A Problem of Perception (August 28, 1996)

Board Chair Ruben Thomasson opened last week’s CSD meeting by whispering that he had a voice problem. “I’ll be the yeller tonight,” added newly hired General Manager Jan Wasson-Smith. (The Board decided to pay the former volunteer Wasson-Smith with some of the funds from the Benefit Assessment Wasson-Smith aggresively opposed.) Director Emil Rossi’s chair at the Board table was empty again…

Friends of Anderson Valley Emergency Services (FAVES) announced that they had accumulated over $1000 in their reward fund for the arrest and conviction of the Anderson Valley Arsonist(s). When FAVES member Jeanne Nickless announced that the August Volunteer of the Month was John Pinoli the room burst out in applause for the popular high school student/firefighter who has become an important part of the Valley even at a young age.

Dan Myer the Board’s legal advisor, retired judge Sherman Juster, to provide more specifics on how to handle Director Rossi other than with a recall, decrying Rossi’s recent use of the phrase “more of the Chief’s lies and intimidation” in a recent letter to the editor. Pinoli was “on vacation,” but will get not only the free dinner from Horn of Zeese and “because of his age” a bottle of sparkling apple cider, but a free haircut at New Image, five gallons of gas from Jeff’s Chevron and two regular cones from Otto’s Ice Cream Shop.

There was a discussion about “automatic ascension” and some similarly interesting proposals from the California Community Services District Association which Director Hall described as “pretty boring,” which was supported 4-0.

The Airport Committee reported that they had argued about which fund the $10k of tie-paving money should come out of. There will be an 8/28 bid opening and an 8/29 bid review and award meeting at 4:30 at the Firehouse training room. Open to the public.

The Board reluctantly voted to comply with the law requiring Recreation instructions who deal with minors to be fingerprinted at $32 per.

Budget Committee Chair/Director Dave Gowan reported that the Board was “spending funny money now,” referring to the property tax and assessment revenue which will not be credited to the District’s account until December. Gowan announced that non-emergency expenses over $500 would require Board approval “in advance.” “We’re going to do it,” he emphasized. Trubia noted that the slightly hire expenses for July and August (the beginning of the District’s fiscal year) were due to “doing without for so long and an active fire season.” After a brief discussion of the $550 spent on “recuse gear” the Board approved all of the month’s warrants totaling about $8,700 for July ‘96.

The Board voted 3-1 to postpone the long-delayed “Zotter Bill” — the controversial bill for services from the County Counsel’s office during the dispute over firing the chief and not implementing the benefit assessment earlier this year — again. Chair Thomasson said “He and I are still arguing about it.” Director Gowan dissented saying “I’d like to get over with tonight.”

Chief Trubia ran down the month’s responses, describing the firefighter’s response to the Peachland Road Fire as a “damned-near superhuman effort.” Trubia said they had blown more of the old hose and had been robbing hose from out-of-service engines, so he had purchased a new supply of hose. The Colin Wilson, DeWayne Burgess, Fred Wooley strike team sent to the Forks Fire in Lake County was mostly “guarding houses,” added Trubia. Trubia reported that the pumps on the Forest Service fire engines recently arrived from Southern California were tested and work well. “Boy do they really pump!” said Trubia as his voice seemed to rise, adding, “Let me just say: NEVER straddle a hose when you turn on a pump.” Trubia reported that there are about 10 new volunteers and he is juggling the roster to stay below the 45 ceiling while keeping the most active volunteers on the roster. Trubia also said that the formerly high reimbursements for strike teams and engines were a thing of the past, because of cutbacks in State Forestry budgets. “We’re not going to make big bucks off strike teams anymore.”

Trubia was concerned about the lack of response from Howard Forest when he found himself trapped at the Peachland Road fire. “No one answered!” he said. Trubia is still looking into why. When Director Hall asked, “Maybe they were trying to stop the spread of the wildfire?” “Never,” replied Trubia, “Lives are always first!” Trubia said that would have trouble sending firefighters into fire scenes in the future if he can’t depend on responses to such dangerous situations.

Volunteer Keith Hoyt reported that the Volunteer’s Association would be contributing $2500 to get the two “new” (vintage 1977/78) Forest Service engines ready for service.

GM Wasson-Smith reported that the County now has the Benefit Assessment data except for 11 parcels which need some parcel number reconciliation. The Benefit Assessment is expected to bring in $111,000. 

When Wasson-Smith asked about advertising for a new chief in the Sacramento Bee, a long discussion ensued about Chief Trubia’s situation, particularly when he was going to resign. Ernie Chacon urged the board to reject Trubia’s “conditional” resignation, saying he thought things had “cooled down” since it was submitted, adding that Trubia was just now getting to the point where he knows the Valley and can fully perform as Chief. “It takes time to know where things are, where to go…” 

Director Gowan said he thought the “conditional” resignation was more of a “courtesy” to the Board, and that the Chief’s contract calls for a formal 60-day notice which they hadn’t received. Gowan added that “anyone has the right to look for other work.”

Juster told the Board he thought the Board hadn’t made it clear enough they were behind the Chief. “You have to let the community know what the will of the Board is,” he asserted. Juster said the Board wasn’t liable for the actions of one director, but they may be liable if they don’t provide fire protection services. “The rhetoric on both sides has been overboard,” he added, “and private agendas get into the controversy.” Juster added that he felt that the Board hadn’t effectively countered what Director Rossi had said. 

Gowan was somewhat indignant. “We haven’t done that?”

“Each time you don’t counter what Director Rossi says, there is a public perception that you do not support the chief,” replied Juster, speaking, at least for one member of the public.

“Maybe we should print the minutes in the newspaper?” suggested Gowan. “And I don’t know why more people don’t come to these meetings. I’ve asked a lot of people to come but then — phsst — they don’t come.”

“We just don’t want to get into any more goddamn debate,” replied Hall, apologizing for his use of Rossi-like language. 

When Trubia said he wanted the support of the whole Board, Lynn Roman said “There are always going to be assholes… I mean Lily-livered wusses.”

Director Johnson agreed. “There will always be criticism. I don’t read the Boonville paper (sorry Mark). Ignore it. There are always going to be letters to the editor.”

Leo Howard rose to say that he disagreed with Ernie Chacon, and that Director Rossi was continuing to undermine the Chief and was still actively working to get rid of him. “Everyone knows who supports who,” he said. “But things are not calming down. Rossi is still scheming, right now, tonight. He’ll continue to pound away. He won’t let up. Why his actions are tolerated, I don’t know.”

Ernie Chacon said that saying the chief was “dishonest” was “shocking and ridiculous.”

Johnson replied, “Each one of us is only responsible for ourselves. We have not control of or over Emil Rossi. It’s just the standard gossip in the Valley.”

Thomasson agreed, “I sure don’t know how the Board would do it,” adding, “I don’t have the foggiest notion why he doesn’t participate. People think I do, but I don’t.”

Several Board members said they had spoken to Rossi privately, but had gotten nowhere.

Chief Trubia noted again that he was overdue for an evaluation. The Board agreed to do it next month. Trubia then agreed with Gowan that the “conditional” resignation was a courtesy notice, and then agreed to rescind the letter. 

Chair Thomasson added, “I don’t appreciate being accused of trying to take apart the fire department. I’m for the fire department, but I’m still against a paid chief, we got along without one for 20 years. I’m not trying to hide that. But yes, I can support the actions of the Board.

Director Gowan reported that he had been frustrated in five unsuccessful attempts to reach Fire Investigator Ed Baxman at CDF at Howard Forest concerning the status of the arson investigation.

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