Fire board president forbids criticizing individuals at meetings

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Policy could be in conflict with Open Meetings Law

By Vicky Gits

Public criticism of individuals during board meetings of the Evergreen Fire Protection District has led the board president to warn against singling out individuals in negative comments.

“Any negative comments by any attendee against any named citizen, volunteer, paid employee or this board will immediately be declared out of order, and an executive session will be declared or scheduled to allow both sides to privately discuss their opinions,” Chick Dykeman announced at the May 12 meeting.

Dykeman said later that any citizen can bring any subject to any board member in any venue, but individual names are not to be used. Dykeman said using names “puts the district at risk in a lot of ways. You cannot discuss negative personality issues in public.”

The April meeting included a discussion of what some people thought was inadequate staffing of the fire headquarters on the day of the spring snowstorm on March 26.

“As a public official, I cannot discuss any negative personality issues in public without putting myself at risk. You can’t control what people say. But you can control how you conduct the meeting,” Dykeman said.

Dykeman’s edict, however, may be difficult to implement legally under the Colorado Open Meetings Law, said Chris Beall, an attorney who specializes in First Amendment law and limits on government secrecy.

“There is no basis whatsoever under the COML for a public body to conduct an executive session behind closed doors to ‘allow sides to privately discuss their opinions,’ ” Beall said in an e-mail, referring to Dykeman’s statement.

“Such a discussion may only pertain to an employee of the district. Thus, no personnel-matters discussion may be held behind closed doors pertaining to a volunteer or a community member or a board member. … In addition, if the discussion pertains to an actual employee of the district, that employee must be given a chance to require the discussion to be conducted in open session,” Beall said.

“The board president’s view that the board can conduct an executive session on a moment’s notice is in conflict with the notice provisions of the COML. The statute requires at least 24 hours notice for a meeting and that advance written notice must apprise the public of the topics that will be discussed.”

In addition to Dykeman, two other board members, George Goldbach and George Kling, were present at the May 12 meeting. Jeff Dedisse was listening on a cellphone and driving. Charles Simons was absent.

Goldbach seemed taken aback by Dykeman’s statement and said he should have been told in advance what he was going to say.

“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Goldbach said.

“I will reserve the right to ask any question I want as a member of the board of directors,” Kling said.

Finance director’s report

Finance director Brent Worthington commented on the status of the budget through March. Revenue from vehicle ownership taxes was down $34,434, compared to the amount projected ($112,528) for the year to date, due to the slowdown in car sales.

Revenue from emergency medical services, mainly ambulance billing, was also down 21 percent, because of the relatively mild winter and fewer rescues.

Income from property taxes was slightly behind, or 2 percent below the budget projection year-to-date.

Fire Chief Garry DeJong said his research showed that property tax revenue will continue to be flat for the next couple of years, but that revenue would start to go down somewhat by 2012.

The 2009 budget is $4.1 million, most of which comes from a mill levy on homeowners in the fire district.

No word on radio grant

There was no word on whether the district would receive a $250,000 grant for converting the communications system to VHF. The district is No. 13 on the list of grant applications submitted to the state. The final decision is expected in May.

Organizational structure and funding update

In response to questions raised at the last meeting, DeJong compiled a report explaining his philosophy behind the department’s organizational structure.

The foundation of the organization and the key to determining the correct size is to “decide what services we want to offer and the degree of services.”

As the department takes in more money from the higher mill levy in 2005, it has added personnel.

“As we add personnel, our personnel costs have gone up, but we are still controlling our expenses,” DeJong said.

As he was asked to do, DeJong listed the job duties of three top managers: deputy chief of support services, communications manager and training coordinator.

In conclusion, he recommended that the board schedule a work session to systematically assess the direction and priorities of the district. He said he didn’t think decisions about whether to cut priority jobs could be made in a single board meeting.

“I recommend a day-long or weekend work session if we want to be serious about what we are looking at. If we are going to make a change, it needs to be done before we start working on the budget. It is not a one- or two-meeting fix,” DeJong said.

Homestead exclusion from service area

The Inter-Canyon Fire Rescue department, which serves the U.S. 285 area, has sent a request to the Evergreen Fire/Rescue department saying it would like to consider excluding certain homes in the Homestead subdivision from the Inter-Canyon service area.

The fire chief said the area in question is in fact about 12 minutes closer to the nearest Inter-Canyon station than to an Evergreen station. A truck from Station No. 3 would have to take Highway 73 to North Turkey Creek Road to U.S. 285 to Settler’s Drive. “It’s a heck of a trip unless you build a road,” DeJong said.

If the houses were assigned to another district, Evergreen would lose about $3,000 in property-tax revenue. Fire district attorney Linda Alexander agreed to initiate the transfer process, which includes a public hearing.

The meeting adjourned at 9 p.m.

June meeting

The board meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 9, at Evergreen Fire/Rescue Administrative Offices, 1902 Bergen Parkway.

Contact Vicky Gits at 303-350-1042 or vicky@evergreenco.com.