Jerry’s Point of View
After leaving the department years earlier, in 2006 FF John Waller died from what has finally been determined to be a job related illness.
The International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2024 (IAFF) worked for years to have his death recognized by the national as a job related death and in early 2010 finally succeeded. FF Waller would have his name added to the national memorial in Colorado Springs at the annual event in September of 2010.
But here is the public dollar question: Is it prudent use of our tax dollars for Chief All Church to send eleven public employees to Colorado Springs?
Whether they knew him or not, were friends or not,at a cost to the taxpayer of $8,600, Chief Church arranged to send several firefighters, two commissioners and some deputy chiefs on a four day public expense paid trip to the event which would honor FF Waller.
Also, if you remember, in August of 2010 the taxpayers of the district sent a message that SKR&R must watch its budget by rejecting the Service Benefit Charge so the department is operating on a severely reduced budget. But that did nothing to cause the chief to be more prudent with your tax money.
This is truly worthy of additional scrutiny.
As I continue my platelets donations at the average of once per week (Mondays works great for me) I want to take a moment and encourage everyone in the readership of the Federal Way Mirror to donate.
With all of the distressing news in the papers and broadcast recently, it seems that the sad news just keeps on coming. However, it is always heartening to be able to something good for your community, and yourself.
Whole blood can be donated every two months on average and there is always a need for the community to participate.
And the Federal Way branch of the Puget Sound Blood Center is located right close to the Mirror, just downstairs on the back side of the same building.
You can visit www.psbc.org to make an appointment or check on the hours of operation.
Thank you for considering it.
If you go, tell them Jerry sent you. Everyone in the blood center knows me and if you get regular at donating, it will soon become a place where everyone knows your name too!
Another incredulous move on the part of the SKFR Chairman.
Thursday, without warning to all of the commissioners, Chair Gates announced a “minor” change to the schedule for the 2011 meetings. Instead of starting at 4pm, he quietly and hastily changed the start time to 3pm. Minor??
Well, after all these years, their Attorney, Joe Quinn, tells Gates that he has a scheduling conflict. Quinn has another meeting elsewhere at 6pm and Chair Gates appears to be afraid of holding the SKFR meetings without Quinn there to hold his hand.
So either to appease Quinn or because Gates is afraid to appear without him, Chair Gates changes the schedule and springs it on the board at the last meeting of the year as a must pass item.
The board of commissioners is pandering to the whims of their hired attorney.
The meeting started at 4pm with only three members on attendance. As usual, Commissioners Fossos and Thompson were ‘running late’. Chair Gates announced they were on the way and, since a quorum was present, the meeting began. Thompson scooted in several minutes later.
Then agenda item 8 comes up and Gates notes the ‘minor change’. Rickert and Thompson appeared to have had prior knowledge and fell lock-step into the fold. Commissioner Mark Freitas tried to inject some reason and discussion, but as usual, Gates glared at him and then simply ignored him, he Thompson and Rickert voting to pass the hastily drawn up resolution resulting in a vote of 3-1.
What is this meeting for, again?
Never mind that this is a Board of Commissioners Meeting for your five elected commissioners, or that it is public for the benefit of the public, or that there is no requirement, by law or in the guidelines, for an attorney to be present. This is just another eleventh hour move on the part of a weak and fearful board member to undermine the trust and perception of openness of the public meetings.
Routinely running just a few minutes late
Oh, did you read that only three members were on time to start this meeting? Thompson arrived several minutes late and Fossos didn’t even have the courage to show up! He failed to call in late and would not answer his phone.
If you read the minutes of the past meetings, you will see that Fossos and Thompson regularly show up late for the 4pm meeting, sometimes amid joking about it. Do you really think they are going to be able to arrive at 3pm? But, according to Gates, no problem. All he needs is three board members to be there to start the meeting, and his beloved attorney, of course!
BTW – guess who did not even attend the meeting Thursday? However, to his credit, Gates still somehow made it through this meeting without needing to seek guidance.
And you thought these were just dry, boring and mundane proceedings. See what you are missing?
Overtime Pay For Carrying the Colors
You have seen the SKF&R Honor Guard at events around Federal Way and western Washington. And each time they elicited your applause and praise by proudly displaying our National Flag.
