The Edwards Agency

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Fire Board shows differing philosophies with new chair, shifting control

Fire Board by Jeff Switzer
The Woodinville Fire District Board of Commissioners has undergone several significant changes lately, with a new chair, a newly-appointed board member, and a citizen group in the process of restructuring.
   Members of the board have indicated that the shift in structure reflects the way the board is moving towards taking a stronger lead in setting policy directions, noting that the administration had set the tone in years past with the board following its lead.
   "It happened quickly," admitted Don Leggett, chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners, "but not too quickly for our thinking."
   Leggett said the June 17 meeting was originally going to be called off, because Sue Dickson, then chair, would not be able to attend because of a personal matter. (The legality of canceling a regularly scheduled public meeting has been questioned, but because the board continued with the original agenda, it has not been addressed.)
   Commissioner Dave Callon reportedly told Dickson the meeting had to take place because vouchers needed to be signed so the firefighters could be paid. Dickson agreed to attend a short meeting to sign the vouchers.
   At the beginning of the meeting, a sealed envelope containing Jim O'Dell's resignation was opened, and Dickson read it into the record.
   "She read the letter and there it was, a vacancy. I took the initiative and I don't regret what I did," said Leggett. "It was done openly. I started the process of accepting Jim O'Dell's resignation and Callon moved to appoint Don Eddy. It was the right thing to do then and it was the time to do it."
   Eddy had indicated previously to Leggett that he wanted to be a fire commissioner and had submitted a resume, and Leggett told him to come to meetings, he said.
   "I told him that if an opening occurred, we would give him consideration," Leggett said.
   Following the appointment of Eddy, Dickson told the board she had to leave, and the vouchers had yet to be signed. Callon moved that Leggett replace her as chair so the board's business could continue.
   "We didn't have a chair when she walked out," Leggett said, adding that the three board members felt they could continue with the agenda of the regular meeting.

Appointed versus elected
   Fire commissioners are appointed often, Leggett said, citing Ben May's appointment to fill Bob Miller's vacancy several years ago.
   "People elect somebody who stands up and says, 'I want to serve you,' and has the time and trust and confidence of voters to do the job without the voters wanting to interfere," Leggett said.
   He said Eddy has demonstrated that he is interested, wants to serve and is willing to dedicate his time and efforts to being a commissioner.
   "In this area, I give the voting public a lot of credit for knowing their responsibilities and our responsibilities."

A difference in style
   "Maybe it shouldn't have been done quite that way," said May about the filling of the vacancy. He said he disagrees with the speed with which the board took action to fill O'Dell's seat, though he noted there is no set procedure to fill a vacancy. May was not present at the meeting where these events occurred.
   Coming from a customer service and marketing background, he says perception is all there is and he disagrees with some of the brusqueness that has occurred lately.
   "Don Leggett will not tolerate mediocrity and dishonesty," said May. "He can be brusque from a perception standpoint, but he is without a doubt the finest commissioner I've ever seen, with a breadth of experience. He's fair, but he's not a public relations agent."
   Leggett acknowledges that he favors a "reasonable/rational side, rather than an emotional side" of conducting the business of the fire board.
   "I go by the book and conduct meetings boom, boom, boom," Leggett gestured.
   "I know nearly everybody on the block; there've been some changes over the years, but not one of them has criticized me for doing my job. We could have looked at resumes and spent months working with the public, but the outcome would have been the same; we would probably have Don Eddy," he said. "When a vacancy occurs, especially in an atmosphere like we had of polarization, we had to get somebody in there to get things back on track."
   Commissioner Sue Dickson will be leaving the board in the near future, and has requested that resumes for her replacement be submitted for the board's consideration.
   May said he doesn't know at this point how Dickson's vacancy will be handled, though the board plans on looking at resumes they've received and considering those who have approached the board. He says the needs of the fire district are being met.
   "I don't see us getting somebody right away," said Leggett, who agreed that those interested should submit resumes, however. "We've got a majority and we can function very effectively with four."
   Commissioner David Callon chose not to comment at this time.