The Idyllwild Fire Protection District (IFPD) Commission unanimously approved the Acting Fire Chief Mark LaMont’s contract officially making him fire chief at the July 23 meeting.
However, the Town Crier was told by Henry Sawicki by phone that the vote happened during open session. The item is not listed in the open session portion of the meeting agenda. In an email, Jerry Buchanan, commission president, wrote that the vote occurred in closed session.
In a separate email to the Town Crier Buchanan wrote, “The item was on the agenda as a closed session item. As the district negotiator I brought the negotiated contract to the commissioners. The commissioners agreed with the contract that was negotiated with Mark [LaMont]. The commission voted in closed session to appoint Mark as chief. The vote was reported out in open session.”
The language in the agenda for the two closed session items state, “Pursuant to government code section 54957.6/54956(b) excluded salary discussion/compensation” and “Conference with labor negotiator – District designated representative: Board president Jerry Buchanan; Unrepresented employee: Fire chief.”
It seems unclear as to whether or not the Brown Act was violated. If Buchanan is correct that the action was taken in closed session, then the action of what was taken is important because the Brown Act limits what takes placed during a closed session. If the vote taken in closed session was to appoint LaMont as fire chief, the agenda does not state employee appointment and questions the efficacy of the agenda.
There would not have been a public notice for anyone who may have wanted to comment on the appointment of LaMont to the position of fire chief.
If the vote was to approve the contract, which includes salary and benefits, the Brown Act does not allow for the final action/vote to be taken in closed session. They can conference about the contract negotiation in closed session, but the final action for compensation of an unrepresented employee has to be taken in open session.
After submitting a public records request for a copy of the contract, the newspaper found that LaMont will receive an annual base salary of $114,480 beginning July 1 with a monthly salary of $9,540. LaMont is also eligible for a yearly salary adjustment on July 1 based on a “satisfactory or better review.” The amount of the adjustment is unknown.
When asked why there was not a specified dollar amount or percentage, Buchanan responded with, “Increase of salary is up to the commission. There are no stated limits. Any increase must be earned. Just as in past contracts with prior chiefs.”
LaMont will be able to assist on mutual aid assignments “from time of commitment to time back in district at the base rate of $55.46 per hour.” The time away is indefinite but according to Buchanan there will be someone designated to fulfill the role in LaMont’s absence. “Mark [LaMont] must consult with the board president prior to leaving and have a plan for the district including who is in charge,” stated Buchanan in an email. “It will be a duty officer. Mark [LaMont] has new duties on the team which make him more accessible.”
Both Buchanan and LaMont responded to questions posed and document requests quickly.