The May 28 Idyllwild Fire Commission meeting was frightening. Instead of addressing the district’s financial condition, the commission, employees and audience spent hours castigating Commissioner Chip Schelly for his May 23 letter to the editor.
All of the speakers were appalled at Schelly’s comments because they inferred he was speaking for the board. But he wasn’t and nowhere in the letter did it say that.
Below his name was his title, “Fire Commissioner,” which I placed there for the reader’s benefit. Both Fire Chief Patrick Reitz and Capt. Mark LaMont agree with using his title in that situation.
Reitz addressed former Commissioner Ben Killingsworth as “commissioner” and explained that once the title is earned it goes forward. Schelly is a fire commissioner.
Disagreeing with Schelly’s comments is anyone’s right, but demanding his resignation because they disagree is making a mountain out of molehill and silly.
Because he is a fire commissioner, he does not forfeit his right to free speech. And here’s what some others have said about this concept, embedded in our First Amendment:
“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter,” said President George Washington.
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear,” said George Orwell, author of “1984.”
“It is easy to believe in freedom of speech for those with whom we agree,” from actor Leo McKern.
“To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public,” said President Theodore Roosevelt.
James Madison fought lengthy battles to ensure that freedom of speech was included in the orignal Bill of Rights. It’s the minority’s voice that needs protection, not the majority.
I might add that every speaker accused Schelly of uttering falsehoods and scurlious comments. And, the three employee associations — career, reserve and volunteer — all submitted identical letters. No independent thinking was shown.
More interesting, while defending LaMont from “falsehoods,” they stated Schelly violated commission policy 4060. Perhaps I don’t have the current version of this policy. My version of 4060 is entitled “Standing Committees.” Each commissioner has a binder of policies in front of them during the meeting but none would publicly correct the staff. Shame on Schelly for violating this policy.
LaMont devotes a tremendous amount of time and effort to the fire department and has for years. We should acknowledge that. But we might question why he earns nearly 40 percent (nearly $58,000) of all the department’s overtime pay. Certainly he must perform well and is needed.
Yet if this work, especially all the mutual aid assignments, are necessary and helpful for gaining firefighting experience, why don’t the other three captains participate? Collectively, all three earned less overtime than LaMont alone. If they did more, LaMont would have more time to be with his family.
The commission’s time devoted to this issue is an unecessary diversion from its responsibilities to assure the district’s future.
Also, some have asked why letters from Idyllwild Water Director Mike Freitas don’t identify him as a director. Simply because these letters don’t deal with water district issues, such as the recent rate increase. His letters touch on other subjects, such as Idyllwild Pines and even IFPD. And when he did write about County Service Area 36, I identified him as a committee member.