Firefighters restricted from talking about department business
By Lynn Volkens
Timberline Fire Protection District (TFPD) Board of Directors met January 14, 2013 with President Rick Wenzel and Directors Jim Crawford, Kay Johnson, Paul Ondr and Chris Samuelson present. Also at the table were Fire Chief Chris Jennings and Business Manager, Jennifer Hinderman. The Directors spent nearly half their meeting time in Executive Sessions, first with the District’s paralegal and then with Chief Jennings.
Immediately after roll call, Wenzel announced an addition to the agenda: an Executive Session to discuss issues with TFPD’s legal counsel. Paralegal Mikki Wadams was present; Wenzel said that attorney Linda Glesne was unable to attend. The topic of the confidential session was Personnel, specifically Chief Jennings. The public, Jennings, and Hinderman were banished to the bay for approximately 45 minutes, after which the Chief was asked to join the Directors behind closed doors. The Executive Session continued until 9:20 p.m., at which time the public meeting re-convened with final adjournment half an hour later.
Chief’s Work Agreement
Following the executive session, the Directors voted unanimously to lock in Chief Jennings’ salary for the next 24 months at the current rate of $85,000. The Chief had been hired a year ago at a salary of $65,000 and the Directors voted in November 2012, to increase his pay by a 31%. Under this stipulation, no further raise can be considered until 2014, unless there are significant changes to the district structure. The date that salary becomes effective is planned to coincide with when the new healthcare plan becomes active, a date yet to be determined.
The Chief will be allotted $3,300 per annum for healthcare purposes. The original pay agreement had included up to $900 per month ($10,800 per annum) for healthcare purposes. However, the Directors have since changed insurance providers and standardized the healthcare plan options for all employees. Samuelson explained that had meant taking approximately $6,600 from the Chief’s former healthcare allocation and they had arrived at the new $3,300 figure by “splitting the difference.”
Jennings will be required to live within five miles of the fire district borders by March 1, 2013. The Chief had lived at Station 3 during the first six months of this year and then had found housing in the metro-area, using a District vehicle to commute. That meant it was taking him a minimum of nearly half an hour simply to arrive at the District’s borders should an emergency call occur when he was at home. The Directors commented that housing options within Timberline’s boundaries are limited so extending that housing boundary by five miles would open up areas in Golden Gate Canyon, Coal Creek Canyon, Nederland, Black Hawk, and Central City.
Chief’s Performance Evaluation
Johnson and Samuelson are currently working on the Chief’s Performance Evaluation process. They are to have a report ready by the next Board meeting. Wenzel said he had received the Chief’s input and had solicited comments from the officers, but is still awaiting comments from two or three officers. He added that Boulder Rural Fire Protection District Fire Chief, Jeff Webb, had also been solicited for help in doing the evaluation. Wenzel and Johnson were hoping to review that evaluation and “hammer out a preliminary evaluation for the rest of the Board” by the end of the week. Other Board members had offered their input, too, Wenzel said, but couldn’t say when the actual evaluation will be finalized.
Samuelson provided the December 2012 financial statements. As of December 31st, TFPD’s General Fund contained $389,362; the TABOR Reserve, $20,861; the Capital Fund, $416,892; the Boulder Water Fund, $8,622; and the Pension Fund, $1,504,843. Expenditures for December totaled $350,378 among them: a payment for the new fire truck of $264,094; Pension Fund Contribution, $42,380; Salary and Benefits Expenses, $15,625; Excavation for Station 8, $3,650; Legal Services, $3,441; CenturyLink and AT&T Mobility, $833; Public Safety and Professional Communications,$695; Bank of America (Credit Card), $3,390; Fuel, $1,117; Engineering and Construction, $2,150; Apparatus and Repairs, $3,041; Power and Heat, $4,486; and DirecTV, $91. Directors observed they were 17% under-budget for the General Fund and 10% under-budget for the Capital Fund.
The Station 1 feasibility study arrived last week and is available. It will be presented to the Board at a later date. The new fire engine arrived and a few minor challenges are being worked out. Putting in the concrete for Station 8 has been postponed because it will be less expensive to do it when the ground doesn’t need to be heated. There are currently 56 firefighters on the roster, including new recruits. The number of calls in December was 37; no breakdown of type of calls was provided. Regarding the proposed Central City inclusion, Jennings said the ball is in Central City’s court. TFPD has had internal discussion but is just waiting to hear from Central City, he said and more information will be needed regarding Central City’s firefighter pension, specifically. The Golden Gate Fire Protection District proposed inclusion “is not dead,” Jennings reported, adding that that proposition would have to benefit TFPD, too.
Asked when the website would be back up so that meeting schedule and agenda, budget and other information would be available to the public, Ondr replied, “No idea. It is not a priority.”
Information to be Channeled through Chief
Asked by a citizen during public comment time, if the Chief had forbidden firefighters from talking to the press, Jennings said that he had restricted firefighters from talking about department business and that all comments and questions from press or public are to go through him or through Board Secretary Paul Ondr. In attempting to clarify First Amendment freedom of speech and press issues, as well as identify problems in getting a response from the Chief without lengthy delay, the discussion degraded and Wenzel cut public time short, simply announcing he was “putting a stop to this” and moving on.
Working with Gilpin County
Board members discussed arranging a meeting with Gilpin County Commissioners as an “outreach with the County to try and persuade them to see things our way” – and to see their side. TFPD is looking to improve access to water, roads, fuel and sharing facilities. The Directors tentatively planned to discuss the matter at a special meeting at the end of this month.
The TFPD Directors have scheduled a special “High Level Strategy Meeting” to establish the District’s and Chief’s priorities, at 6 p.m. on January 30, 2013 at Station 7. A future work session, still to be scheduled, will be to update policies on spending. TFPD’s next regularly scheduled meeting is February 19, 2013, 7 p.m. at Station 7.