For more than two hours, Idyllwild Fire Protection District Commissioner Dr. Charles “Chip” Schelly was chastised and criticized for writing a letter to the Town Crier editor that appeared in the May 23 issue.
The commission’s May 28 meeting began with President Jeannine Charles-Stigall stepping from behind the dais and speaking from the podium. In her statement, she castigated Schelly for his action and claimed, “... you have embarrassed the district and the body of the board. You owe Capt. [Mark] LaMont a public apology with publication in the Town Crier. You should step down from your position as a board member immediately.” Commissioners Jerry Buchanan, Pete Capparelli and Larry Donahoo concurred.
Concluding the agenda discussion for the upcoming June 11 commission meeting, Stigall asked Fire Chief Patrick Reitz to include Schelly’s resignation. If he chooses not to resign, the board will consider whether he should retain his position as vice president and whether it should censure him.
The spark — Schelly’s letter — did not name Capt. Mark LaMont. Schelly described the process by which IFPD has come to have an administrative captain, LaMont’s current role. Schelly did not call for any action although he expressed his view about the dominant role LaMont has assumed within the fire department.
After Stigall spoke, Capt. James Reyes read a letter from the Idyllwild Career Fire Association, of which LaMont is a member. Dan Messina, Idyllwild Volunteer Fire Company president, submitted a letter and an identical letter from IFPD’s reserves was submitted for the record, too.
All three associations want Schelly’s resignation because “... he wrote a letter to the editor of the Idyllwild Town Crier as a fire commissioner without obtaining permission or consulting any of the other IFPD board members. His statements are not factual ...”
Career and other firefighter associations felt the letter insinuated that LaMont and former fire chiefs had engaged in wrongdoing.
Then LaMont came to the podium and spoke for nearly 30 minutes about “... inaccuracies, inappropriate and misleading letter.” He then described his love for service and desire to make a difference, and how fortunate he was to have a family willing to allow him to devote so much time to his work.
He described his department work over the past two weeks.
He also explained that former Chief Steve Kunkle chose to appoint him as a fully qualified captain in 2009. While he has been working at this rank for nearly four years, he has not been paid for this level of service. Kunkle’s decision was just prior to former Capt. James Manietta’s retirement in December 2009 thus maintaining a roster of four captains.
It is not the commission’s role to authorize a captain, only the fire chief has that authority, LaMont asserted. Consequently, he argued that Schelly had created a “hostile work environment” for him.
The final speaker was Reitz, who said, “Capt. LaMont has been absolutely upstanding in service to the community, the district and the board.”
During all the speeches and before Stigall’s pronouncement about the next meeting’s agenda, Schelly sat quietly and listened. He complimented LaMont, saying, “You’re an excellent trainer and nobody is more dedicated.” He apologized to LaMont’s family, but stressed that he believes the promotion to captain “... could have been done differently.”