Editor’s note: In the June 2011 Grand Jury report, item no. 5 stated, “A Board Member has an arrangement as a paid on call firefighter, EMT, or pump operator for the Fire District. This is a conflict as this Board Member is the Fire Chief’s superior as stated in AR IFPD #107 and when working for the District as a firefighter, he is also a subordinate to the Fire Chief. Presently, this Board Member has taken a leave of absence as an employee. Taking a leave of absence does not resolve the conflict, because the employee status has not been severed. “

In its recommendations, the grand jury asked the elected official (Commissioner Schelly) to resolve the conflict of interest. Commissioner Schelly’s response is printed below.

Neither the grand jury nor Schelly’s colleagues have mentioned the California Attorney General’s 2002 decision (No. 02-708), which relied on a 1957 decision, and concluded “Accordingly, the exemption for ‘any volunteer firefighter who does not receive a salary’ ([Gov’t Code] 53227, subd. (c)) is applicable here. We thus conclude that a volunteer firefighter may serve on the board of directors of a fire protection district even though he receives $8 for each response to a fire call and an allowance of up to $200 from the district for the purchase of boots.

Dear Riverside County Grand Jury and Brad Neufeld IFPD counsel,

IFPD Commissioner, Dr. Charles “Chip” Schelly. File photo
As an elected member of the Idyllwild Fire Protection District (IFPD) board, I find it interesting that board members in an open meeting encouraged the fire chief to terminate a volunteer firefighter after more than 15 years of service because of an erroneous grand jury finding.

You should be aware that there are three (3) sections to California government code 53227. Section (c) specifically grants that a volunteer firefighter may serve on a fire protection district board.

IFPD has consistently classified “paid on-call volunteer firefighters” (PCFs) as volunteer firefighters for more than thirty (30) years. IFPD has enrolled PCFs in the Volunteer Firefighter Length of Service Award System in compliance with state and federal law. The State Fire Marshal’s office and the California State Firefighters Association recognize PCFs as volunteer firefighters.

During the summer, wildfires often rage throughout the western states and with the heroic efforts of our firefighters we are protected. Luckily, hometown volunteer firefighters supplement our career firefighters during our times of greatest need so that our lives and homes are not left vulnerable. In support of the great service and sacrifice they make the government has granted rights to our volunteer firefighters.

The current behavior of the board to bully and intimidate is boorish and contrary to legislation intent (see Gov’t. Code 3112). It is ridiculous that board members and our uninformed current legal counsel are ignoring government law and wasting the public’s money asking the attorney general to reverse the state’s published opinion on this matter (see AG opinion No. 02-708 November 13, 2002). Finally to the grand jury, per law a single board member is not the chief’s superior, only a majority of the board can direct the IFPD fire chief, ergo no conflict exists.

As mentioned in three (3) grand jury reports, there are far more important matters that need to be cleared up at IFPD. The public voted in 2009 with full knowledge that I was a volunteer firefighter and approved in an open election. Terminating a local volunteer firefighter in this economy is irrational, negates the will of the people and the democratic process.

Given the aforementioned facts I demand that you inform the board to cease and desist any and all actions that violate documented rights to serve as both a volunteer firefighter and an elected board member. The following (20+) pages contain the codes, laws and authoritative opinions supporting the government’s position (highlights added); please respond at your earliest convenience.