A budget report for the first quarter of 2013-14 was not available at the last Idyllwild Fire Protection District meeting, but Commissioner Jerry Buchanan reported he was working with the recently hired financial consultant and progress is being made.

Buchanan discussed his ideas for an IFPD Budget Committee and will bring the proposal forward in the form of a resolution at the November meeting.

He suggested a committee composed of  two commission members, the fire chief and two members from the public. Since it is a standing committee, its meetings will be posted and open to the public beyond the two citizen members.

The committee would meet quarterly and review the district’s financial status in depth, Buchanan said while outlining his proposal. When necessary it would recommend budget changes to the commission. In his opinion, this process would be more thorough and open than what currently occurs. “They’ll get more done and in shorter time than we spend here,” he concluded.

The board also began a self-evaluation. The form, prepared by Len Wood and Associates, had about 50 questions. The commission was asked to rate its action on a zero (entirely true) to a three (very untrue at all)scale.

Vice President Dr. Charles “Chip” Schelly, who chaired the meeting in the absence of President Jeannine Charles-Stigall, led the other members in a discussion of the first 16 questions. On most, they assigned a score of zero to their actions; however, a few questions or issues did raise some conversation about improving or changing behavior.

For example, the three members assigned themselves a three for failing to develop their own mission or goal statement. “We haven’t spent any time on this,” noted Schelly.

They also felt improvement could be made in evaluating the chief. In particular, these should be done more timely in the future.

Among the statements, which were deemed very true, were, “Board meetings start on time” and “The chair keeps audience members informed of board issues and actions.”

The commission also approved about a dozen board policies all dealing with aspects of employee relations, such as records, references and cell phone usage. However, the commission did ask Chief Patrick Reitz to add a section to the customer relations policy (2016).

Schelly was concerned about how direct 911 calls to the station are handled. While these should go to directly to 911, on rare occasions individuals have called the station directly.

The commission affirmed the chief’s policy that the incident information should be collected and the caller be encouraged to phone 911 directly. The commission definitely did not want callers only told to dial 911 without collecting the vital information.

While Reitz said he has instructed staff to take the information and then tell them to call 911, Schelly said he is aware of three to five incidents over the past several years where callers were only told to hang up and call 911.

“That’s not what the community wants,” he stressed. “It’s inappropriate if there is a known emergency.”

Reitz also told the commission that he has had discussions with the Idyllwild Volunteer Fire Company and members have agreed to background checks. He emphasized that all medical staff are required to be checked now, but the company will amend its bylaws and the agreement with IFPD to require checks of all members.

The commission is considering a change to its meeting frequency. In 2012, the board approved a resolution setting two meetings a month. Since several members had completed much of the workload backlog, Reitz said they had approached him about changing either the meeting date or time, so he drafted a resolution for the commission to consider returning to only one meeting per month. He also said two monthly meetings were cumbersome on the staff.

While the members present were supportive of the idea, they agreed to table the issue until after December when the new commission will be formed.

However, they did agree to cancel the second meeting for the months of November and December because of holiday conflicts.

The next meeting is Oct. 22 with the agenda limited to choosing between Rhonda Andrewson and Nancy Layton, both commissioner-elects, to fill the remaining six weeks of former Commissioner Pete Capparelli’s term.


Andrewson or Layton will get six-week head start

At its Oct. 22 meeting, the Idyllwild Fire Protection District Commission plans to appoint a new commissioner to fill the vacancy created when former Commissioner Pete Capparelli resigned in September. The commission decided to limit the choice to one of the two commissioner-elects — Rhonda Andrewson and Nancy Layton — from the Aug. 27 mail-in election. Nothing in California’s Government Code restricts the commission’s ability to limit the applicants.

“It’s in their political authority to do whatever they want subject to the political winds that blow [in Idyllwild],” said Jim Ewert, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association. “If the decision is unpopular or a large number don’t like it, they will let the fire commission know how they feel standpoint, they have authority to do it.”

“My input is to look at only two candidates — the top two vote-getters,” Commissioner Jerry Buchanan said, making his motion. “We have a history of that in the past. That way we can run through November with a full board.”

The vote was 3-0. President Jeannine Charles-Stigall was absent.

Besides setting a decision on a new commissioner, the board heard more details about the Aug. 27 election. Fire Chief Patrick Reitz said the Registrar of Voters told him that 47 write-in votes were cast in the election.

“Because there were no qualified write-in candidates, we did not tally the individual names written on the ballot,” Melissa Eickman, chief deputy registrar of voters, replied in an email to the Town Crier asking who were the write-in choices.

As previously reported, 591 ballots were cast in the election and voters could choose three of four candidates, which results in a possible total of 1,773 votes. However only 1,203 votes were cast. The missing 570 included the 47 write-ins and 523 uncast or blank votes.

While Reitz concluded that only 68 ballots were cast for the full complement of three commission candidates that is probably an underestimate since there were only 523 undervotes. And ballots could have had one or two undervotes.

“It is unlikely that there were only 68 fully voted ballots or that there were 172 blank ballots. It is more likely that there were a variety of ballots cast with one, two or three votes as well as the possibility that some ballots were cast blank,” Eickman said.

Andrewson and Layton, along with incumbent Charles-Stigall, were elected to fill the three seats whose terms begin Dec. 6. Capparelli and Commission Vice President Dr. Charles “Chip” Schelly chose not to seek re-election. Layton and incumbent Charles-Stigall were tied for the most votes and Andrewson was the third.

In September, Capparelli resigned early to give one of the two new members a start on their term. The notice of vacancy has been posted for several weeks and at its Oct. 8 meeting, the commission decided to make the choice at its next meeting — 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22 at the fire station.

J.P. Crumrine can be reached at [email protected]