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Candidate caught in the middle

Al Hoffmeyer is playing human balance beam as he runs for re election to the Ophir Hill Fire Protection District board of directors.

First he agreed to let a fellow incumbent, Lois Engel, print both their names on re-election signs.

3I said, OLois, that1s fine, go ahead.1²



Planted throughout Cedar Ridge, they1re hard to miss.

Then, as part of his balancing act, Hoffmeyer asked candidate Jeff Wagner, a former Ophir Hill chief, to paint election signs naming Wagner and Hoffmeyer.




Hoffmeyer, who considered Wagner a good chief, has a couple of the painted signs on his property.

That leaves two seats and three candidates, and two of the candidates<Engel and Wagner<are at odds over past district politics.

It also leaves Hoffmeyer stuck in the middle and increasingly frustrated. 3I1m going to vote for me, and that1s it,² he said. 3And I don1t even know if I1m going to vote.²

Certainly not the county1s only fire district with a contested race (Peardale-Chicago Park, North San Juan, Penn Valley and Truckee are the others), this one has turned less than neighborly. Firefighters past and present have chimed in.

3We1re just nine square miles. Smallest district in Nevada County,² Ophir Hill board chairman Bob Goar said.

On a day-to-day basis, Ophir Hill and Peardale-Chicago Park firefighters, connected by Highway 174, respond to each other1s fire and medical calls. They also train together.

But at an Ophir Hill board meeting earlier this month, P-CP Battalion Chief Howard Drummond warned that a Wagner win could strain relations. He also suggested Wagner wants revenge for an unhappy departure.

About a dozen firefighters from both districts stood with Drummond in backing Engel and Hoffmeyer, and afterward they talked about low morale under Wagner.

Hoffmeyer listened with other board members and didn1t like the message. 3I don1t think the firefighters should be giving threats, and I felt it was a definite threat,² he said.

Wagner calls the resentment baffling. He sounded incredulous when asked about revenge allegations. He doesn1t want to be chief again, and as a board member, he1d cast just one of five votes.

3It sounds like somebody is trying to spread a little panic,² he said.

He resigned last year, after five years as chief, to focus on his office equipment business, he said. Disagreements with the board over equipment purchases and personnel issues were other reasons.

3It was obvious there was nothing I could say or do that would change the board1s ideas about some of those positions,² he said.

Goar said Wagner was made to feel uncomfortable until he took a leave of absence before ultimately resigning.

3I think there was an agenda, and Lois was in charge of that to get rid of Jeff,² Goar said. 3Things got very bad for Jeff after Lois came on board.²

Wagner said he filed for election after getting encouragement from board members and firefighters. If elected, he wants to hire a fire chief. He thinks the position serves as a buffer between firefighters and the district board.

Engel thinks the district has run well without a paid chief. She happily voted last year to approve Wagner1s resignation. She said Wagner collected $20,000 a year for little more than one day of work a week when he was chief.

She also said Wagner was bad for morale, that he openly criticized firefighters at board meetings.

3He had personnel issues, yes, but he is not a good manager,² Engel said. 3You don1t talk about volunteers like that.²

Another board member, Larry Evans, shared that outlook. 3As a board member, when he was chief, we had to confront him on many issues that the firefighters would bring up,² he said. 3The fire department was not running smooth, let1s put it that way.²

Wagner denied such talk. 3I can assure you it wasn1t my practice to be critical of either volunteers or paid staff,² he said. 3That1s not the way you run a fire department.²

As for his pay: 3I didn1t get a salary. It wasn1t a flat 20 grand. If I wasn1t there, I didn1t get paid.²

He earned $22 an hour and generally worked nine hours every Tuesday. That adds up to just over $10,000 a year, but Wagner said district business often called for more time than that, including emergency calls and Wednesday night training.

Goar thinks Wagner1s troubles emerged from his dealings with volunteer firefighters, 3a very touchy area² because volunteers are giving their time.

3Jeff ran a pretty tight ship, and I don1t think everybody agreed with his management style,² Goar said.

Two former volunteers, mother and daughter Cheryl and Sarah Kendall, resigned in May 2001 over Wagner1s departure. Their resignation letter called Wagner ethical and hard-working.

3Due to the fact that he was in leadership and not supported by his upper and lower line of command to work together in an ethical fashion, he was forced to go when others should have been asked to leave,² they wrote.

Meanwhile, Hoffmeyer is feeling the pressure of playing Mr. Balance.

3I1m about ready to go shoot every sign in the district,² he said. 3It1s just too petty, I think.²


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