For a clear example of how this Board’s decision-making has occurred without public participation or knowledge–in violation of the law and to the detriment of the District– look at the effort to find a chief to fill the position vacated when this Board drove Chief Astrom out.
The Board’s Failed Attempt to Recruit a Chief
In May, 2013, just after Chief Astrom resigned, the Board interviewed a candidate for the position of Chief. In late June, Mike Conn announced in court that the Board was very close to hiring this person. Trustee McKee had even asked the candidate to be prepared to testify in court on the Board’s behalf. (See the email here.)
Without any public input whatsoever, the Board engaged their attorney in negotiations with this candidate for a two-year contract that specified a salary to the tune of $55,000 a year—with additional compensation for the candidate’s fire equipment and excluding any facility maintenance or administrative work.
The Trustees racked up $1531.25 in fees, that were paid with Fire Department funds for the attorney to prepare a contract for the new Chief. The Trustee’s were ready and eager to sign this contract without any public comment on the matter and without the public’s knowledge!
However, in early July, the Trustees suddenly rescinded their offer to this candidate without explanation. In just a few short weeks, Mike Conn apparently decided he could not tolerate his own hand-selected chief, a disturbing trend, given his conflict with Chief Astrom. Unfortunately, Conn had already given this candidate a pager, and his chief-in-waiting had responded to calls in our District. He had provided valuable materials, services, and expertise to the Department for which he was led to believe he would receive reimbursement. (See the candidate’s email invoice here and later email regarding lack of payment and his opinion of Mike Conn here.) Conn then refused to reimburse the candidate’s expenses. Not surprisingly, the Board never revealed this fiasco to the public.
Illegal Appointment of Trustee as Chief
After the hasty dismissal of their first candidate, the Board tapped Trustee Denny Guentzel to step in as Chief. Guentzel served illegally as both Chief and Trustee for several months until the Gallatin County Attorney intervened. Instead of stepping down as a Trustee, Guenzel chose instead to resign as Chief, a particularly ironic move, after his public chastising of Chief Astrom for his resignation after 11 years of serving!
In their inimitable wisdom, the Board decided to appoint 3 trustees and a 4th volunteer to rotate as “acting chief”. This action defies logic. If it is illegal for one person to act as Chief while also serving as a Trustee, how can it be legal for 3 people to act as Chief while also being Trustees? Again, this was a decision that was announced, with no public discussion or public input allowed.
Appointment of Perry Shane as Chief
Then, in January, 2013 the Board announced, again with no opportunity for public participation in the decision, that Perry Shane was being appointed as Chief. Proper notice was not given on the agenda (the agenda simply listed “Discussion of the Appointment of an Interim Chief”).
Perry Shane is the man that the Board had introduced as the new Training Officer just a few months earlier; and then quickly removed him from that role a few weeks later with no explanation. Further, this is the same individual who was deemed by Trustee McKee to be unfit to be an Incident Commander, because he was unable to operate a radio, and unable to effectively assess a scene.
The ongoing series of back room decision making and last-minute reversals is compelling evidence that these Trustees have no regard for the law, which requires proper notice, and public participation in decisions of importance to the District. It shows a Board so desperate to appear in control that they do not use sound, rational, reasonable thought processes in their decisions. As a result, the Trustees have put our District and our volunteers at risk. The Sheriff has investigated these activities and has recommended that criminal charges be filed against these Trustees. It is our responsibility now to recall this Board and replace them with Trustees who behave ethically, respect the law and protect our District’s financial and human resources.
For additional information and further insight into these behind-the-scenes dealings, we will be posting the Trustee’s emails obtained under Montana Public Records Law. These documents chronicle illegal communications, back room contract negotiations and last-minute, unexplained reversals in their decisions and shameful disrespect for our volunteer fire fighters.