Special Board Meeting: Reports and Reactions

Here are some snippets from recent reports and comments people have made about the board and fire department. Most of them pertain to today’s special board meeting, but a few are more general comments.

  • The board has collected names of those interested/willing to be considered for interim chief. It was previously reported that John Gilleen would be one of them but the list contained only two candidates: Ted Mather and Mike Conn.
  • The board asked firefighters for their opinions about the candidates. (Not sure when their input was actually requested.) The firefighter responses were kept anonymous and the content was not reported to the public in order that the firefighters feel they could be candid about their opinions. It is refreshing to hear that the board actually thought it was a good idea to get firefighter input. One reason the group of former BCFD firefighters resigned in mass was because when they brought their concerns to the board meetings, they were told they shouldn’t be there and that they were to go through chain of command and were otherwise made to feel their concerns were of little importance. This new attitude on the part of the board is a big step forward.
  • The board met in a closed session to meet with the two candidates; when they returned Peggy Foster made a motion to appoint Ted Mather as interim chief, stating that at this point they needed someone with both management and leadership qualities to fill this role. It wasn’t very clear, but it appeared all voted for Mather, except Colleen Carnine who opposed. The choice of Mather for interim chief is a great relief to Safety Coalition supporters as folks felt that to appoint Conn would have been a big step back to the difficult times that led to his being recalled from the Board by the voters.
  • Gary Andrews resigned as a firefighter about a month ago. He apparently made a comment about it not being right for someone to be  both be a firefighter and a board member. Denny Guentzel had apparently resigned as a firefighter quite some time ago.
  • With Andrews and Guentzel  off the department, Dave McKee’s departure from both the board and apparently the fire department as well,  and Mike Conn’s recall from the board, there are currently no firefighters on the board. This is great news to the ex-firefighters and their supporters, as they had been asking for that change from the beginning of the recent problems and it’s continuation exacerbated the situation considerably. It would still be nice to see that policy implemented into the Department’s by-laws (as requested by the previous firefighters several month’s prior to their resignation) so that the situation could not happen again.
  • Several Safety Coalition supporters who have attended recent Board meetings have been pleasantly surprised that the atmosphere of the meetings has greatly improved since Jane Lerner took over as Board chair. All reports about her performance have been almost glowingly positive.

 

 

Special Board Meeting Tomorrow Morning at 9:00 a.m. (Friday)!!

NOTICE & AGENDA
Bridger Canyon Rural Fire District
Special Meeting of the Board of Trustees
Meeting Date: Friday, October 24, 9 am
Meeting Place: Bridger Canyon Fire Dept., Community Room
Agenda
Call to Order
Approval of Agenda
Public comment will be taken on each Agenda item prior to motion, discussion and action by
the Board
Discussion of additional information regarding potential Interim Chiefs and Appointment of
Interim Chief
Procedure for selecting a Chief
Fire Chief Job Description
Update on guidelines for equipment requested by Medical Officers
Public comment on issues not on agenda, but within the jurisdiction of the Board (3 minute
limit)
Adjourn

BCFD Fire Chief Resigns

According to someone who was present at the BCFD Board of Trustees meeting last night, Fire Chief Perry Shane resigned. The reasons given for his resignation revolved around “family matters”. It was also reported to me that at a previous Board meeting (either in June or July) Shane had indicated continual difficulty in performing proper radio communication at emergency scenes.

On August 5th, the Board held a special closed meeting to evaluate the Chief. The only information about the results of the evaluation that was reported in the meeting minutes was that there was to be another evaluation in three months. I believe that previously his evaluations had been scheduled for six month periods, if not longer.

Note: While I believe this information is factual, much of it is based on second hand reports and has not been independently verified. Anyone with additional information to support or contradict what is reported here is encouraged to send an email to bcfdsafetycoalition@gmail.com. I am identifying myself as the author of this post because it was not the collaboration of various Safety Coalition members has all previous posts on this blog have been. It is being posted on the Coalition blog because I believe it might be of interest to members.

Larry Blackwood

Bridger Canyon Fire Board Chairman Officially Recalled

Recount confirms recall of Bridger Canyon Fire District chairman

Posted: Friday, May 16, 2014 11:25 am

The Bridger Canyon Rural Fire District board chairman has been officially recalled after a recount of ballots from the May 6 election.

The recount, conducted by Gallatin County Commissioners on Friday morning, confirmed Mike Conn was recalled 195-194.

“I’m not terribly surprised,” Conn said. “It is what it is. We’ll go from there.”

According to the fire district’s bylaws, the County Commission will appoint Conn’s replacement, who will sit until the next regularly scheduled election. Trustees are elected to three-year terms.

Eight supporters of Conn were at the hour-long recount, which took place in the county courthouse in Bozeman. One person from the opposition attended.

Conn said he would continue to serve as the volunteer fire department’s training officer.

“I’ll stay on at the pleasure of the chief. It’s up to him,” Conn said after the recount.

Voters in the May 6 election decided the fates for each of the board’s five trustees individually. Conn was the only board member to be recalled.

