Truckee fire board names interim chief, vows to make selection process public
TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; After a series of controversies over the last few months, it appears the Truckee fire board is trying to be more open and transparent as it moves forward with Bob Bena as its interim fire chief.
The decision to hire Bena and#8212; former deputy chief and#8212; as the interim chief, comes on the heels of last month’s decision not to renew Chief Bryce Keller’s contract, and to put him on paid administrative leave. The agenda for Tuesday’s board meeting included two items and#8212; appointment of a new fire chief and public employee and#8220;discipline/dismissal/releaseand#8221; and#8212; but the board reported no action on either of those items.
After Tuesday’s closed session, board Chair Ben Malone said the board decided not to take action on hiring a permanent fire chief until the relationship with Keller is resolved, and that when the process does begin, it will be public. The board voted in the public session to name Bena interim chief.
and#8220;Everything said here today will be taken wholeheartedly,and#8221; said board member Gary Waters. and#8220;We are here to serve the public and we will continue to serve the public.and#8221;
Keller was not present Tuesday. In a letter read into the record, Keller said he hadn’t been contacted by the board since June 17, and hadn’t received any and#8220;due processand#8221; regarding possible discipline, dismissal or release.
In the letter, he said absent any action taken by the board, he plans to retire at the end of his contract, at the end of the year.
Truckee resident and attorney Jim Porter said he didn’t think the board should have discussed naming Bena the interim chief in closed session when the agenda said and#8220;public employee appointment title: Fire chief,and#8221; but said the board seemed to be making progress toward being open and transparent to the public.
and#8220;The board just can’t seem to get it right, but they seem to be trying finally,and#8221; Porter said.
Other audience members agreed that the board seemed to be doing a better job, applauding the recent move to put board meeting agendas and attachments on its website, http://www.truckeefire.org.
Pat Davison, executive director of the Contractors Association of Truckee Tahoe, said these actions were the first steps in a and#8220;paradigm shiftand#8221; for the district, but said she didn’t support the continued payment of Keller while on leave.
Janette Conradson, a Truckee resident, questioned the board on the district’s relationship with Switchback Public Relations and Attorney Rodney Dyche, both of whom were hired by Keller.
and#8220;We haven’t had another word with them,and#8221; Waters said of Switchback. and#8220;We’re on top of things now.and#8221;
The board decided to stay on retainer with Dyche, as the California Emergency Medical Services Authority recently rejected the district’s application for an exclusive operating area for ambulance services.
and#8220;It was a sad state of affairs to read this letter,and#8221; said Board Member Bob Snyder, referring to the state’s denial of the EOA. and#8220;There’s your state government at work everybody.and#8221;
Squaw Valley Fire Chief Pete Bansen, who opposed the EOA because it included his district, said maybe Truckee would have better luck not including Squaw and Northstar.
But he said it might not be worth going after until another agency threatens to put competing ambulance services in Truckee’s operating area.
That issue first came to a head earlier this spring when Keller rented a condominium in Olympic Valley to station an ambulance there 24/7, alarming Squaw Valley Fire, North Tahoe Fire and other agencies.
Bena said the district tried to get out of the lease in Olympic Valley, but the owner didn’t let them out of the lease. According to Bena, the owner said the condo was put up for sale, and if it sells it would release the district from the lease.
The board also authorized Bena to sign papers for the purchase of the future site of Station 90, paying about $1.2 million to the town of Truckee for property between Donner Pass Road, Interstate 80 and Glenshire Drive.
The property is shared with a new U.S. Forest Service Ranger station and is the planned site for the town’s new corporation (equipment) yard and animal shelter.
The board also authorized Bena to sign the renewed Lake Tahoe Regional Chiefs Mutual Aid Agreement, which provides free mutual aid to participating districts in the area for a minimum of 24 hours.