County considering policy for fire board appointments to reduce conflicts of interest

During their Jan. 14 meeting, County Commissioners will consider a policy regarding appointments to the various fire boards in the county.

Currently, there is no policy regarding whether staff or volunteer firefighters at those fire departments can be appointed to the boards that govern their operations.

That’s a “tremendous problem,” Deputy County Attorney Carey Ann Haight told commissioners during their Jan. 8 work session.

The boards oversee budgets, operations and the chiefs of those fire departments, commissioners said.

Since some of the board members turned out to work for the chief as staff or volunteers firefighters during normal operations, it creates a “gnarly conflict,” Haight said, and a :lot of appearance of impropriety.”

Haight said that since the boards oversee the chief and some of members also work for the chief, it creates an “incredibly complicated, convoluted” situation.

She said it would better for the commission to make appointments for the fire boards that don’t have built in conflict.

On Jan. 14, commissioners will consider a resolution to create a policy on the fire board appointments.

Commissioner Jane Weber said she believed the commission had made appointments to the boards in the past without knowing if applicants worked for the fire departments.

She said there had been some conflicts in some cases.

The county board application form asks whether applicants have previous experience on public boards, whether elected or appointed; their employer and any experience or education they have relevant to the board they’d be serving on.

Commissioner Jim Larson said he understands the concern over potential conflicts, but that some of the boards are so small that it’s often tough to fill a board.

He asked if they could write some kind of provision into the policy to allow staff or volunteers to be appointed if there were no other options.

Haight said writing in that discretion could make the appointments “arbitrary.”

Haight suggested the commissioners adopt the policy and monitor whether problems arise in filling board vacancies. It it becomes problematic, she said the commission can revisit the policy and rescind it if necessary.