Trustees Colleen Carnine (189 votes for recall, 198 against), Margaret Foster (165 for, 205 against), Dennis Guentzel (149 for, 219 against) and Dave McKee (169 for, 216 against) kept their seats.

During a canvass of the election, the Gallatin County Commission unanimously agreed to recount Conn’s recall because of the one vote margin. After a quiet hour of counting and recounting ballots in the county courthouse, the commission voted unanimously again – this time to accept the results of the recount.

For more than a year, a group of Bridger Canyon residents known as the Bridger Canyon Fire District Safety Coalition campaigned to remove the entire board, alleging violations of the public’s trust and Montana’s open meetings law.

“I’m glad to see that it worked out exactly the same way it was originally counted,” said John Maloney, the coalition’s representative at the recount. Maloney has applied to replace Conn.

“As far as I know the coalition is supporting me, but it is up to the county commissioners to decide,” Maloney said.

 

The Sheriff’s Criminal Investigation

We would like to clarify the steps involved in the criminal investigation by the Sheriff’s department into the BCFD fire board’s behavior, and the subsequent “request for prosecution”. This information has been discussed with the Sheriff’s department, to ensure accuracy.

Request for prosecution

  • The Sheriff’s department reviewed information provided as part of a complaint and opened an investigation into the BCFD fire board’s conduct in September 2013.
  •  As part of the investigation, the Sheriff’s department talked to both sides, gathered evidence and facts, reviewed those findings, and compiled all supporting documentation.
  •  The Sheriff’s department determined there was sufficient evidence to file a “request for prosecution” with the county attorney in February 2014.
  • A “request for prosecution” lists potential allegations, potential criminal charges, identifies potential defendants and witnesses, and provides all documentation related to the investigation.
  • The county attorney then decides whether to file criminal charges.

Additional information

  • Sheriff Gootkin attended a special board meeting in March 2014. Reporters from KTVM also attended and interviewed Gootkin after the meeting. During this interview, Gootkin stated, “We gather the facts from both sides of the situation and then we evaluate the evidence and the facts, and if we feel as though that fits the criminal statute, then we submit that to the county attorney’s office, and that’s what we did in this case.” The sheriff’s office today verified that this quote was 100% accurate. To hear the sheriff’s interview, go to http://www.nbcmontana.com/news/investigation-into-bcrfd-board-turned-over-to-county-attorney/25206982
  • Two news stations, KZBK and KTVM, have both reported that the county attorney may choose to file criminal charges based on the Sheriff’s department “request for prosecution” findings.

We hope this information helps correct the inaccuracies presented to you through an email from Marilyn and John Rogers on Tuesday, April 22, on behalf of the trustees. Please exercise your right to vote, and vote “yes” to recall all five trustees of the Bridger Canyon Fire District.

It is time for new leadership that will follow the law, encourage public input into decisions affecting us all, and restore our volunteer firefighting force to the level of competency we enjoyed prior to May 2013. Vote for Franklin Coles and John Maloney as trustees.

Decision to Oust the Chief

One of the facts asserted in the recall petitions is that the Fire Board made a covert decision to oust the Chief. Supporting documentation follows:

  •  Early in the fall of 2012, the Board advertised a facilities maintenance position. Chief Astrom had been working under contract at $26.25/hour to do maintenance for some time. Email correspondence between the Board and the County Attorney’s office show that the Board considered Chief Astrom to be the most qualified person for the salaried position and fully expected to retain him.
  • Also in the fall of 2012, the Board was considering a change to BCRFD policy to allow alcohol in the community room of the Fire Station.  All of the Trustees except Franklin Coles were in favor of allowing alcohol. The Chief, the volunteer firefighters and some community members opposed because of increased risk to safety on the roads and the liability to the District.  On December 3, 2012, following intense scrutiny from the public and the media, the Trustees unanimously voted against allowing alcohol.  Trustees Peggy Foster, Dave McKee, Mike Conn, and Colleen Carnine completely reversed their earlier and consistently stated positions.
  • Just prior to the alcohol vote, on November 28, 2012, an email from Cam Gould was sent to all of the Trustees except Franklin Coles. The email urged Trustees Mike Conn, Peggy Foster, Colleen Carnine and Dave McKee to consider whether the chief was “fit”. (Cam Gould and his wife, Val Gould have been very strong and vocal supporters of allowing alcohol in the community room.) To read this email in its entirety, click here, but in part it says:

 It is important that we eliminate the divisiveness between BCFD and the Citizens. The first step is to allow the democratic process to play. The second would be to eliminate the areas of dissention. This latter involves corrective action. Necessary and possibly sticky, yet opportunities exist for growth both in competency and support if these hard decisions are made.”

