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Orcas Island Fire & Rescue lieutenants send letter of no confidence to Fire Commission

The volunteer lieutenants of Orcas Island Fire & Rescue sent the following letter to the OIFR Commission of no confidence in new Fire Commissioners Brian Ehrmantraut, Randy Gaylord, and Kathryn Hansen. Records are posted on OIF&R website.

Commissioners,

We are sending this letter on behalf of the volunteer lieutenants of OIFR. This is a difficult letter to send but it is the result of lengthy discussion, deliberation and analysis.

The volunteer officers of San Juan Fire Protection District 2, hereby submit this letter of No Confidence in Commissioners Ehrmantraut, Gaylord and Hansen. We have serious concerns about their performance, ability, and intent to fulfill their sworn oath to “faithfully and impartially perform and discharge the duties of the office of commissioner, according to the law and the best of (their) ability.”

We have come to this No Confidence conclusion based on the following actions and inactions of the commission:

Failure to engage and communicate with the broad public, staff, volunteers, or Chief in a timely manner to plan a levy strategy.

Prioritizing relatively immaterial issues to the exclusion of urgent business regarding budgeting, staffing, and functionality of our fleet.

Voting to squander significant funds to conduct a legal review of the chief’s contract, despite overwhelming community opposition demonstrated in public comments. This poses a risk to critical leadership and corporate knowledge, damages the district’s ability to attract and hire future leaders, diverts attention and funds from pressing business, and may result in the departure of a competent, collaborative, caring, dedicated, and respected leader.

As supporting evidence, we cite the following specifics:

1. Unwillingness to learn about the department that they took an oath to support.

a. The new Commissioners have failed to take the initiative to learn about the department. During a recent BOFC meeting, Chief vanSchaick describes the deleterious effect of the Commissioners not learning about the department. [BOFC meeting on 1/2/2024: recording at 41:52.]

b. The Commissioners have refused to schedule a BOFC training designed for newly appointed Board members so they can learn about OIFR. Commissioner Hansen asked questions about the Board’s responsibilities and delegation of responsibilities, then Chief vanSchaick made remarks about the proposed training and its removal from the 1/16/2024 agenda. [BOFC meeting on 1/16/2024: recording at 1:46:10 and 1:47:40, respectively. Discussion about not rescheduling the training is at 2:22:28.]

2. Non-collaborative and disrespectful treatment of Chief Holly vanSchaick and other OIFR employees and volunteers.

a. Within a month of the new Board members being sworn in, the attitudes and behavior of the Board contributed to the resignations of three staff members who filled key positions, announced at the 12/18/2023 meeting. In addition, the Board Secretary resigned during the 1/16/2024 meeting. All resignations specifically cited the conduct of Commissioner Gaylord as contributing to their decisions. [The Board Secretary resignation [BOFC meeting on 1/16/2024: recording at 30:49.]

b. OIFR staff, volunteers, and the public have witnessed disrespectful treatment of Chief Holly vanSchaick, routinely displayed at Board meetings by not allowing the Chief to speak or comment on topics on which she is a subject matter expert. [BOFC meeting on 1/2/2024: recording at 42:30 demonstrates one example. Also hear Commissioner Fuller’s comments about this on 1/16/2024 at the 2:00 mark.]

c. Considering the budget and other urgent challenges facing the fire district, Commissioners Ehrmantraut, Gaylord and Hansen seem unduly focused on nullifying the contract of Chief vanSchaick. It appears to many to be a personal vendetta against her; their biases are evident throughout several meetings. Commissioner Fuller summed up his observations of this at the January 16, 2024 meeting. [BOFC meeting on 1/16/24: recording at 1:51:02.]

d. Commissioners Ehrmantraut, Gaylord and Hansen on 1/16/2024 voted to allocate up to $20,000.00 for legal services to review the contract of Chief Holly vanSchaick. [BOFC meeting on 1/16/24: recording at 2:16:00.] They ignored overwhelming public comment against the motion to allocate funds for legal review of Chief vanSchaick’s employment contract. [BOFC meeting on 1/16/24: comments recorded at the beginning of the meeting and again at 1:58:20.]

e. When called by volunteers, Commissioner Chair Ehrmantraut does not return phone calls. [Personal observation of Lt. Anthony Simpson on January 15, 2024]

3. Poor use of time during and between meetings, with an inability or unwillingness to prioritize urgent budgetary, personnel, safety, and operational issues facing the department.

a. The BOFC has made essentially no progress in preparing a levy for the April 2024 San Juan County ballot, despite numerous “special meetings” at additional cost to the district. After agreeing on a timeline for preparation of the April levy during the 1/16/2024 BOFC meeting, Commissioner Gaylord admitted “I’m concerned about the 5th being too late almost.” [BOFC meeting on 1/16/2024: recording at 1:13:14.]

b. The Board spent time during three different meetings discussing the purchase of new laptops and cell phones for the commissioners, despite testimony that the district could not budget for these and is currently even deferring maintenance on fire apparatus. [See this issue listed on several previous BOFC meeting agendas.]

4. Burdening an already overworked and under-resourced OIFR staff with tasks that can wait until above referenced urgent priorities have been addressed.

5. a. Assigning staff, on 11/29/2023, to research and report on software alternatives to enhance the agenda distribution of materials for board meetings.

b. Assigning staff to research and report on hiring the county auditor’s office to take over the district’s bookkeeping, despite the Chief describing how that historically was not an effective strategy. The board then declined to give Chief vanSchaick the opportunity to present prepared information on the topic. [BOFC meeting on 1/2/2024: recording at 47:26]

c. Commissioner Gaylord has initiated repeated Public Records requests with unclear goals as to why, costing additional legal fees and excessive amounts of staff time to fulfill said requests. One such request is referenced during public comment. [BOFC meeting on 1/2/2024: recording at 6:51]

We request that the Board of Fire Commissioners take immediate and appropriate action to address the issues raised herein. We request a prompt response to this letter of No Confidence and anticipate that necessary measures can and will be taken to safeguard the district’s well-being. Please contact our appointed representative, Greg Sawyer, by January 26, 2024 to discuss steps to restore our confidence in your oversight of the district, interest in the morale and work environments of OIFR members, and the safety of the public.

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