' headline rather than, say, 'swinish'.  If the public had not objected strongly, the earlier version of the contract would have doubtless been a done deal and the district's lawyers would have billed for their apparently useless or worse advice.

Beyond that, the posted contract provides some clarification on other issues:

1.  If fired without cause, the Chief will receive 1 year's severance pay.
2.  If fired with cause, mediation and arbitration are somewhere between required and available, but the costs involved could surely keep the chief from entering into it since, if he loses, he must pay the district's costs (and vice versa, but the District has the deeper pockets--Us!).
3.  The Commissioners must give 180 days notice if they plan not to renew the Chief's contract.
4.  The Chief must give 30 days notice if he is going to quit.

The rest of the meeting (and there was a long agenda) involved any number of issues that illustrated the public's difficulty in understanding what the Commissioners are doing and the Commissioners' inability to respond meaningfully to public questions.  This general confusion is multiplied by the State's requirement that virtually all business be conducted ONLY in public meetings, which means that the commissioners are not supposed to be discussing and making decisions outside of those meetings.  This is a very difficult standard to meet, but I didn't ask for these guys to take this job, so they need to meet the standard....it's sort of like the conditions of an employment contract.

Meursing demonstrated several times that he still has a short fuse and at one point seemed to be about to eject a community member from the meeting with the assistance of the sheriff's deputy when he suddenly remembered that he'd failed to bring a sheriff's deputy to the meeting.  The "critical" issue under discussion that led to this unseemly behavior was whether having an additional special meeting on September 20 whose sole purpose was to approve the minutes of the meeting of September 19 was, in fact, a redundant meeting.  The underlying issue was their intention of appointing a new commissioner at the meeting on the 19th and then approving the minutes ASAP/September 20 (requires a public meeting to do so) so the new commissioner could attend the next regular meeting as a duly appointed commissioner because they need two Commissioners to constitute a quorum and Meursing won't be available for the October meeting, but anyway the October meeting is being re-scheduled so that Meursing can attend the October meeting (next agenda item), and aren't you glad you've read to the end of this paragraph?

What can I say?  Echoing Mencken, I'd say "never dismal," adding oftentimes hilarious in its stupidity and its smallness.  But I appreciate that it loses a lot of its 'not boring-ness' in translation.  Remember: Both Riffle and the new Commissioner will be up for election in 2013.  Vote early and often...

And in the meantime, a lot of Wednesday night meetings are available for your dining and dancing pleasure...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Not Much Story at All

Back from the Fire Commissioners' road show tonight but not ready to write about it because, although much of the discussion of the long agenda was about mundane matters which were presented in a remarkably obscure manner, the central issue was Chief Carleton's new and improved employment contract which had been changed 'to correct errors' (the ghost of George Orwell was surely smiling at that).  However, although the substance of the uncorrected edition of the contract had been read to us last month, the substance of the corrected edition was simply described to us.  It is to be posted on the Fire District's website tonight and until I read it, I can't really be sure about what was "corrected."

It would appear from the verbal description that Chief Carleton's newly corrected contract walks back all the full-time benefits that accompanied the half-time employment from last week's uncorrected contract.  But without reading it, I really can't be sure what is on offer here.

So tomorrow, my mind fresher than it is now, I go to read.


1.  We dropped by the P.R. private airfield (but open to public use for small planes) that was operated by Robin Lamb until his death this past spring.  Many people at the time of his memorial service wondered what would happen to the strip which is located off Marine Dr.  We're pleased to report that the landing strip and apron are beautifully mowed.  Clearly Robin's family members are doing a great job of continuing what he started.

2.  We drove by, on Marine on the west side, right past the airport, a very sweet and tiny house I'd never noticed which is fronted by the saddest sunflower I've ever seen.  Both house and sunflower: great sights.  Take your visitors by?

3.  There is now a donation button on this blog that has never been there before.  Just wanted to point out that it is intended to allow people to donate electronically (credit card, paypal) to the library building fund.  It is not for donating to this blog, which doesn't need anyone to support it in that way.  Some things are free!

4.  And, tonight, Wednesday night...Another Fire Commissioner meeting.  I'm afraid so.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Really...I Don't Get It

The discussion of the Fire Commissioners goes on at the APB to not much purpose. However, one commenter (the fake names stay for most of them and certainly for this one) announced that the Commissioners were taking into account the community's objections/uncertainties over Carleton's contract and were going to change things.  In fact, the commenter said that they had already changed them.  But, since that is patently not anything they can do outside of a public meeting, the commenter changed from they have done it to they will do it.  I fear that is what is ahead of us this coming Wednesday which is, I think, just a regular meeting night and not a special meeting night, but I don't know that that makes any difference.

