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Maureen See: San Juan Island Fire & Rescue District is in crisis

  • Written by Maureen See

Maureen See of San Juan Island read this statement during the public comment period at the April 13 (rescheduled from April 11) Fire Commission Board meeting.

I am here because I considered running for the Fire Commissioner seat to be vacated by Albert Olson. I was encouraged by Albert to run for his seat. I met with both Frank Cardinale and Dwight Colley last year while exploring the role of the Commissioners and their relationship to the department. Both Frank and Albert agreed that a woman’s perspective would be a good thing for the Fire Commission.

This year I began attending meetings including a workshop in early March designed to provide an overview of the department’s fiscal picture and operations review. I was alarmed at the information presented, and further astonished that the Commissioners did not ask relevant questions about the state of the department.

The department is in crisis: revenue & expenses are growing further apart, volunteers are in short supply, development of an EMS unit within fire is depleting resources, and morale is dangerously low. After the workshop I spoke with all three of you about these issues and more. YOU AGREED the situation was bad. Albert asked me to broker info between the three of you: the need for an Executive Session; AND the need to invite staff into the Session to hear and express their concerns.

Instead you had a Special Executive Session (improperly noticed and executed) AND you included the Chief in the Session. You refused to speak with staff.

Concurrently, you received a report from the volunteer officers addressing their views that included a vote of no confidence in the Chief. The Volunteer officers requested an Exec Session with you to further explain their points of view. You dismissed it entirely, refusing to meet with them.

You even admitted that you made a decision,or better yet, you cut a deal with the Chief prior to the Executive Session. YOU VIOLATED THE OPMA AND MOST IMPORTANTLY YOU VIOLATED YOUR OATH OF OFFICE. Don’t be surprised if a complaint is made to the PDC that could result in fines to all of you AND a reversal of any/all decisions made in the Exec Session.

I realize that I, like others, are genuinely pissed off at the Fire Commission. You, the Fire Commission, have consistently shown a lack of leadership, lack of transparency, not only demonstrating complicity with the Chief but you have enabled him in a variety of critical errors. You operated in cloaked secrecy, as if no one noticed. You failed to provide oversight of the Chief and neglected your budgetary and policy responsibility which has led to the crisis the department now faces.

Chair Frank Cardinale, your personal relationship with the Chief is an egregious conflict of interest. You chose that friendship over the protection of the fire department and that is unforgivable. I ask that you resign from this commission immediately.

After all of this, I have decided not to run for a full term on the Fire Commission. However, I will be submitting my request to finish Albert Olson’s term of office, which expires in December 2023. I do so because I intend to be part of the solution not the problem. I believe I can help and heal some of the damage that has occurred on your watch.

There is one thing I must insist upon: if you dare appoint the former chair of this commission to complete Albert’s term, (HOLD the CONTRACT UP) I promise you there will be repercussions because of this atrocious, blatant and outrageous CONTRACT provided by the Chief, for the Chief , with no regard for the department, and which YOU SIGNED! (Commissioner Colley exception).

My final thought, I cannot imagine why you thought no one was paying attention to your actions, or rather lack of action. That is arrogant. I must remind you that YOU DO NOT REPORT TO THE CHIEF. You report to the voters and we are speaking out.

I want this statement to be attached to the minutes of today’s meeting.

Maureen See