At the September 12 regular meeting of Whatcom County Fire District 5, fire chief Christopher Carleton announced that the contract commissioners approved on September 5 had been modified by mutual agreement.
The All Point Bulletin had questioned the contract’s generosity at the previous meeting, pointing out the terms presented meant Carleton would be eligible for 12 weeks or three months of vacation in his first year. Bill Meursing appeared taken aback and said, “Maybe that’s an oversight. We’ll have to take a look at that.” Stan Riffle said, “I have no comment on that.” The previous contract gave Carleton 120 vacation hours as of September 1 and accruing 10 hours per month for a total of 240 hours at the end of his first year.
Carleton described the earlier contract as their “first shot at it.” Under the revised contract Carleton will start with 40 hours of vacation and will accrue 3.5 hours per month. In addition, the cap on accrued vacation time has been lowered to 120 hours of total accumulated time until his contract is up for renewal in 2015. Sick leave hours are equivalent.
Audience member Rob Dean questioned whether the revised contract still meant Carleton could “take the last six months of your contract off and get paid for it.”
“Yes,” Carleton answered. “Would I? No.” (Ed. Note: Given that Carleton’s contract mandates a minimum of 20 hours per week, 120 hours accumulated vacation credit equates to six week’s vacation, not six months.)
Other audience members questioned whether there was enough time to do the job, and Carleton assured them his full time position as a paramedic with the Ferndale fire department gave him “20-plus days a month to do my duties here.” He added the 20 weekly hours he is contracted for would be spent in Point Roberts, and other business he does for the department, such as meetings off the Point and training, would not count toward that amount.
Commissioners announced that they would not be hiring a paid administrator. “In checking with our fire chief we find he does not need an administrative assistant to accomplish what he needs to accomplish,” Riffle said.
When questioned why an agenda item appeared to ratify a decision not made in open session, Meursing said that did not mean they had taken the action to eliminate the position prior to the meeting, which would constitute a violation of the state open meetings act. The agenda item read “the position of administrative assistant will not be created.”
“We made the decision in passing, talking to the chief,” Meursing said, adding he thought this reporter’s concern with the transparency of the board’s decision making was nitpicking. “It could say instead of ‘not be created,’ ‘not be filled,’ ” he said, adding. “We’re making the decision now.”
When asked if the district had received any correspondence, Carleton told commissioners nothing had been received. However, captain Joe Gary said prior to the meeting he had hand-delivered a letter to Carleton and Meursing to notify them he intended to remain on leave from the department until certain issues of compliance with state labor laws were resolved. “I feel over the past five years I have been incorrectly compensated,” due to overlapping duties as a paid part-time administrator and a volunteer. “I just don’t like the way they do business,” Gary said prior to the meeting, adding he was not seeking additional compensation, but transparency and clear policies compliant with state laws.
According to Meursing, the board reviews letters based on calendar months; letters that arrived in August would be reviewed at the September board meeting, for example. Gary’s letter will be reviewed in the October board meeting.