The thing is this:  do they know anything about contracts and the writing thereof?  Do they have any experience in their lives that would suggest that people don't usually get half-time contracts in which they are given 120 vacation hours upon being hired?  That's really not the way it ever works in my experience.  Nor do contracts ever say that you agree to the possibility that you will be fired 180 days from now for no cause whatsoever, but you have to indulge in mediation and arbitration in the interim.  Would that be in addition to your 20 hours a week, or would that count as part of your 20 hours/week?  What would be the mediator/arbitrator's job?  To persuade the Commissioners to keep you on after the 180 days?  Or to persuade you to quit even though you can hang around for 180 days?   Surely not to determine whether there was any reason to fire you since they have stated that there was none.  And would you gather another flock of paid vacation, sick, bereavement, etc. days after your were given your 180 day notice?

Just those two points alone are pretty strange.  But if the Commissioners needed the public to point these problems out, then the Commissioners don't know much about what contracts look like, and maybe they shouldn't have such hard tasks as part of their responsibilities.  I guess they depended upon 'their lawyer.'  (Said lawyer, we were told, specializes in Fire Districts.  Well, everybody got to be somewhere...).  Malpractice, maybe?

I keep saying, 'I'm going to let this alone; just go to the meetings.'  But there's something nutsy about it that keeps pulling at me.  The whole thing just doesn't make sense.  Which is why I keep getting dragged back to it.  Where's the actual story here?  I think it's going to keep on itching until we get some closure: Why was Kiniski fired?  And why are they still the Commissioners?

On the other hand, the three nicest days of summer have occurred in the autumn this year.  Like a desert wind outdoors in the late afternoon.  Don't understand that, either: I mean, we live on the ocean...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

We Are All Calmed Down

The meeting was held and lasted a little over an hour.  It was at 4 pm because Mr. Meursing was on vacation and had flown back to attend but needed to fly back to his vacation before it got dark.

First of all, the chairs and tables were all arranged as usual but the first row had little white tents on the tables announcing that those chairs were reserved: 2 for Commission Staff and 2 for Press.  Pretty Fancy!  A gentleman from the public arrived, and announced to the air that he was very hard of hearing and would like to be able to sit in one of those first-row chairs.  Because I knew that only one of our press attendees would be there and because I was pretty sure that the Commission had only one staff attending, I urged the man to take one of the seats.

And then a lady from the public sitting to my right in row 2 informed me that I had no right to be giving away what was not mine.  I considered giving her a little talk about the requirements of the Americans with Disability Act under the reasonable accommodation section, but didn't.  Apparently, we were not yet all in a good mood.

And then the Commissioners and Mr. Carleton arrived.  I don't know whether to attribute it to the restorative powers of vacations, prescription meds, or having finally figured out the political costs of the last two meetings, but Mr. Meursing spoke to us very conciliatorily, even saying that, despite the harshly worded announcements about no comments from the public, we would indeed be allowed to ask questions and that he was very happy to have us there: 'happier than you know,' he added.  A provocative statement suggesting a mysterious complication.

They approved the minutes.  And I've finally got it that they don't vote.  They just make motions and second them, and then they think that's a vote.  I don't think so, but I'm not a Commissioner.

Then, they read the contract for Mr. Carleton in full (more or less--there was considerable boiler plate that they slid by).  The contract itself will be posted on the Fire District's website within a week so you, too, can read it.  And if you have questions, Meursing and Riffle will be happy to have you contact them by email or by phone.

Carleton will be employed 20 hours/week at a salary of $3400/month with 100% CPI raises each year.  The contract will extend to 12/31/2015, and will be renewable for 3 years, but can be cancelled with a 180-day notice (rather more than Kiniski got).  They can fire him for cause or without cause, but in either case it has to go to mediation and arbitration.  (That doesn't make sense to me and they didn't seem to understand it either, but when questioned offered to look into it with their lawyer.)

He gets 10 hours of vacation leave per month, but no health or dental insurance because his full-time job as Fire Chief in Ferndale provides him with all those benefits.  "Money saved," says Meursing.

The three at the table in front then engaged in some considerable Q&A with the 11 or 12 people in attendance, with strained good humor, I thought.  The Commissioners never considered advertising the position or have a search committee for candidates because in 2009 they did that and it didn't work out (That fire chief lasted only a month, and without 180 days of notice.)

And then they did their making motions dance and Carleton became the new Fire Chief.

I talked to Carleton for awhile afterwards.  He wants to be liked and he wants to be likeable.  And he seems the latter.  He has experience.  I wish him well.  It's in all our interests that his tenure be rewarding and competency-based.

