Golden Valley meeting aimed at defusing fire department conflict
12/12/2013 6:00:00 AM
By Doug McMurdo
GOLDEN VALLEY - In an effort to clear the air, the Golden Valley Fire District board of directors will take part in a town hall Jan. 8 to give residents an opportunity to discuss recent allegations of improprieties within the district, and perhaps stave off recall elections for each of them.
Paperwork to recall all four board members was filed in two separate petition drives in October. On Oct. 4, a petition to recall Rhonda Brooks was filed. The petition alleges Brooks has attempted to "sabotage district operations, (is) attacking staff with anonymous complaint letters, and refuses to communicate with other directors."
Brooks has consistently declined Miner reporters' attempts to discuss the issues. An apparent Brooks supporter two weeks later filed recall paperwork against directors Steven Robinson, Curt Hardy and Mark Vanik.
The controversy appears to be over the old guard of mostly volunteer Golden Valley firefighters and today's operation led by Chief Tom O'Donohue.
The majority of directors contend O'Donohue helped professionalize fire service in Golden Valley and say his detractors resent the physical and educational requirements put in place by prior Chief Paul Hewitt before he left in 2011 and was replaced by O'Donohue, his assistant.
Critics of the district, however, contend the three directors have failed to keep the community informed on how it spends district money. Other allegations include a charge that the new fire station construction went over budget by $300,000 and that the state's open meeting laws were violated.
Directors, for their part, categorically deny the claims against them.
They said the budget is sound and they have not violated open meeting laws.
There is no evidence an outside agency is looking into the district's financial affairs.
While the deadline to submit signatures that are related to the recall of Brooks is Jan. 4, the deadline for the remaining three is Jan. 17.
Golden Valley resident and Miner blogger Butch Meriwether will monitor the meeting. He said he called it to address "alleged misdoings, innuendos of improprieties and or excessive spending" of district funds.
Meriwether said every attendee who wants to comment at the town hall meeting - 6 p.m. at the district's Public Safety Training Center at 423 Colorado Road - will be given the opportunity. Meriwether is also soliciting questions in advance so district directors can research answers.
Meriwether said the research would reduce the number of responses that couldn't immediately be answered.
Advance questions can be submitted to Meriwether via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If the Jan. 8 meeting doesn't prevent organizers from obtaining the 483 required signatures needed to hold a special recall election, the earliest one could be held - as a result of either petition - would be March 10.