You probably thought this was a dramatic display of community service at its best, right?
Did you know that they are being paid several hours of OVERTIME PAY for that few minutes of marching?
Visit the SKF&R Operations page and you will read that these people are being described as a “dedicated group of members” who supposedly “volunteer their time and financial support” “to serve as ambassadors to the public, presenting a positive image of their service, and assisting with the recruiting effort.”
But in November of 2006, to attend the funeral of one of their own, five members of the Honor Guard collected over *$1250 in overtime money for the ‘honor’. Rehearsal and presentation of colors used up 30.75 hours of time ($40.75 per hour) for that 10 minutes of public visibility. And every other firefighter at the funeral was there for the sentiment, receiving no compensation for attending.
In January of 2010 just four members took home over *$1500 in overtime pay to ‘honor’ a past chief. This time the ten minute display took only 30 hours of involvement for these four members was worth $1547. ($51.60 an hour)
At another service held for former Chief Packer in August of 2008, the lone Honor Guard attendee charged only *$101 for his two hours of duty.
But the web site sells the team this way “The team conducts two training meetings a month and its members volunteer to participate both on and off duty.”
I am still investigating, but I have every reason to believe that every appearance of the Honor Guard would be the same, Overtime pay for what the Chief calls Volunteering. Lets see what the next round of PRA records reveals.
From Blacks Law Dictionary, second edition:
Volunteer – A person who gives his services without any express or implied promise of renumeration in return is called a “volunteer”, and is entitled to no renumeration for his services.
These people are not volunteers, they are highly paid employees, highly motivated by nothing but more money. And it is your tax dollars paying for this overtime largess to them.
Instead of being volunteers, apparently your Chief Allen Church must REQUIRE these good public servants to attend these functions on their days off. That is the only place in the contract that would allow for the district to pay overtime pay.
Does that take the shine of of “Honor” in the title Honor Guard?
(as of December 9, 2010, highlights and accent added) Direct from the SKF&R website:
An honor guard is a ceremonial escort, often military in nature, usually composed of volunteers who are carefully screened for their ability and physical dexterity. Only those persons who are highly motivated and maintain exceptionally high standards of appearance and conduct and show aptitude for ceremonial duty are considered. The primary purpose of an honor guard is to provide funeral honors for fallen comrades. An honor guard may also serve as the “guardians of the colors”. They present colors for various ceremonies and official functions. Additionally, honor guards serve as ambassadors to the public, presenting a positive image of their service, and assisting with the recruiting effort.
The South King Fire & Rescue Honor Guard is a dedicated group of members who recognize and represent those who have given there lives to the protection and safety of the public.
The South King Fire & Rescue Honor Guard was formed in 2000 and has twelve members. They are all Firefighters who volunteer their time and financial support. The Honor Guard has a high profile role in the public relations efforts of the South King Fire & Rescue. The diversity we proudly celebrate in our department is reflected in the ranks of the Honor Guard. Current members include: Capt Aaron Weeks, Capt Dave Michaels, Lt Barry Hassell, Firefighter Layne Winter, Joel Bergfalk, Wendy Chinn, Brenda Fromhold, Cortney Cullison, Travis McKenney, Chris Cahan, Ed Rickert, and Anthony John
The mission of the South King Fire & Rescue Honor Guard is to serve as representatives of the Fire Department at formal occasions as directed by the Fire Chief. The Honor Guard projects a positive image of the Department and its members by performing as a well trained professional team at local and national events. The Honor Guard is dedicated to honor, remember and celebrate active, retired and fallen Fire Department members, and their families.
In addition, the SKF&R Honor Guard is proud to offer services to Firefighters from across the state and nation. The unit has participated in events ranging from memorial services to parades, including the Mariners fans at Safeco Field and honoring our fallen in Colorado at the IAFF Fallen Firefighter Memorial.
Requirements: Honor Guard openings are posted when vacancies are created. Members must meet minimum participation requirements. The team conducts two training meetings a month and its members volunteer to participate both on and off duty.
