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Fire commission voids WFD elections

June 20, 2012
By DAVE O’CONNOR - CORRESPONDENT ( , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

WESTFIELD - The election of two officers by members of the Westfield Fire Department just a month ago was declared "null and void" by unanimous vote of the village's Board of Fire Commissioners at the board's regular monthly meeting Tuesday, June 5.

Board Chairman Barry Underwood said board members had only recently learned the power to elect such officers as secretary and treasurer resides with the fire department's Executive Committee. Asked what comprises that committee Underwood replied, "Pretty much it's the chiefs and us (the fire commission)."

The move means Marsha Holland and Judd Storms are no longer secretary and treasurer respectively.

Article Photos

Photo by Dave O’Connor
Village of Westfield fire commissioners hear from long-time firefighter Cliff Brown, standing, during the public comment portion of the Board of Fire Commissioner’s meeting on Tuesday, June 5. Members of the board seated, from left to right, are John Belcher, Chairman Barry Underwood and Dave Spann.

Long-time fireman Ed Kneer rose to object to overriding a vote by the department membership.

"We have a nice fire department here - let's keep it that way," Kneer said.

"I don't see why you care who we elect," former department chief Lyle Holland said.

"Who said we did," Underwood responded.

He explained a study of the department by-laws indicated there are no at-large elections for certain offices.

"I wish I had taken time to research that a month ago," Underwood said.

Time for public comment was the last item on the meeting agenda, but members of the commission and public talked back and forth for much of the hour and 45 minute meeting.

Veteran fireman Cliff Brown rose several times in exchanges with Underwood. Brown argued that the department's by-laws shouldn't be decided or interpreted by the commissioners.

"You're appointed, you are not elected," Brown said. "You're really doing away with a lot."

"Your by-laws have to conform to the rules we set," Underwood said, adding local fire commissions have broad governing power under state regulations. "That's just the way it is."

In other developments, a motion was tabled that, if passed, would end the public posting of individual firefighter's point totals, which are used to measure active participation. The motion was tabled "for 60 to 90 days further study" after public objections. The proposal would place point totals in the hands of department chiefs on a quarterly basis.

Any member with a 40 percent or lower score would meet with their chief. Points are used in the department to compile a rating score. A 33 1/3 percent score is the minimum required, but a 40 percent mark "raises concerns," according to department protocol.

Lyle Holland objected to the change.

"Without the point system on the wall we don't know if our (line) officers are answering calls," he said.

Commissioners learned members of the fire department passed a motion at their meeting Monday, June 4 to once again allow the Exempt Volunteers Association to hold meetings in the fire house. The vote was pass by a three to one margin in favor, according to Marsha Holland.

Commissioner Dave Spann said he wouldn't object, "as long as business is kept separate."

Holland said the plan was to hold fire department meetings first, take a break and then convene the Exempts meeting. She noted only two Exempt members who were not also fire department members attended the previous night's meeting.

"I do have a problem with it," Underwood said. "You're two separate organizations. There's too much co-mingling. There's too much influence at the fire hall by the exempts."

Underwood was supported by commissioners John Belcher and Rick Raynor with Spann dissenting. Commissioner Jack Rabb was absent.

At both the start and end of the meeting, Chairman Underwood made plain his disagreement with assertions the commission seeks to control the Exempts or take funds from the group. Responding to quotes to the contrary which appeared in the article "Two organizations, one disagreement" in this newspaper's May 24, 2012 edition, Underwood said the commission recognizes the Exempts are separate from the fire department and wants the community to realize that fact as well.

Underwood read a letter praising the department's role in rendering aid to a "6 year-old non-responsive girl."

"Congratulations to all of you for doing what you're doing," he told department members present at the meeting.



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