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Woodinville Fire Chief resigns at emotional meeting

Chair calls police to maintain order

Jim Davis Steve Smith
Jim Davis.Steve Smith.
fire chief resigns by Jeff Switzer
WOODINVILLE--Fire Chief Jim Davis officially submitted his resignation to the Board of Fire Commissioners of the Woodinville Fire and Life Safety District, effective Sept. 15, in an emotionally charged meeting at which nearly 50 Davis supporters demanded that the board refuse his resignation.
   The Sept. 3 meeting also marked Deputy Fire Chief Steve Smith's promotion to chief on Sept. 16 for a 12-month period.
   More than 60 people were in attendance, and seven people spoke in support of Jim Davis' contributions to the community, some verbally confrontational with the commissioners, calling them cowards and alluding to back-room politics.
   One member of the audience, William Frazier, Davis' brother-in-law, continued to harangue the commissioners, causing sufficient concern that Commission Chair Don Leggett called the police during their executive session and said the commissioners' lives were in danger.
   One King County officer and two Woodinville officers arrived on the scene in case the tense and emotional situation deteriorated into violence, but they were not required to take any action.
   The meeting was held in the vehicle bay to accommodate the number of people anticipated to attend. Public comment came at the beginning of the meeting, limited to 15 minutes among all speakers. Frazier spoke first, followed by Mary Baum, who asked members of the audience to stand up and applaud if they wanted the board to turn down Davis' anticipated resignation.
   The room erupted in applause as about 40 people stood and cheered, including Davis's friends and family. Noticeably absent from those standing were those firefighters in attendance.
   The board then addressed several items, and Davis read his resignation into the record. While Davis was reading, Frazier continued his verbal taunting of the commissioners. Afterward, the board went into executive session for about 15 minutes, emerging with a motion to accept Davis' resignation and promote Deputy Fire Chief Steve Smith to chief of the department, effective Sept. 15, for a 12-month probationary period.
   Following the board's action, Davis asked to be excused, noting that the remaining agenda items did not require his presence. His request was granted and, along with more than 40 people, he stood up and left the meeting, some of his supporters addressing the commissioners personally and continuing the barrage of verbal attacks.

Davis' letter
   "Pursuant to the terms and condition of the severance agreement approved by the Board of Fire Commissioners at the Aug. 19, 1996 meeting, I hereby resign my position as Fire Chief for Woodinville Fire and Life Safety District.
   "I am extremely proud of the accomplishments that have occurred during my watch as Fire Chief. The credits for this success need to go directly to the personnel of the district, the Citizens Advisory Committee, the Fire Commissioners, past and present, and to the citizens who placed their trust in all of us at the Fire District.
   "The citizens have supported the Woodinville Fire and Life Safety District, not only financially, but caring for the level of service they expect. In exchange, the firefighters and employees have a great amount of pride in the service they provide to our citizens.
   "I would like to express my sincere thanks to my wife Michelle, and my children, Christina, Jennifer, Heidi, Jimmy, and Scott for their compassionate understanding for the many meetings, emergencies, and mood changes brought about on my job. I would also like to personally thank the community of Woodinville for allowing me to be the Fire Chief."
   Davis again thanked each of the groups with whom he had worked, from the board to his administrative staff.
   "I leave at a time when the service we provide is at the highest level, a reserve account that will support capital replacements from now and into the future, and, as promised, no more bond issues," he said.
   "The Board of Fire Commissioners and Fire District have numerous changes facing them. Please keep your trust in your management team, the firefighters, and the employees to handle these changes.
   "My family and I will always consider Woodinville our home and a special part of our lives. As Yogi Berra said, 'When you come to the 'Y' in the road, take it.' It is time for me to move on in a positive and professional manner."
   Davis offered his services to assist in a smooth transition and will be working with Smith towards that end.

The board's response
   The commissioners accepted Davis' resignation in accordance with the agreed-to terms, which include severance pay arrangements totaling $141,626.57, Davis' normal compensation rate through Mar. 15, 1998.
   Davis also agreed to not accept employment in any capacity with the City of Woodinville until that date. Davis' five-year contract would have expired Dec. 5, 1999.
   The terms also state that neither party can say adverse things about the other to the public or press regarding Davis' departure.
   "The board wishes to express its appreciation for the results achieved by our fire and EMS professionals and volunteers during Chief Davis' tenure," the commissioners said.
   "We wish him well and appreciate his hard work. This board will continue to pursue the highest standards of fire and life safety at value for the citizens, businesses, and institutions of the district. This means to the satisfaction and care of all our personnel, as well as our citizens."

Why is Davis leaving?
   The community continues to wonder why Jim Davis has resigned from his post as chief after 14 years on the management team.
   Variables in the equation include changes in the composition and personality of the fire board; the unsure future of a downtown fire station, which is planned for land the district now owns but may not be able to build on; and an internal survey this spring which showed 21 of 99 questions with less favorable ratings over the 1995 survey.
   Of the 104 surveys distributed, 62 responded, for a 61 percent response rate, up from 1995's 39 percent. Some internal conflicts have also been alluded to, including an unfair labor practice suit last year which the district lost. Nearly 100 union firefighters work for the Woodinville district.
   Both sides continue to respect the agreement not to discuss the issue.
   Also at the meeting, the board voted to move its official meeting nights to the first and third Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. in the training room of the Fire District Headquarters.