“This place is gonna rumble” -Crowd member
An agenda item that appeared on the October 8th meeting of the Buckskin Fire District Board drew a strong response from members of the public, and led to one person being asked to leave the meeting.
“Approve/Deny to Promote, Demote, Hire, Terminate, Reprimand, Appraise or Suspend Chris Chambers, Fire Chief”, agenda item 16, was the reason for a packed meeting that evening, and for the heated exchanges that occurred as people came to the defense of Chief Chambers.
“The average number of people at our meetings is 5 or 6 maybe,” said board member Greg Bachmann afterwards. And at this one? “I’m guessing 50.”
The elected board, which controls the $1.9 million budget of the Buckskin Fire Department, is made up of 5 people: Greg Bachmann, Jeff Daniel, Robert Gory, Monty Rust and Gary Svider.
Most of the comments made during the meeting’s Call to the Public were about the good job the speakers thought Buckskin Fire Department were doing, citing examples of lives saved and property protected.
“100 percent of the people here support the fantastic chief of our fire department.” -Barry Gerson
Board member Jeff Daniel admitted that he added the item, and defended its addition to the agenda without giving a reason.
“I’m the one who put it on the agenda, so if anybody wants to know, my name is Jeff Daniel,” he said. “I’m also a taxpayer within the District, been a taxpayer for over 20 years at this time. It’s nice that we finally get people who are concerned about what’s going on within the district.”
Daniel said he was concerned about the “direction” of the District and how it was being run. When a member of the public asked him why, he replied, “I don’t need to give reasons or grounds. There’s a reason for why we’re doing this. I feel it’s time for the District and the Fire Department and the Board to go in a different direction. So I’m not going to elaborate on anything else. The reason why I put this on the [agenda] is I’m going to make a motion to terminate Fire Chief Chris Chambers.”
Hearing that, the assembled crowd erupted.
Local business owner John Mihelich spoke up from the crowd: “Oh boy, I need to make a comment here.” Chairman Gary Svider responded, telling him he could not speak. “I think I probably could,” Mihelich replied. Svider retort: “You cannot make a comment.”
After a further statement from Mihelich, Svider asked him to leave, but several moments later allowed Pat Jones to speak from the crowd instead. Jones was one of the few in attendance who spoke in support of Daniel’s motion.
“Yeah this is a comment to the individuals in this room, and I’m probably not going to make a lot of friends.”
An unidentified speaker from the crowd: “You’re not!”
“If you were here to see the amount of information this board has requested from staff and never gotten it,” Jones continued. “If you were around in the budget meetings to see the board ask this staff for information on how much it costs Big Red to leave the barn, no response. […] The point is, you people are talking but you’ve never been to a board meeting, you don’t hear how frustrating it is for this board to establish a cost for anything when they get a dog and pony show constantly on how the funding happens.”
The meeting got loud as verbal altercations happened, with some questioning why Jones was giving his reasons but not Daniel, who added item 16. Others asked if it was personal.
“You wanna see my tax bill? You wanna talk about that?” – Pat Jones
Former board member Ken Tipton had a rebuttal for Jones: “I want to say that I was on the board and I quit the board because of one of the board members and Pat Jones.”
Earlier in the meeting, Tipton had accused the board members of breaching Arizona Open Meeting Law, which states that board members must discuss everything in the open and not behind closed doors.
“In order for you all to put something on an agenda that is to be discussed in an open meeting, you would think that you had discussed it, which is against the law. […] So I’m curious how this got on the agenda. Anybody want to ‘fess up to it?”
Svider said he had not seen the item before or known about it.
Ultimately the agenda item was removed when Robert Rust made a motion to remove it without voting on item 16 itself. It was seconded by Greg Bachmann. The vote to remove item 16 was 3-2 in favor, with only Daniel and Svider against. There was loud applause when the removal passed.
UPDATE: John Mihelich has organized a ‘Meet The Candidates’-style event featuring a Q&A session with the invited candidates running for seats on the Buckskin Fire Board. The event is scheduled for October 30th at 5:30pm at the boathouse. Ballots for the midterm election November 4th have 6 listed candidates running for 2 seats: Jay Clagg, Glenda Gerson, Bob Gory, Dennise Jones, Pat Jones and Gary Svider.