Truckee Fire board votes to cut ties with Chief Bryce Keller
TRUCKEE and#8212; After weeks of controversy surrounding issues from town permits to ambulance positioning to alleged open meeting law violations, the Truckee Fire board has decided to part ways with Chief Bryce Keller.
After a four-hour closed session at Tuesday night’s Truckee Fire Protection District Board of Directors meeting, legal counsel Brent Collinson announced the board had voted 4-1 on three items: to give Keller notice of non-renewal of his contract, which is up Dec. 28 of this year; to retain Michael Colantuano as special counsel for employment issues; and to put Keller on paid administrative leave, effective immediately, until further notice.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Keller declined comment.
Board Chair Ben Malone said the majority of the board feels the district is moving in another direction and is no longer in line with Keller’s vision and#8212; but he stressed the actions made was not a form of punishment.
and#8220;I did not make this decision lightly and it was one of the hardest, if not the hardest decisions that our board has ever had to make,and#8221; Malone said in a written response Thursday to the Sierra Sun. and#8220;I do want to assure the citizens of Truckee Fire that we will continue to operate and provide them with the same excellent service they have had all along.and#8221;
On each of the three votes, directors Malone, Ron Perea, Bob Snyder and Gary Waters voted in favor, and Director Joe Straub Jr. voted against, Collinson said.
Deputy Chief Bob Bena becomes acting fire chief, effective immediately, Collinson said, and the board will have to decide next steps in finding and selecting a permanent replacement.
and#8220;This will be discussed at our next board meeting,and#8221; Malone wrote. and#8220;As one of five board members, I can’t imagine not wanting to move forward, but until then, I have complete confidence in our staff to keep doing the job they have been doing all along.and#8221;
The next board meeting is scheduled for July 20.
Malone said he couldn’t discuss what was covered in the closed session, but said it covered all aspects of Keller’s performance as chief.
Jim Porter, a local attorney who’s been publicly critical of both the chief and the board, said the board should also be held accountable.
and#8220;It is time for new blood on the fire board. By years of benign neglect, they allowed Chief Keller to seriously damage the department, hurting the dedicated fire personnel and our community,and#8221; Porter said in an e-mail to the Sun.
The Sierra Sun was unable to reach Straub, Snyder, Perea and Waters Wednesday or Thursday for comment for this story.
About 30 to 40 people attended Tuesday’s meeting and#8212; which wrapped up at about 11:20 p.m. and#8212; to hear discussion on recent controversial issues, including plans to open a temporary fire station during current construction on the Glenshire station upgrade, and the district’s move to place a Truckee ambulance in Olympic Valley earlier this spring.
The Glenshire issue didn’t draw public comment. Bena said with permits filed with the town after some debate, construction is going smoothly.
and#8220;It appears to be moving along really well,and#8221; Bena said.
As to the ambulance issue, Malone said he met with North Tahoe Fire and Squaw Valley Fire, as arranged by Sierra Sacramento Valley EMS, the area ambulance authority, to discuss the Olympic Valley dispute.
and#8220;I think the meeting went very well,and#8221; Malone said.
Chuck Thomas of the fire district presented figures demonstrating the shortfall in ambulance revenue that could hit the district if Squaw Valley Fire and Northstar Fire both started their own ambulance services. Squaw Chief Pete Bansen disputed that likelihood, calling it a and#8220;doomsday scenario.and#8221;
and#8220;I think it’s pretty unlikely both Squaw Valley and Northstar are going to go into the ambulance business,and#8221; Bansen said. and#8220;These are Chicken Little economics; this is just not realistic.and#8221;
He added that he figured, using Truckee’s numbers, staffing an ambulance in Olympic Valley 24/7 would net a loss of $370,000 for Truckee, almost as much as what Truckee projected in losses if Squaw and Northstar started their own ambulance services.
Bansen said he thought he’d come up with a fair way for Truckee and North Tahoe to share calls, and therefore revenue, from Olympic Valley, but Rodney Dyche, special counsel to the district, pointed out it wasn’t Bansen’s place to divvy up ambulance responses.
Directors Malone and Snyder volunteered to form an ad-hoc committee on the ambulance issue.
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