Editor’s note: Following the story in last week’s edition and my column about the Idyllwild Fire Commission’s response to a Letter to the editor from Commissioner Dr. Charles “Chip” Schelly, we have received two responses. One, below, very thoughtful and specific, is printed as “Another point of view.” The second letter, briefer, but also sharing the same view is also on this page. The Idyllwild Fire Commission had a resolution to censure Commissioner Schelly on its June 11 meeting agenda, which is why the timing of these letters is so poignant.
It is not an easy task to prepare a letter critical of a number of people in our community, especially when some of them you have known for nearly 40 years as a resident on the Hill. It is even harder when that criticism is directed toward the firefighters who serve our community to provide for our safety and well being.
But after reading the TC issues over the past few weeks, I cannot remain silent regarding a very grave situation that has developed regarding the Idyllwild Fire Department.
I offer these comments with a heavy heart, but if people in our community do not speak out during disturbing times, the rifts will continue to grow until they cannot be repaired.
From a review of the articles in the paper, my concerns were immediately aroused with the possibillity that the Idyllwild Fire Protection District Board of Commissioners may have seriously crossed over the line in relation to the Brown Act, and may have engaged in collusion with the rank and file “members” of the department to compromise their oath of employment and the rules and regulations of the department which I will enumerate below.
Not only have they possibly compromised themselves, but they appear to have handled this whole affair in a manner that brings great reproach upon an organization that has been an immense source of pride to every Hill resident, especially when their services are needed.
At a time when we are all celebrating the memories of many fallen warriors who gave their lives so that we could have the freedom to express our views, maintain differences of opinion, and respectfully rely upon our Constitutional foundations to challenge our government and respective agencies, they have forgotten why that great document was produced in the beginning. And it is even sadder when those in responsible positions within our community betray those basic freedoms by putting personal egos and reputations ahead of those principals.
The fact that an elected commissioner might choose to express personal questions in a public forum such as a newspaper is a tradition with a long history and was exercised even by the founders of our country. It is done frequently by city council members, supervisors and other elected officials when they wish to speak as a citizen to other citizens. Even when those questions or opinions may be in error, the issues can still be addressed in a manner that benefits everyone involved. It can be done with restraint and good judgment and leadership. But dealing with it by organizing and conducting a public lynch mob against any person who chooses to voice their opinion or questions is not the American way.
The idea that a series of questions regarding the operation of the district should elicit such a vicious reaction on the part of fellow commissioners, the fire chief and the rank and file “members” of the department to either force his resignation, censure him or publicly degrade him is utterly unfathomable. When the personal reputation of a single “member” of the department is regarded as more important than the integrity of the department, something is seriously wrong.
This is especially troubling when that “member” was not mentioned by name in the letter that is the heart of their objections. In reality, it was the defensive reaction of that “member,” the rest of the commissioners and the rank and file “members” who brought his name out to the public in the pre-arranged lynching that occurred at the May 28 meeting of the IFPD board.
From a review of all the information in the TC, it would appear that many troubling questions need to be raised about the conduct of the current board president, the fire chief, and all three associations in relation to the days leading up to the meeting, and the conduct of the meeting itself.
Since the meetings are generally void of attendees, how is it that so many people became impassioned enough to attend the May 28 meeting to demand the commissioner’s resignation? Who organized their awareness of the fire captain in question, and arranged for them to sign up to speak and then give their time to him to defend himself? And since the letters from the associations were so similar, was there collusion between them to organize the writing effort to make their demands? Was there collusion between the board president and the rank and file to organize the conduct and outcome of the meeting? Were there serial meetings among the commissioners to discuss the conduct and outcome of the meeting prior to the May 28 board meeting, which is a violation of the Brown Act?
And, if the commissioner who was targeted had submitted his papers to run as an incumbent, would the conduct of the “members” have been a violation of their sworn oaths when they accepted employment with the department, and violations of the rules and regulations of the department by affecting the future campaign of a candidate for public office?
Every “member” of the department is required to initial their acknowledgement of each and every page of those rules, which can be found on the department’s web page. Just a cursory review of those rules suggests to me that they violated rule no. 28 or General Performance Requirements, and rules 5, 13, 14 and 18 under Conduct. These rules require them to take their grievances to the fire chief, and that they never attempt to influence the vote “for or against any candidate for public office.”
It would appear from the reports that the commission president blew this whole event out of proportion as to the contents of the letter to the editor for self-serving purposes. She also gave up control of the meeting to the rank and file, and encouraged an atmosphere that disrupted the department morale and brought discredit to the department by permitting the rank and file to use the meeting to violate department rules. If anyone should be tendering a resignation, it should be the board president, not the commissioner who wrote the letter.
Also, why did the fire chief allow this travesty to get so far out of hand? Did he simply ignore the very rules he also agreed to abide by, and which would have put him in the role of bringing the issue forward to the commission to have the facts corrected in a professional and positive manner? Does this not raise the question, “Who really runs the department?” Is it the fire chief, the board of commissioners or the rank and file “members” and the associations?
If it is the latter, perhaps there is a good reason why TC Editor J.P. Crumrine and Commissioner Schelly needed to bring these and other questions to the foreground. Perhaps it is time for the community to begin asking why the department has to continually keep getting advances on its funding in order to keep the cepartment operational, and investigate why it cannot close the gap on its operating costs.