hydrangea blossoming

hydrangea blossoming
Hydrangea on the Edge of Blooming

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Embarrassment for All

Last night's Fire Commission meeting seemed to have hit a new low.  It's main features included:

1.  A Commissioner attempted to amend the last meeting's minutes to show that, despite the Commissioners approving the placement of Public Comments at the end of the Agenda, the Public refused to obey and continued to ask questions/make comments throughout the meeting.  When it was noted that as Chairperson of that meeting, Commissioner Riffle had a responsibility to control the meeting, he whined, "So now it's all my fault?"  In addition, he complained that Mr. Wilmot had made the motion to adjourn the meeting, whereas he should have been the one to make that motion because he was the Chair.  And that complaint was also to be put into the minutes.  Although, eventually, he withdrew his motion, I think, and the minutes were just approved.

2.  There was discussion of a motion to increase the number of Commissioners to 5 in order to alleviate the problems of any two commissioners not being able to talk to one another because if they do it constitutes a Public Meeting according to Washington State Regulations.  The motion failed, but not before Mr. Meursing placed his position on record:  "The fewer Commissioners the better," he said.  One, he seemed to be implying, would be best of all, and he would be that one.

3.  The attempt to hold an Executive Session on Personnel Matters was dropped when (a) the personnel were revealed to be the Commissioners and the topics their own difficulties in working with one another; and (b) Mr. Grubb of the APB persuaded Mr. Meursing that Washington State Regulations do not permit Executive Sessions (not open to the public) for such purposes because 'personnel' refers to employees, not to the Commissioners.  Mr. Meursing viewed this as a mere technicality, at which point Mr. Grubb pointed out that it was not a technicality but a state law.  The attempt to hold an Executive Session was finally dropped, but not before one Commissioner plaintively called out, "Well, how are we to discuss these matters without embarrassing ourselves in public?"  Indeed, public embarrassment seemed to be the chief feature of the meeting.

4.  A considerable amount of time was devoted to articulating a letter that was written to the Fire District from a P.R. resident (who was named during the meeting).  The  Chief regarded the letter as endangering the safety of his volunteer firefighters and he went to the Sheriff, who investigated and apparently felt that the matter was adequately resolved; there were no charges of any sort laid.  The discussion at the meeting centered largely on why this letter and its author were being identified in a public meeting.  That is, the matter had been clarified by the Deputy Sheriff, so what could be the purpose of this public exposure of the matter other than to harass the individual?  The Commissioners asserted that the letter was a public record; the public said, "Okay, but why do WE need to discuss it at this meeting?"  The Chief claimed that his first duty was to protect his volunteers.  Except that I thought his first duty was to protect the citizens of Point Roberts.  If his first duty is to protect his volunteer firefighters, he should simply advise them to go into another line of work where the risk is lower.  And then get back to protecting us.  In his job, these duties will occasionally come into conflict.  He needs to figure out which is his primary duty.  And the Commissioners need to discuss the laws of privacy with their lawyer.

5.  There was, again, discussion of a new procurement policy, written by the fire district's lawyer, who will, doubtless, be sending another handsome bill next month.  Despite the Commissioners having agreed at the last meeting to provide the 'audience' with copies of complex documents that are under discussion, no copies of the new procurement policy were available.  Thus, though the policy was passed, I don't know much about what was in it as the Chief read quickly through three pages of text in a room with poor acoustics.  I did attempt to obtain some idea of how the Commissioners viewed the difference between their responsibilities and the Chief's responsibilities.  Mr. Meursing said that they must bow to the Chief's technical knowledge on procurement policy because he is a professional.  Mr. Wilmot read from the State Regs which state that the Commissioners themselves are responsible for policy decisions.  Because the Commissioners are passing off responsibility to the Chief, and because the Chief can cite state law regarding the Commissioners' responsibility, we can proceed with the assumption that no one, really is responsible, and that no one will be accountable for making responsible procurement decisions.  Trust the Chief (and then one is supposed to Verify).  Maybe the Verification policy will be on the agenda next month.

6.  Finally, there were repeated responses from Mr. Meursing that 'That's not the way we do things here."  Which claim I take to mean, "That's not how I say we do things here."

We're three months into this crisis of confidence in Fire District #5, and things are not improving.  At some point, the State via the State Auditor's office, will become involved, I'd think.  That's who is responsible for oversight of Commissions and Commissioners.

No comments: