More public participation with Penn Valley fire board, please
November 14, 2013
Well now, it's our turn. I'm sure the drama being played out in the Penn Valley Fire District has some of you curious, some disgusted and some outright angry. Hopefully the answers will come from a higher source.
What got this mess started is, I know lots of people and have lots of friends in the firefighting profession. In discussions with some of them, I found out about a disagreement over a mutual aid agreement between a neighboring district and Penn Valley.
I went to the September PVFPD board meeting only to witness disrespect, dismissal and delay by the board toward the representatives of that district regarding their concerns. Soon after that, these representatives left the meeting in total disgust and disbelief.
After witnessing how our chief and the board treated our neighboring district's chief and captain, I raised my hand and asked a question: "What do you do to encourage the public to attend these board meetings?" And I added that it would be in everyone's best interest if the public knew what goes on at these meetings.
... everyone who has been following this situation go to these public meetings and see for yourself what’s going on. A lack of involvement is destroying us.
With that, one of the board members laughed in replying, "Well, everybody out there is happy or they would complain to the chief and he would submit it to us, and we would resolve the problem."
I was told that they advertise about the meetings in the local paper (although I myself have never seen anything other than the chief's column). With this, I got up and left the meeting.
After that board meeting, I started talking to people I know in the district about why they should attend the meetings and know how the board is conducting the district's business. As a result, about 15 to 20 people, mostly from old ranching families, business owners, neighbors and friends — people who are well-known pillars of the community — attended the October board meeting.
Needless to say, the chief and the board appeared to be shocked at having to put out more chairs and having so many people attend the meeting. It just got worse from there.
As witnessed and described by the reporter from The Union newspaper, the citizens asked questions of the board that were not inappropriate, but the chief was unable or unwilling to answer. The board members took an aggressive position, acting as if they were above reproach, and started to lash out at the questions that were being asked by citizens who had a right to ask these questions — and which should have been easily answered by the chief and the board if their house was in proper order.
I guess I need not mention what an eye- opener this was to the people who attended that meeting.
Now where does this all go from here? Well, you have witnessed it in three newspapers, on the radio and in letters to the editor. For the last month, the board members and the chief have participated in a group-effort campaign of retaliation toward one person (which would be me) out of a group of people who were asking questions at that meeting.
In three letters from three different board members, I was described as being a disgruntled ex-PCF firefighter. ("Hide your women! Hide your children! He's disgruntled!") What a demeaning little word! Its definition means that you disagree and you're angry. With that I confess. The remark by the board of being "bushwacked": this is their view of citizens attending the meeting and asking questions that they should have had the answers to but didn't. That's taking the low road.
I also was described as "having an ax to grind," and they are right. I knew going into this that these people would react like this and, believe me, they sure never let me down. The way that they have treated this whole situation shows how dysfunctional and unprofessional they are.
One other issue that needs to be dealt with: I've been described as "disgruntled" and "having an ax to grind," but one of the board members, in his letter published by The Union, signed by him with his title of PVFD board member, made wrong assertions about me when he wrote of my work for the PVFD as a PCF. One of his incorrect statements was: "He quit the district in 2005 because of differences with the department policy and his inability to accept direction from anyone."
Whoa! I asked for and obtained a copy of my personal file, and I'll open it to anyone. Other than damaging an extraction tool during training, there is not one reprimand anywhere. The board member needs to show what backs up that statement, and it had better have merit.
On Oct. 31, before noon, well before the cut-off time, I put in a request in writing to be scheduled a slot on the November board meeting agenda. I have a signed and stamped receipt for this request, which states:
"RE: November's Fire Board Meeting
"Members of the Penn Valley constituency of the PVFPD are requesting a slot on the agenda for the November 2013 Fire Board Meeting to discuss items brought up in the October 2013 meeting.
"Please acknowledge receipt of this request. (signed) Bill Gassaway"
My request was denied, with no explanation.
These are my hopes from getting involved in this: that news sources, instead of feeding into this drama, would help resolve it; and more importantly, that everyone who has been following this situation go to these public meetings and see for yourself what's going on.
A lack of involvement is destroying us.
Bill Gassaway lives in Penn Valley.