Activity: The Honor Guard participates in several types of events. The team performs color details at civic occasions, such as public parades, sporting events and other special community events as requested. They also perform color details at many Fire Department events such as dedications, graduations, and awards ceremonies. The Honor Guard plans, organizes, and performs at funeral and memorial services for department members. The team also assists other agencies with funeral and memorial services. Members of the Honor Guard have participated in state and national events, such as National Fallen Firefighters Memorial.
From the2009 – 2012 Labor Agreement between South King Fire and Rescue and the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2024
Article 18 – Overtime
18.1 All hours worked outside the normal work schedule shall be construed overtime (time and one half).
Employees shall also be entitled to overtime compensation for off-duty time spent in attendance at meetings and training sessions as required by the EMPLOYER.
In a related revelation, the available records also show something truly incredible. At the January 2010 service for former Chief Packer, two of our district commissioners were actually paid to ‘honor’ their dear friend and colleague. Current commissioner James Fossos and past commissioner Jerry Harris each submitted vouchers for attending the services as ‘commissioner meetings’ and took home an extra $104 each for their trouble and grieving of former Chief Packer. Sure hope there was not a quorum at the service, that would have been a violation of the OPMA.
*Only costs mentioned here are the wages. Not revealed or calculated are the addition taxes, insurance and other benefits required to be paid by the district. Roughly, these things usually add at least fifty percent to the actual cost to the taxpayer.
Keep informed about the spotlight on SKF&R. Visit my website at www.southkingfire.net
I have asked the Washington State Auditor Office (SAO) to review the expenses for the trip that Chief Al Church sent eleven people on to Colorado Springs in early September. After much wrangling, I believe that the final report should be posted on their website within a few weeks.
Two possible outcomes exist. Either the district will be found to have properly spent the money. Or not.
As we await the results, lets review the complaint.
In October I filed a Hotline complaint with the SAO outlining travel for non-training activities that were being charged to training items in the budget.
Directly from the SKF&R 2010 Budget, the budget code line item reads:
522.214.171.1241 – OUTSIDE TRAINING / TRAVEL / LODGING - For outside training, college classes and seminars
There were no training, college classes or seminars in Colorado Springs in September.
For the commissioners, Chief Church appears to have erroneously used a non-existent code of 5126.96.36.1991, which is not in the 2010 budget anywhere.
Upon research, and until verified, I believe the only code even close would be:
5188.8.131.521 – OUTSIDE TRAINING / TRAVEL / LODGING – Training and Conferences for Administrative Staff.
5184.108.40.2063 – OUTSIDE TRAINING/MEETINGS – Commissioner attendance at WFCA sessions, etc.
Regardless of which was suppose to be used, there was no training, conferences or WFCA sessions for Commissioners or Administrative staff in Colorado in September.
My complaint asks where did $8600 of the taxpayers money go?
Eleven people on an all expense paid three day trip, no training or other official district business.
Keep in mind, the line item descriptions clearly read that Training/Travel/Lodging is clearly identified as being intended for TRAINING.
And, just for reference, any time the short description in the budget line item mentions Training/Travel/Lodging, the long description expressly clarifies this is intended for some sort of recognized TRAINING. None of which occurred in Colorado in September and certainly none requiring eleven district employees to attend.
I will have more detailed reports of this complaint, including the original complaint, copies of the budget and the email communications with the auditors on my website soon.
UPDATE – Commissioner Mark Freitas is calling for accountability in the dealings of some of the SKF&R board members.
“on Nov. 15, the commissioners approved an extension of Church’s contract…….Commissioners Mark Freitas and John Rickert voted against the renewal. (Commissioner) Freitas said he had not had enough time to review the new contract; (Commissioner) Rickert asked before the vote for more time to look at the contract, which was denied.
Neither Gates nor Church could provide a copy of the contract until the chief signs it.”
At the November 18 meeting, Commissioner Freitas announced that he will be requesting an independent review of the process and would be paying for it himself.
I, for one, am offering to help pay for that review and look forward to the findings. Anyone else serious about holding our elected officials accountable?
And it just keeps getting better. Remember this article dealing with outrageously high pay for a fire chief ?
Whose name comes up in that article? Our very own Chief Financial Officer David Lawson!
Now, to be fair, Chief Church’s new salary, while stated as not having gone up, is not public, yet. So we really have no idea what it actually is, do we?
