Northwest NEWS

February 7, 2000

Local News

Fire Commission answers Callon

by Marshall Haley, staff reporter

   WOODINVILLE--In an apparent vote of no-confidence, the Woodinville Fire & Life Safety Board of Commissioners voted 4-0 to remove Commissioner Dave Callon from the board's Ethics Committee at their Feb. 1 meeting. Callon abstained from voting.

   The vote apparently stemmed from a "letter to the editor" that Callon wrote, printed in the Jan. 31 editions of the Woodinville Weekly, Northlake News, and Valley View, in which Callon distanced himself from his fellow board members, accusing them of "outrageous spending."

   Board members and fire district administrative staff members suggest Callon's letter did a public disservice by distorting facts and figures, raising questions about his personal ethics. Board member Tim Osgood suggested Callon lacks a solid base of critique on their budget, because he skipped the board's Oct. 16, 1999 annual budget retreat to attend to his unsuccessful race for King County Assessor.

   Callon's letter claims, as an example of fire district waste, "14 phone lines at our headquarters when there are only three firefighters and six administrator(s) working" there.

   In fact, headquarters (Station #31) has 10 administrative staff and 4-6 firefighters using 11 phone lines, said staff members. Four of those lines are dedicated: the fax machine; the printer tied to the Bellevue dispatch office; and two Internet lines, one used for the building's fire alarm. That leaves seven lines for a total of 26 phones used by 14-16 people in several upstairs and downstairs offices. Staff said they would especially need all seven lines to field public calls in event of extreme emergency.

   Board chair Frank Peep and Osgood said the board is confused as to how Callon can say they don't need to fill the Deputy Chief (D/C) of Operations position just vacated by Dominic Marzano. In his letter, Callon claims cutting that D/C position will save taxpayers $100,000 per year. In fact, Marzano made $78,000 per year.

   "Our minutes show that Mr. Callon made the motions to accept the current contracts of all our administrative staff members, including the Deputy Chief of Operations position," said Osgood. "So we're confused as to why he now calls that staff 'top-heavy.' The Deputy Chief of Operations is responsible for the day-to-day workings of the department. Every fire department has that position. The chief relies on that D/C, allowing the chief to attend to administrative tasks. As commissioners, we're responsible for that efficiency."

   Osgood said Callon's suggestion that the alleged budget problem "just takes a little reorganization" is typical of Callon's sweeping distortions that fail to offer any justification or substantial resolution. Peep said he asked Callon to provide justification for his challenge that the board should cut 10 percent from their budget--which the board hammered out in Callon's absence--but that Callon "refused" to provide any detailed justification.

   "Mr. Callon relates this government function to private corporations. Private companies run expense-based budgets," said Osgood. "Our board, like other public agencies, run line-item budgets, which greatly increases accountability."

   At the meeting, Callon suggested the fire district should follow the example of Coca-Cola, which recently cut 18 percent of its workforce. "Government should attempt to do the same, get leaner and meaner, do more with less," said Callon.

   Battalion Chief Mark Emery said Callon should tell how many plants Coca-Cola shut down, before using that example as justification for cutting the D/C position.

   "That's like telling a sandwich shop owner, 'you have to cut your meat budget from $100,000 to $40,000, and you have to serve the exact same ingredients for the same price--make it work!'" said Osgood. "If we closed fire stations, we'd definitely save money, because we would also lay off workers. I worked in the private sector before the fire service. If you cut money coming in, services are cut. If the community tells us they want less taxes, and less services, that's what we'll do. But I don't think the community will ever say that. We feel cuts to our service would be irresponsible."

   Osgood said he believes police and fire protection are central public services that the public relies on, and that those should not be part of a political agenda for anyone. Callon recently rejected findings by the Policy Review committee of commissioners Clint Olson and Osgood because they had not been reviewed by legal counsel, said Osgood.

   "Paying $125 an hour to an attorney--to repeat work that we've already put a lot of time into--is an example of irresponsible waste of public funds," said Osgood. "If the work we were doing was too complicated, we would have asked Clarke Snure (the district's attorney) for help. But it wasn't. Our attorney didn't see any problem with what we'd done, so why does Mr. Callon?

   "This year's budget increases were to pay for goods and services we had to pay for, such as keeping aid cars and fire engines operational with adequate staffing. The additional monies collected were to offset deficit spending of our emergency reserve fund. The largest part of that was almost $1 million for repairs to two stations that weren't built correctly. Mr. Callon was the committee chair who oversaw repairs to those stations a few years back. He was praised then for the cost-cutting on his hiring for the work, but now we are paying for very expensive repairs on that same construction."

   Osgood said he is confident that anyone who came to district headquarters and reviewed this year's budget with Chief Steve Smith "would come away knowing this is a tightly-run organization, with no fat and very little discretionary spending."

   After the board removed Callon from the Ethics committee, he said, "Okay, I hope this is on the record: to get Callon off all the committees."

   "I'm not interested in ... receiving a token committee appointment," said Callon.