By Marty Bachman
The White Pine Fire Commission and County Commission accepted the resignation of Fire Chief Brett Waters at their May 25 meetings. Waters submitted a letter of resignation on May 16 effective May 31.
Fire and Commission Chair Gary Perea said he was upset and disappointed the county would be losing Waters but that he understood his reasons for leaving.
“He’s done a wonderful job for the county,” Perea said. “I wish Brett and his wife Sandy the best.”
Commissioner Richard Howe made a motion to accept the resignation prior to a discussion that ensued as Howe and other commissioners felt they had not received proper notice as to Waters’ departure.
“I found out on the street two days ago, Howe said. “Protocol should have been to call and tell us.”
Commissioner Mike Coster called the lack of notification “alarming” and said that the siuation had been “handled poorly.”
“Communication has to be better,” Howe said.
Perea said he had found out about the resignation two weeks ago and thought he was the last to know.”
Commissioner Laurie Carson questioned why, if everyone was hearing rumors, they didn’t go talk to the chief? She said a big problem is that people don’t ask but point blame.
The commission voted 5-0 to accept Waters’ resignation and then discussed the appointment of volunteer firefighter William Ward as the interim replacement of Waters.
Perea said that Waters had set up a structure and framework that has worked very well for the department and was in agreement with his choice of Ward to serve as interim.
Howe said that the recommendation of Ward was “pretty much universally agreed on” by other fire department personnel and that there was a need to have someone there to provide direction.
“He’s qualified and he’s been recommended and accepted by the people he will supervise,” Howe said. “I talked to the fire people and they like him.”
The question was moved by Carson though discussion continued.
Ward thanked the commission and said he had worked closely with the people in the department between 15 and 20 years.
“I understand what Brett has set in place and I’ll do anything I can with them,” he said.
Perea said he looked forward to working closely with Ward.
The commission voted 5-0 to accept Ward as an interim replacement, then began discussion on hiring Waters back on a contract basis for “professional services,” citing a department feasibility study the board had commissioned at an earlier time that is still in the process of being completed, and employing his assistance in recruiting a new chief.
Perea said it was an important move on contracting with Waters, due to the fact that they were in the middle of the study.
“I find that Brett’s abilities and his professionalism is something that we need to make sure we have a good study and find a good replacement,” Perea said.
Howe reminded the commission that he had voted against the study but that he was ok with it. He said that in talking with the group performing the study, he felt that using the former chief to help recruit a new chief without having the results of the study wasn’t in the best interests of White Pine County.
“We’re putting the cart before the horse,” he said.
An unidentified fire official disagreed with Howe’s assessment and said that Waters’ experience, knowledge and the information base he has on chiefs and fire departments was of value and that Water’s was “only looking out for the commission’s and the county citizens interests.”
Howe said that he was not second guessing Waters’ qualifications.
“When we have this study, we need to step back and listen to what the study says,” Howe said. “I have all the respect in the world for him.”
Perea said the reason Waters’ had offered to do this is not to make money
“He is proud of what he has done here and he wants to see that what he has built continues,” Perea said. “His knowledge of the fire industry is invaluable.”
“I concur 100 percent,” said Carson.
Commissioner Carol McKenzie said she had talked to Waters and told him she wants someone who has the same qualifications to replace him.
“Or he can’t go,” she said, humorously. “He knows a lot of people and he will be able to find someone to replace him — someone who is as well liked as he is.”
Coster said he had raised a number of issues, one of which was the lack of any cap on the contract. He said it was normal to leave a job and yet stay available.
Discussion between the commission members and District Attorney Mike Wheable ended with Wheable agreeing to write a contract that addressed the concerns of commission members, who tabled the contract decision until the next commission meeting.
Howe then suggested that the commission begin the recruitment process of looking for a new chief, which is expected to last 30-90 days, and if the study was not complete by then, then they delay interviews until they do get the study results.
“It kills two birds with one stone,” he said.
Perea said he understood the argument to wait but felt the county needed to move forward with hiring a replacement.
“Regardless of the results of the study, we need someone to implement the results of the study,” Perea said.
The board then agreed to begin the recruitment process. The board also agreed to approve the fire commission’s 2017 fiscal year budget in final state form.
Howe later said he wanted to thank Waters and recognize him for the “good job” he did.