I reserve judgment about the Commissioners, though.  A little slow to see what harm they were doing over the past month.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

At Least It Won't Interfere with Dinner

The Fire Commissioners, grateful for our recent interest in their activities, have scheduled yet another special meeting ($90 each, once again, for the two remaining commissioners; $0 for the public) tomorrow, Wednesday, at 4 pm at the firehall.  The members of the public will not be allowed to speak, but the Commissioners will review the new fire chief's contract for our dining and dancing pleasure.  I still don't remember their voting for him to be the new fire chief: just a motion made and seconded.  But no vote.

I'm pretty impressed by the official notice from Commissioner Ruffle including the prohibition of the public's speaking.  Says Ruffle: "The minutes from the last meeting will be approved and a review of the new Fire Chief's contract with action to approve or disapprove will be made.  There will be no public comment as it is a special meeting."

A very special meeting, indeed.  Free speech.  I don't know; was that something from the Constitution or the Bill of Rights or...?  Or maybe we just dreamed that.  
Comrades!  Join together at four and be told what we are to do next!

Added, from the Washington State Code:

RCW 42.30.010

Legislative declaration.

The legislature finds and declares that all public commissions, boards, councils, committees, subcommittees, departments, divisions, offices, and all other public agencies of this state and subdivisions thereof exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business. It is the intent of this chapter that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.

     The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.

[1971 ex.s. c 250 § 1.]

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Letting Go

I'm working at letting go of the Fire Commissioner to-do.  The comments on the APB article are too emotional to be of much interest to read and too many of them are anonymous.  It's not clear to me why people would choose to produce a view or conclusion or whatever and then fail to attach their names to it.  Talk about not having the power of your convictions.  I understand it can be scarey to sign it.  But then, you don't have to write it in the first place.

Anyway, the discussion isn't particularly helpful, but even more important, the more I think about it, the less I see any way forward other than grinning and bearing it.  The Commissioners seem to have no rule but their own will except at elections.  They make decisions without allowing anyone to speak to them.  I still don't get how Carleton got appointed: they make motions, and then there's never any time for questions/discussion from the public, and they don't seem to vote, either.  It is as if they have amended Roberts Rules of Order such that if there are only two people on board, then when one makes a motion and the other seconds it: well, that's the vote.

But even if they have, there's nothing the public can do about it.  If they were appointing their cats or dogs the next fire chief, (as, you will recall, Caligula appointed his horse to be a Roman Senator), apparently there's nothing we can do about it except wait for the next election.  We can keep going to the meetings to bear witness, of course, and I will try to do that.  But I surely don't see how WE, the public, are going to have any say in who is appointed to succeed Gellatly.  Mr. Meursing seemed to suggest Wednesday night that he and Mr. Riffle would make that decision.  Back in 2003, when two commissioners resigned, the County Council seems to have appointed Gellatly to join Meursing, but I don't know how the third Commissioner got appointed or elected since there had just been an election at the time of the double resignation.

So, farewell to the Commissioners with respect to allowing them much file space in my brain.  I don't think it's likely to go well because I think they've poisoned the water.  But it's Point Roberts, I remind myself.  That is to say, it is much like the moment at the end of the movie, "Chinatown" when the police tell Jake (Jack Nicholson)  "Forget it, Jake: it's Chinatown."

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Whatta Kid!

As regular readers know, I'm working pretty hard these days on raising funds for renovating the old Julius Firehall and thus turning it into the New Point Roberts Firehall Library.  Today, as I was closing down some activities for the summer fundraising campaign, I was given an envelope containing $31.00.

With the envelope was a note explaining that 11/year-old Jacob Clifford had gone door-to-door in Sunny Point Park on Gulf, asking people to participate in a 50-50 donation draw.  Somebody in Sunny Point got $31 and the other $31 went to the library building fund.

I'm grateful for every dollar, every quarter that everybody has given us so far and will give us in the future.  But this summer, I have been particularly knocked out by two little girls who ran a lemonade stand to raise money for the library, and now, to Jacob Clifford who thought up and executed the 50-50 donation.

The library of course is building kids every day. The library in my home town probably did more to build me than the school system did, at least for the ten years after I learned to read.  Which is why I'm working to rebuild this library.  But to have kids working to build the library?  I'm impressed by those kids.

What can I say?   Thanks hardly seems enough, but I don't think any of these kids need a tax receipt.  And I don't even have Jacob's address.  So if you see him, if you know him, tell him thanks, from all of us.

(cross-posted at foprl.blogspot.com)