A changing of the guards — all under a veil of secrecy.

After a nearly two-month medical leave absence, Patrick Reitz is no longer fire chief and Mark LaMont, who hosted Reitz’s wedding at his Garner Valley spread, is now the acting.

Someone could write a book about LaMont, whom a Riverside County Grand Jury once advised be considered for termination from employment at Idyllwild Fire.

But now he seems to have pushed his adversaries aside and taken the reins at IFPD — all under a veil of secrecy.

Supposedly, the commissioners drew up an agreement between the district and Reitz, basically saying the chief would leave for personal reasons with a six-month severance pay and they would all play nice with each other. 

When was that done? Does the public not have the right to know when that was done?

Was it in closed session at the Feb. 26 IFPD meeting where the agenda item called for a conference with labor negotiators Jerry Buchanan (president) and Bradley Neufeld (IFPD general counsel) with an unrepresented employee (fire chief)? (Labor negotiations with no union representative?)

Government Code 54957.6 cited in that agenda item allows for discussion of “the salaries, salary schedules, or compensation paid in the form of fringe benefits.”

At the end of the one-hour session, according to the minutes, “No reportable action out of closed session.” If at that meeting it was agreed to draw up an agreement, that’s reportable action.

So should we assume this is not when it took place? After all, that agreement doesn’t really fall under GC 54957.6 or labor negotiations.

Does the agreement that the parties play nice with each other mean IFPD is hiding something it doesn’t want let out of the bag that the public might find unsavory about the department? 

And Reitz, who became quite a popular figure about town during his employment, just might be the one to put a real damper on the department’s need to double unit fees on local properties if he spilled the beans?

Or is it the other way around? That the department has something on Reitz.

Reitz’s terminal dilemma is alluded to only in the March 26 agenda under another closed session item: GC 54957: public employee appointment - fire chief. This was tabled to the April 10 IFPD meeting because one commissioner was absent. Buchanan said it was to talk about the process of hiring. If that is the case, that requires open discussion, not closed.

This all seems strange and inappropriate. Our intent is not to pry into someone’s personal life but we’re talking about a government agency and employee. The public already has been questioning LaMont’s salary, you’re paying a six-month severance pay to Reitz while you argue you need additional revenues.

You commissioners need to put the public first and to do that, you need to be as transparent with them as possible. You’re just creating more of a cloud of suspicion over Idyllwild Fire.

Becky Clark, Editor