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1/10/2014 6:02:00 AM
Forum tries to extinguish rumors about Golden Valley Fire Department
Golden Valley Fire District Chairman Mark Vanik, left, and Chief Tom O’Donohue address a town hall meeting Wednesday night. (DOUG McMURDO/Miner)
Golden Valley Fire District Chairman Mark Vanik, left, and Chief Tom O’Donohue address a town hall meeting Wednesday night. (DOUG McMURDO/Miner)
Doug McMurdo
Miner Staff Reporter

GOLDEN VALLEY - Nobody understands the adage that says where there's smoke there's fire better than the men and women who fight fires.

But sometimes, smoke is metaphorical and doesn't come from fire, but from people with a fire ax to grind.

That's the message Golden Valley Fire District Chief Tom O'Donohue and Chairman Mark Vanik sent Wednesday night at a town hall meeting held to discuss rumors about the district.

Moderated by district photographer and Kingman Daily Miner blogger Butch Meriwether, Vanik and O'Donohue answered more than 80 questions from Golden Valley residents - most which were sent in ahead of time so answers would be readily available.

Many of the questions regarded the district's efforts to begin transporting patients to Kingman Regional Medical Center, the actual cost of the district's new Fire Station 11, and alleged open meeting violations.

The district has been mired in controversy over the past couple of years, due in large part to the district moving from a virtual all-volunteer department to one with paid professional firefighters, EMTs and paramedics.

Vanik was the only director present at the meeting due to open meeting laws. If a quorum were present, the meeting would have to have been formalized, an agenda posted and minutes taken.

Most of the approximately 50 Golden Valley residents in attendance appeared to support O'Donohue and the board of directors. Had critics been present, they could have asked questions and perhaps had some issues clarified.

The most astonishing information regarded Director Rhonda Brooks, who refuses to speak with O'Donohue and rarely speaks to her colleagues on the board. Instead, she routinely calls the district's legal counsel, according to O'Donohue.

Those phone conversations resulted in $1,900 worth of attorney fees district taxpayers are responsible for. Vanik had the second highest attorney costs at $125. Director Steve Robinson tallied a $28 fee and directors Curt Hardy and Paul Gorham had no fees.

However, the audience gasped when Vanik said Brooks' fees were $19,000. He corrected his mistake the following day, but the point was still made: Brooks calls the lawyers quite often to get answers to questions that could be answered correctly for free if she would only communicate with O'Donohue or Vanik.

Brooks has steadfastly declined to speak to the Kingman Daily Miner since shortly after her election. Attempts to seek comment for this story were unsuccessful.

Every director is subject to recall, but it doesn't appear sufficient signatures have been collected to force a special election for any of them, Vanik said following the meeting.

Here are the answers to questions regarding the certificate of necessity the district seeks from the state to run ambulance transports:

The district purchased two ambulances from the Shoreline Fire Department in Washington state for $36,000 in 2010. Hardy was the only director of the current board serving at that time.

The ambulances are used for staff projects or contract work simply to "keep them moving," but they are not used as ambulances.

The process to start its own ambulance service began in February 2010 under the guidance of former Chief Paul Hewitt.

Roughly $347,300 has been spent on the certificate of necessity to date. The district's attorney charges $250 an hour. The district paid more than $227,000 in legal fees in fiscal year 2012-2013 ending June 30.

O'Donohue does not earn additional pay when he travels to Phoenix for business related to the certificate of necessity.

If the state grants the district permission to operate its own ambulance service, a total of three new positions could be added. The district already has the brick and mortar buildings and staffing to perform the job.

Residents will not pay additional property taxes to fund the ambulance service. Those residents who used the district's ambulance service would receive a bill, but it is less than what the current provider charges, O'Donohue said.

The ambulance service will be used for emergency transport only. No inter-facility transports will be conducted.

Questions and answers on the cost of the new fire station:

The district paid a total of $830,000 for the station. The cost to build the actual building is roughly $566,500. This discrepancy has led some to claim the station cost more than $300,000 than the bid, but Vanik made it clear there were no cost overruns.

"There is a continued misconception that there was a $300,000 cost overrun," said Vanik. "This is not true."

The additional cost involved paying for the property itself, permits, landscaping and concrete driveways and parking lots in the front and back.

The land was roughly $19,300. Concrete was roughly $114,000 and landscaping was about $5,000, not including replacing plants that died.

There were change orders that added to the cost, such as the construction of a compressor room, an awning for the front entrance, additional bedrooms, a trash enclosure and a separation wall.

Also, O'Donohue said he served as the general contractor and made a mistake when he put the generator next to where on-duty firefighters sleep and it had to be moved, adding $5,000 to the cost.

Vanik said the new station would be useable for the next 35 to 40 years.

Very little was spent on furnishings and appliances. O'Donohue said those items were moved to the new station from the old station. Five new stools and one new television were purchased for the station, and the district is in the process of purchasing additional bed frames.

Answers to questions regarding O'Donohue's salary:

O'Donohue is under a one-year contract and he earns $94,500 a year. He does not have a so-called golden parachute should he be terminated, but his salary will be paid for six months should he be let go without cause, or for nine months if he is unable to find a job after the six-month period.

The average salary for fire chiefs in the area is about $98,000. Kingman Fire Chief Chuck Osterman, $103,500, and Northern Arizona Consolidated Fire Chief Patrick Moore, $96,700, earn more than O'Donohue. They also lead larger departments.

Vanik said the board did not have any concerns regarding allegations O'Donohue abuses his authority.