When the Federal Way Mirror ran a story about the Board of Commissioners meetings today it makes for interesting reading on how fast an elected body will rush something through when their perceived privacy is aired.
Boy, talk about knee-jerk reactions!
Things are really on fire at SFK&R.
One public citizen shows up with a video camera at one meeting and the commissioners panic. First they stop the meeting so they can rush into closed session to oppose it, then drop everything to fire up another special meeting to “revise its guidelines”!
What are they so worried about the public knowing?
And when does the board convene to “revise its guidelines”? In the afternoon or evening when the public can attend? NOPE!! First thing Monday morning, thank you! Can’t afford to miss work for a public meeting? Too bad. Wait up to a month to read the ‘official’ minutes for a sanitized version.
Better yet, want to see the ‘new guidelines’ that regulate YOU? Get ready to file a Public Records Act request, wait three weeks, then pay for each page. They rush into passing new guidelines to ‘control’ the very public they are holding the meeting for, then shuffle the new rule into their files only to charge you to read it! Talk about secrecy!
The entire Board of Commissioners Guidelines should be posted on the elected governance website for all to freely see. How else will we know the rules?
By the way, if a citizen shows up with a camera, quietly sets it up and records a meeting, that is NOT disruptive. If someone calls them out or otherwise makes a commotion, then they are the ones being disruptive, not the citizen with the recording device, so that is NOT justification to disallow the video recording.
There may be some things the district doesn’t want you to be aware of.
Read more on my blog at: http://southkingfire.net/?p=195
I have been following a story for several weeks now and keep attending the meetings for more information. I hope to have a more in-depth report soon.
(My attempt at military time failed me. It should have read 5:27pm, or 17:27. Oops.)
From: Jerry Galland
Sent: Friday, November 05, 2010 5:29 PM
To: ‘Perry, Lauri’
Cc: ‘Church, Al’; ‘Fossos, James – SMTP’; ‘Gates, Bill – SMTP’; ‘markf’
Subject: RE: Commissioner meeting notices
Chief Al Church
I would like to renew my request to be properly notified of the Commissioner Meetings and expand my request to the Chief and Commissioners for which I have email. Please forward to anyone that I have missed.
Apparently the methods of notification you reference in your reply are insufficient to comply with the Open Public Meetings Act.
Indeed, as of the writing of this email at 07:27 on Friday November 5, 2010 (over 24 hours after the meeting adjourned), proper and legal notice of the agenda which transpired at the time and date specified on the agenda listed on the official website for SKF&R has not been given. Concluding that the public has even this evening not been given legal and proper notice of the agenda.
Further, since the meeting November 4th contained transactions in violation of the Revised Code of Washington and therefore was against the law, I feel it prudent to request that the Chair strike from the record any business concerning Resolution 468. That item does not appear on the agenda as required by the Open Public Meetings Act, Chapter 42.30 of the RCW 42.30.080
My interpretation of the language in RCW 42.30.010 and RCW 42.30.080 extends to including that any member of the public should have the right to request, and be given, notification by electronic mail, at least twenty-four hours before the time of such meeting, for all public and open meetings, the time, place and business to be transacted. I further interpret the twenty-four hours mentioned in RCW 42.30.080 to be business hours, excluding weekends and government recognized holidays.
Please add me to your list of recipients receiving email notifications for dates, times, agenda and locations of all commissioners meetings, including regular, special and budget meetings, open to the public.
From: Perry, Lauri
Sent: Monday, October 04, 2010 1:52 PM
To: ‘Jerry Galland’
Subject: RE: Commissioner meeting notices
October 4, 2010
To: Mr. Jerry Galland
From: Lauri Perry
Re: Commissioner Meeting Notices
For the latest information on when our Board of Commissioners meetings are held, the locations as well as the meeting agenda, please check our website. We also notify the Federal Way Mirror and post notices on the door of our headquarters station and our Training Station (the location that most of the meetings are held).
From: Jerry Galland
Sent: Wednesday, September 29, 2010 5:16 AM
To: Perry, Lauri
Subject: Commissioner meeting notices
Please add me to your list of recipients receiving email notifications for dates, times and locations of all commissioners meetings, including regular, special and budget meetings, open to the public.
