WESTFIELD - A variety of decisions by the Board of Fire Commissioners at its July 3 meeting tightened the body's control of the village volunteer fire department.
Commissioners decided to appoint Jud Storms and Marsha Holland as the department's treasurer and secretary respectively, virtually prohibit alcoholic beverages at the fire house and impose new accounting and money-handling procedures on the department.
Storms and Holland were elected by fire department members, but commission chairman Barry Underwood last month ruled the direct election void. Now, he said, the commission will make appointments acting as an "executive committee"
Storms and Holland were unanimously appointed after Fire Chief Steve Pacanowski told commissioners the department had decided "to stick with them".
Mayor David Carr during public comment time promised to fully cooperate with the new treasurer no matter past disagreements between the two. Storms has opposed the mayor in the last two elections.
"I'm ready to do this job," Storms said. Outgoing treasurer Ed Kneer said "all records will be turned over (to Storms)"
On another matter Underwood announced a virtual ban of alcoholic drinks at the Clinton Street fire headquarters. "We need to address the alcohol policy of the fire department," he said. The changes have to be made because of insurance policy requirements, according to Underwood.
Chief Pacanowski asked if the prohibition applied to meetings and drill nights and Underwood said it did.
If a special occasion arises special permission will have to be sought by members from the fire commission, Underwood added.
Underwood announced he has what he called a "draft" audit of the fire department finances compiled by the state comptroller's office. Commissioners, department chiefs and the department treasurer have until the nineteenth of this month to make comments and suggestions, he said. The final audit, a public document, is expected later this year.
Underwood claimed the draft audit vindicated many of the changes ordered by the fire commission during its first 14 months of activity. "One thing I feel good about is we've made some good decisions," he said.
Underwood expressed optimism about the commission's management of the fire department saying, "We're moving forward to correct things and they will be corrected. These (are) common-sense solutions that this board has put together. Things are going to be chugging ahead full speed."
Mayor Carr used his public comment time to praise the department's quick response when a village electric service truck recently caught fire, but also to question published statements by members of the Exempts.
Holding a copy of the May 24th edition of this newspaper the mayor asked exempt members present at the meeting, "What money are we (the village) trying to take?"
Jim Pacanowski said the mayor and fire commission are attempting to control money which belongs to the exempts.
"We're not trying to get into your accounts," the mayor responded, but added, "There's going to be accountability."
Chairman Underwood said the commission had received "no answers" from the exempts concerning money given to the fire department. "There's no answers there," he said.
Both Carr and Underwood believe the exempt association is so closely connected with the fire department that fund raising efforts and results are blurred. Both have repeatedly stated that a strict separation must be maintained between the two groups.
As a result this past Sunday's Ox Roast saw the implementation of various measures including cash lock boxes, ledger sheets and cost sharing.
Going forward Underwood noted the exempts will no longer be allowed to front money for department fund raising efforts at the annual arts and crafts show. Now the department's three fire companies will self-fund such efforts and collect all proceeds.
Storms requested a meeting with Underwood as a result of the many changes, "I as new treasurer want to have accurate numbers," he said. Storms said he wanted to be sure that everyone was working from the same baseline figures to reach "mutual understanding"
Near the end of the meeting Marsha Holland asked again if the commission would allow the exempts to hold meetings in the fire house. She repeated that department members had voted three to one in favor of returning exempt business meetings to Clinton St.
Underwood responded that Commissioner John Belcher wasn't present and he wanted the input of the full board on the question.