In the fourth special meeting in a row, remaining fire commissioners Bill Meursing and Stan Riffle approved an employment contract with new fire chief Chris Carleton. The special meeting was held at 4 p.m. Wednesday, September 5 and was attended by a dozen or so residents.
The contract, described by Meursing as “off the shelf,” was hammered out between the district’s attorney, Brian Snure, and Carleton’s lawyer. According to a rundown of the contract highlights given by Riffle, the chief will be paid $3,400 per month and is expected “to be available on a regular basis,” with a minimum of 20 hours per week, 80 hours per month. The chief is responsible for setting his own hours, subject to the preceding conditions. The salary is a fixed amount; in other words, Carleton will get paid the same whether he works 80 hours a month or if he works 160 hours.
The salary works out to $40,800 annually for the part-time position. Should Carleton work the minimum hours in a month, he would be essentially receiving an hourly wage of $42.50. The contract did not recognize that months average out at 4.3 weeks. His salary will be “adjusted upward” on January 1, 2014, and thereafter by 100 percent of the CPI index in the Seattle-Tacoma area. The contract is valid through September 30, 2015, and will be automatically extended for three years unless one or both parties decline the extension. There is also a non-disparagement agreement, which Riffle said forbids either party to “embarrass the other party.”
One perk that new hires at a private company would love to get is the one where Carleton is credited with 120 hours of vacation time as of September 1, 2012 and will bank another 10 hours per month throughout his contract. When this reporter pointed out that meant Carleton would be eligible for 12 weeks or three months of vacation in his first year, Meursing appeared taken aback and said, “Maybe that’s an oversight. We’ll have to take a look at that.” Riffle said, “I have no comment on that.” However, the issue was not raised again and Riffle and Meursing approved the contract.
Carleton will receive no medical or dental benefits due to the fact that he is a full-time employee of the Ferndale fire department and already receives those benefits. Meursing pointed out not having to provide the benefits was a $7,000 cost savings for the district. Carleton will also receive up to eight weeks of paid sick leave.
Carleton was asked by resident Davea Fisher if he still intended to rent an apartment in Point Roberts, something he had mentioned in an earlier meeting. The chief replied he didn’t want to burden the department with that expense and would instead bunk at the fire station. Hours not spent on department business will not count against the 20 hours per week minimum; meaning naptime is not salaried time.
Responding to concerns that his having a full-time job with the Ferndale fire department would limit his availability, Carleton said that he typically works eight 24-hour shifts a month or two days a week. “Most firefighters have two and often three jobs,” he added.
Carleton announced that the department would hold first aid/CPR courses on a monthly basis for the public though no start date was given. “As fire chief,” he said, “I hope to bring this organization back to the people,” describing those efforts as public relations. This drew a caustic response from Patricia Birchall who pointed out that fire department public relations should simply mean “doing your job.”
Birchall had earlier asked where the extra money for Carleton’s salary would come from, given that the 2012 budget only allotted $36,000 for the chief’s position. “We move money around to and from various accounts all the time,” Meursing replied.
Nevertheless, Carleton’s salary brings up an interesting point. The firing of former chief Nick Kiniski was not “for cause,” according to Riffle and apparently, given the fact that Kiniski was paid $36 an hour versus Carleton’s $42.50, nor was it a money-saving measure. Commissioners have refused to give the reason Kiniski was fired though Meursing told this reporter that people would understand “if they knew.” Commissioners are also planning to hire an administrative assistant; the salary for that position is yet to be determined. John Shields has also recently been appointed assistant fire chief; it is not known what salary that position receives.
An extensive Open Public Records (OPR) application by the All Point Bulletin requesting this and other information was emailed and mailed to the fire district on Monday, August 27. At the earlier special meeting held on Wednesday, August 29, Meursing said the fire district had received the request and had already responded to it. However, as of September 6, the newspaper has received neither the information requested nor an explanation of when it could be expected.
Under state law, agencies are required within five working days to present the material requested or provide an explanation why the deadline cannot be met and when the material will be presented. Agencies that fail to provide a record may be ordered by a Superior Court judge to pay $5 to $100 per day for each day each record was withheld as well as award lawyer’s fees to the plaintiff.Commissioners called for individuals interested in applying for the vacant commissioner position to put forth their name. Up to this point, only one person has expressed interest.