Additionally, please include the meeting agenda when available.
More information about questionable actions of your elected officials in the Fire District, visit www.southkingfire.net
Remember all of the dire reports about cutting services, increased service times, reducing personnel and maybe even losing our class 2 insurance rating? That was some of the reasoning behind putting Prop 1 on the ballot. We are in tough financial times and Chief Al Church publicly said that he was truly concerned about keeping the fire department at its best.
Well, why then is it that, immediately after the failure of Prop 1 and the imminent revenue reductions, did Chief AL Church authorize over $8600 of your tax money to send 11 people on an all expense paid trip to a union function in Colorado Springs? And, indeed, makes this concept of sending department personnel almost an annual event? One week after the voters said watch your spending, Chief Church inked permission for almost a dozen members of his department to leave town on an all expense paid trip.
I requested the records of the trip from Chief Church, expressing that in these tough economic times, with severe budget cuts known to exist to the district administrators and commissioners for several months, this expenditure of paying taxpayer dollars to send an estimated one dozen SKF&R department personnel for an extended trip to Colorado seems an unwarranted and unjustified use of taxpayer monies and cost to the taxpayers of this district.
Chief Church responded that he would certainly comply to my Public Records Act request, but that “It is disappointing that a citizen would question the honoring one of our own”.
The reason for the trip was that a past member of the fire department was being honored at a IAFF union organized event that week on the Fallen Firefighter Memorial in Colorado Springs.
Chief Church says he is disappointed that a citizen would question his decision. I take umbrage to the insinuation of his believing that I would dis-honoring a fallen fire-fighter. What I was requesting was whether the taxpayer footed the bill or the individuals honoring the service of the fire-fighter were doing so at their own expense. And I feel is not only the right, but the responsibility, of a citizen to ask questions of our elected officials and leaders with regard to the proper spending of our tax money.
You see, as an employee for a private sector company, should one of my co-workers succumb to a work related injury or illness, any respect that I wished to pay would be at my own expense. I could use my vacation time to attend, and use my money for travel, lodging and food.
I can not even imagine my employer paying for me, plus ten of my friends, to attend an out of state union sponsored event. So when I heard that the Fire department approved of this use of public funds, I started to ask questions.
What I discovered is that your fire chief signed travel approval for his assistant chief and two fire commissioners to attend, while the assistant chief gave authority to an additional 8 fire-fighters, sending a total of 11 people to Colorado Springs at tax-payer expense. Each had their own room, at taxpayer expense (even though while on duty at the fire-house, I am sure fire-fighters are not individually housed) and each received $66 tax-payer dollars, per day, for food, in advance (even though they were not required to keep and submit receipts for actual expenses).
Am I the only one that sees this as department largess and excess at public expense?
I asked for the budget code used to pay for this excursion. According to the 2010 budget, all 11 were on department authorized travel for Training at a college class, seminar or conference. But no paperwork was submitted to support that expenditure.
Is this the responsible governance we expect from our district leaders?
While publicly advocating raising your taxes paid to the department, and while you scrimp and save your money for even the most basic of luxuries, from behind the scenes without any public knowledge, SKF&R Fire Chief Al Church, Commissioner James Fossos and Commissioner Ed Rickert think it is just fine to spend your tax dollars, taken from you for FIRE SAFETY, and take eleven all-expense-paid trips to Colorado.
Are these the people we should be looking up to? Is this what getting elected to office means to them? Are they a part of the problem with our financial crisis? Isn’t this the same department that experience embezzlement just two years ago? And what would you call taking tax dollars which are suppose to be spent on public safety and using it for this type of excursion?
Think about that the next time you hear any of them threaten you with loss of services or increased response time.
Just more proof that Prop 1 was all about keeping the status quo, not about serving the public.
Taxes are not to be used for private expenses. It is “Not Yours To Give” – Davy Crockett
A new website has been set up to help keep the public informed about some of the workings of South King Fire & Rescue – Alternative Information. Please drop by and let me know what you think.
For more information about what was put on the ballot in August, and what I think the department will push again in 2011, visit VoteNoProp1 .