  • December 4, 2012 Trustee Dave McKee alerted Trustee Mike Conn just two days after the alcohol vote, to consider the ramifications of initiating a performance review of the Chief on the heels of the alcohol debate: “ I am almost certain this will cause far greater hard feelings…. I just question the timing, only a few days after the alcohol vote and before Christmas”. The fact that the Trustees have suddenly decided to review the Chief, and McKee knows that the review will be negative, before the review is even started, indicates a pre-determined outcome of the yet-to-be-conducted review.
  • In an executive session on December 20th only a few weeks after the alcohol vote, the Board decided to outsource facilities maintenance instead of hiring Chief Astrom. Chief Astrom was not present at this meeting, and the Board did not inform him of this decision.  At this closed session, the Board contrived problems with the Chief’s performance. The Board’s decision to conduct the first Chief’s review in the Department’s history, was not announced to the public, and Trustee, Franklin Coles, was not included in any conversations or emails about this decision prior to this item being listed on the agenda.
  • On January 6, 2013 Board member Franklin Coles pointed out in an email to the other Trustees (Foster, McKee, Carnine and Conn) that there was no public discussion of the decision to implement a performance review of the Chief.
  • A January 16, 2013 email from Dave McKee to Mike Conn indicates that the board decided not to honor their earlier commitment to make the Chief’s job a salaried position.
  • February, 2013 in a contentious Board meeting to discuss the review of the chief, fire fighters and many community members pointed out that the hastily contrived review of Chief Astrom and behind-the-scenes decision to outsource the maintenance position was retaliatory in nature.
  • A special board meeting on March 6, 2013 included two community members who asked the Trustees if they were trying to get rid of the Chief. Trustee Colleen Carnine responded with a vehement, “YES!” No other board members contradicted her claim.
  • On March 7, 2013 in a series of emails, Rick Anderson, an ardent Board supporter, tells Mike Conn that the Chief must improve or be fired.
  • On March 15, 2013 Dave McKee sent an email to Jerry Perkins in which he states that “there is no question that the real division between the Board and the FD is linked almost exclusively to the alcohol issue.” In that same chain of emails, Dave outlined 3 options for Chief Astrom: Astrom can either get the FF to support the Board; relinquish his maintenance and administrative duties; or resign. About the possibility of the Chief resigning, Trustee Dave McKee states “He would certainly take some, maybe all fire fighters with him”.
  • Through March , April and into May of 2013 there were discussions between the Board and the Chief regarding mediation (see the Mediation Timeline for details). A meeting was scheduled with the Chief on May 20 to discuss some personnel issues. In the days leading up to that meeting, the Board clearly expected to force the Chief’s resignation. For example:

On May 16, 2013, a week before Chief Astrom resigned, when mediation in good faith was absolutely essential to District safety, Trustee Carnine stated by email “If the firefighters have a problem with what we are proposing for the Mediation, too bad. It is time to draw the proverbial line in the sand…This has come to a point of no return and this is a fence that can no longer be mended with  the chief.” 

On May 18, 2013, Trustee McKee wrote to Trustee Conn about the liability risk to the Board if all the firefighters left the department and someone’s house burned. McKee   suggested looking at increasing the department’s coverage.

On May 19, 2013, in a series of emails, the Board discusses giving the county and their mutual aid partners “a heads up as to what is happening and what could be a result” of the May 20th meeting with the Chief.

Board members were making decisions affecting our safety behind the scenes including the decision to oust the Chief.  Colleen Carnine was very clear when she told a community member that the Board’s goal was to get rid of the chief. The Board’s own communications indicate that prior to the alcohol vote, the Board was satisfied with the chief. However, immediately following that vote, the Board secretly and without consulting Trustee Franklin Coles, decided to review the chief, decided to outsource maintenance and administration, and engaged in a pattern of hostility so severe that they succeeded in their endeavors, to the detriment of every person in the District.

Trustees Peggy Foster, Dave McKee, Mike Conn and Colleen Carnine claim there were performance issues with Chief Astrom, but even if there were legitimate issues, they failed to make them known or address them constructively. Their poor management led to the resignation of a highly respected chief and over 80% of a highly trained and experienced volunteer force. Management that loses over 80% of a skilled workforce (whether volunteer or not) should lose their job as well.

Vote to recall these Trustees and elect Franklin Coles and John Maloney–qualified leaders who value the contributions of our greatest asset – our volunteer firefighters.

He Said, She Said

In our recent post on the Trustees and their supporters’ exclusivity in regard to who they consider important in the district, we reported on a statement made by a reporter at KTVM. There were two Safety Coalition representatives at that meeting and they both believe what was stated in the blog post was accurate. Yet Trustee Peggy Foster took exception to that and has reported to have obtained an email from the Executive Producer at KTVM denying what the reporter said.

It seems a bit curious that the reporter in question chose not to comment himself on the accuracy of our report and we find it difficult to believe that Peggy Foster actually polled all the Trustees as well as their supporters to confirm no one made those statements. This obviously has become a “he said, she said” controversy, which is exactly what we’ve strived to avoid in our posts.

Our goal in getting our message out to District residents is to offer either statements based on confirmable evidence which we reference (and often provide copies of pertinent documents), or if it’s an editorial opinion about an event, that we make it clear that it is our interpretation of the situation. Our statement of what we believe the reporter relayed to us clearly does not meet that standard. As such we are taking down that blog post.

We apologize for not sticking to our standards and will strive even harder to do so in the future.