Election 2010: Truckee fire candidates wrestle with district’s image issues
TRUCKEE, Calif. – Issues surrounding the Truckee Fire Protection District board and the dismissal of its previous chief came to a head on Tuesday, as election candidates gathered in a one-hour question-and-answer period at town council chambers.
With incumbent Ben Malone absent, four of the five candidates seeking the three open seats were present, including Malone’s fellow incumbent Joseph Straub and challengers Paul Wilford, Victor Hernandez and Gerald Herrick.
After the summer’s controversial issues consisting of town permits, ambulance positioning and alleged open meeting law violations that in turn led to a 4-1 vote to relegate former Chief Bryce Keller to paid leave, image and transparency was an overarching theme during the night.
The first question asked candidates if the fire district has lost touch with the community and, as a result, must rectify its image.
Wilford said he saw difficulties but did not see the district as failing to provide necessary services.
“I think the district is in good shape, is under good leadership, has good skills and we have an excellent fire department that is not broken,” said Wilford. “The perception came about during the troubled times over the summer when the relationship with the past chief broke down and there was a reorganization and rebuilding time.”
Straub defended the board and the district.
“I think Truckee Fire has always been very transparent in its business and all their public meetings and listened to comments from everybody and to their concerns,” Straub said. “I think Truckee fire is healthy and I think it will continue to be healthy.”
Hernandez said while the district’s firefighters are doing a good job, the board’s image needs an overhaul.
“The problem with this question of lost touch or image is at the board level. I believe the board was not aware and fully immersed into what was happening and at a certain point they became non-transparent,” said Hernandez, a retired firefighter-paramedic. “We had no idea what was going on with the board, there were decisions being made and the chief was subsequently placed on administrative leave.”
Herrick said there have been difficulties with the board, but that the public views the district as a whole in a good light.
“The public has confidence in their firefighters and in their interim fire chief (Bob Bena),” Herrick said. “The issue has been with relationship between the board and their previous fire chief … and with a lack of information being presented to the general public.”
The Brown Act and financial constraints posed to the district were also discussed during the forum. In both of these issues candidates were unanimous in their responses, voicing support for the Brown Act – the open meeting law requiring public announcement of actions taken in closed session – and agreeing finances are the major issue confronting the district over the next four years.
Candidates also were asked if they agreed with the early release of Keller. A summary of their answers are below:
Wilford: “All action taken with the past chief was done in closed session and we will never be privy to what happened there … I think it was the right thing to do.”
Straub: “It was all done in executive session. As a board member, I can not discuss what took place in executive session.”
Hernandez: “I totally agree. The board was not informed what the fire chief was doing. Since there has been the dismissal of the fire chief, we’ve had an excellent interim chief.”
Herrick: “Yes, I agree with the early release of the chief. I was in favor.”
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