Simmering discord between fire chief Nick Kiniski and commissioners came to a head as commissioners spent an hour behind closed doors and came out with changes to Kiniski’s position and how the department is administered.
Following the July 16 executive session commission chair David Gellatly read a five point statement and abruptly closed the meeting.
“We have proposed to Nick Kiniski that effective August 1 he will receive a stipend of $3,000 a month in his capacity as chief,” Gellatly said. The district will continue to pay for Kiniski’s medical insurance. Gellatly said the district would return under the medical supervision of Whatcom County medical program director Marvin Wayne within 45 days of August 1.
Currently, the district is under the supervision of the San Juan County medical program director. Mike Lopez, supervisor of the EMS section of the state department of health’s office of community health systems, approved the change after Kiniski said it was highly unlikely he would be signed off to work as a paramedic if he was required to work with the Bellingham fire department which is overseen by Wayne. He cited a hostile work environment as the reason. Commissioners have directed Kiniski to work with Wayne to meet his requirements.
Kiniski’s performance will be reviewed monthly in executive session at the regular meetings of the commissioners through November 2012, Gellatly added.
Gellatly said that, in addition to his stipend as chief, Kiniski would receive a remuneration package “for the purpose of supporting his paramedic certification.”
Finally, Gellatly announced the district would hire an administrative secretary, reporting to the board, to provide the chief and the board with administrative and clerical support. Washington fire districts typically have paid personnel report to the fire chief who, in turn, report to the board. Board members set policy and do not collectively or individually supervise or direct members of the department other than the chief.
Before commissioners went into executive session, Kiniski expressed frustration that commissioners were not allowing him to do his job by interfering with fire practices and challenging the hours he works. “You hired me as a fire chief,” he said. “I have never been hired as a paid administrator,” he said.
Commissioner Stan Riffle pointed out the budget for chief for the year, $35,000, had already been exceeded. “Nothing’s been brought to us and you’re collecting $7,500 a month,” he said. “Basically you’re not a volunteer chief.
“No, I’m not,” Kiniski answered. “You hired me as a fire chief and I’m a paid chief.” Currently Kiniski is paid $36 an hour. “I have never been challenged about my hours before and now I get back from school and I am. Is this just about money? Because we’ve doubled the levy rate and we’re saving lives.”
Kiniski earned $72,000 working full time in 2010, was in training to become a paramedic in 2011, and has earned $36,000 so far in 2012. Salary information for chief Chris Carleton, who worked with a part time administrator in 2011 during Kiniski’s absence, was not available at press time.
The budget prepared by Carleton for 2012 included $35,000 in salary for a chief and $30,000 for the assistant chief, a position Carleton has occupied so far this year but which is under review.
According to Kiniski, the part-time administrator/volunteer chief position is not feasible because it is illegal to volunteer for the identical entity for which a person works for pay.
Elaine Fischer, spokeswoman for the state department of labor and industries clarified under the state’s minimum wage law that it depended on whether or not the paid and volunteer work overlapped. “They cannot volunteer similar or identical services they are paid to do,” she said.
Commissioners will meet again at their regular monthly meeting on August 8 at the fire station at 7 p.m.