"We believe Chief O'Donohue manages in a fair but firm manner," he said.

And employees also support the chief, who has been anonymously accused of creating a hostile work environment. Vanik said a recent interview process that involved every district employee indicated the "vast majority" of staff supports the direction, management and overall vision of the district.

O'Donohue said one allegation he's heard - that he has a "noise machine" in his office - is true. He said his office, which is a mobile home, has thin doors and conversations can be heard in the lobby.

"It's reasonable to assure private conversations with employees are kept confidential ... employees would be very upset if others were privy to their expected confidential information via thin walls," he said.

Answers to questions regarding staffing:

There are 29 full-time employees, five paid on call employees and four volunteers. Of that number, only three are not trained firefighters, the administrative manager, her assistant and the district's mechanic.

Firefighters are paid overtime if they work on their scheduled day off, with the exception of chief officers, which include O'Donohue and two assistant chiefs, who are salaried and not eligible.

Answers to the district's finances, open meeting violations and other matters:

The district passed its most independent audit with "flying colors," said O'Donohue. Indeed, despite spending nearly $1 million on the new fire station, the district is debt free.

Saunders Co. Ltd. conducted the latest audit in October.

"We don't owe anybody anything," said Vanik following the meeting. "I think our residents would appreciate that."

Despite at least a dozen complaints filed with the state alleging violations of open meeting laws filed in 2013, none of them were found to be valid.

However, it cost district taxpayers between $1,200 and $2,000 every time a complaint is filed, according to Vanik.

There is potential buyer for the old station on Mayer Road, but district officials couldn't provide specifics, as negotiations remain active. Once it is sold, however, the district should make more than $200,000 on the deal.

The Golden Valley Fire District's next regularly scheduled meeting is Jan. 22.

Related Stories:
• Guest Column: Points to ponder on Golden Valley Fire District
• Chief real target of Golden Valley recall
• Recall effort targets entire Golden Valley fire board

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, January 23, 2014
Article comment by: Skilled Convict Labor

Raking up leaves or mopping a floor is o.k. for prison workers, but doing electrical work, drywall, plumbing,takes jobs away from legitimate contractors. Is that even legal?

Posted: Sunday, January 19, 2014
Article comment by: Trained Observer

Let me count the Lies said:
"I just read over the questions and answers from the town hall meeting in Golden Valley... Half of those answers are pure crap."

No wonder you didn't want to give your real name. You have no clue what you're talking about... OR you are the liar who's afraid of being exposed!

anonymous anonymous said:
"Fiscal geniuses spending tax payer money like It grows on trees and no results is the kicker!"

Maybe you should try reading the annual report and minutes instead of exposing your lack of understanding of the facts. But I'm sure you won't let the truth get in the way of your dishonest bullcrap. Nor will you be honest enough to post with your real name.

Posted: Thursday, January 16, 2014
Article comment by: V Stokes

Well (and this is directed mostly at Butch Meriwether)...just goes to good deed goes unpunished.

Try to provide a forum to answer questions and they just call you a liar. It's like the chemmies, HAARP, and NWO believers. Give them the facts, and they refuse to even consider them.

Posted: Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Article comment by: REMODELING OLD STATION 11???

August minutes: The board voted down any bids on remodeling old Station 11. Now the prisoners are busily remodeling Old Station 11. WHAT FOR? New admin?

Posted: Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Article comment by: anonymous anonymous

Fiscal geniuses spending tax payer money like It grows on trees and no results is the kicker!

Posted: Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Article comment by: An answer with a question

Apparently Director Robinson you have not been listening if you need to ask "What are their complaints"! This does not surprise me. You continue to answer a question with a question. Why? You stated that the complaints are bogus without giving a reason. You, in my opinion, are a bully to the taxpayers who ask questions. You, in my opinion need to see the light of day. Quit quoting people and just answer the questions. I don't care what happened 3 years ago, 5 years ago or even 10 years ago. I don't care what the prior boards did or didn't do, I care about today and the future of this fire district.

Posted: Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Article comment by: brew ha ha ha

One of the questions at the GVFD gathering was" who speaks for the Board"? the answer from the Chairman, was "I am". If this is so, why is it that the mouth of Golden Valley (Robinson)is constantly telling us the way it is? His credibility is at an all time low and each and every time he opens his mouth it gets lower. For anyone who follows GVFD issues really understands the issue with the Board. It's this guy. He IS NOT a team player. But since elections have consequences, and the Chairman seemly has no control,we are now stuck with this rambling mouth.

Posted: Monday, January 13, 2014
Article comment by: Steven Robinson

Jim Consolato was correct about this problem starting four years ago, long before I was elected. Recently, then Chairman Frederick pointed out issues that motivated the Board to make some changes. The “good old boys”, employees created a lax country club atmosphere. They hired a Chief outside the District who stayed only a year and alienated many, but Hewitt did two things right: 1. Institute physical fitness standards, requiring greater discipline, and 2. Hired Tom O’Donohue as his Assistant.

The resulting frustration and anger expressed by this small group over this decision was incredible. For them it was a huge betrayal, believing they were “overlooked”, in their opinion. This was magnified by the very abrasive demeanor of the new Chief. Even today the mere mention of his name raises the blood pressures of many in the District.

What’s amazing is that Chief O’Donohue has worked for and obtained the respect of a huge majority of the firefighters and officers in the district. Also he’s garnered respect across the County and State for his professionalism and management. Unfortunately not everyone is impressed.

So now here’s the question: What are their complaints and why have they been acting behind the scenes to undermine the Chief and Board for the last 4 years?

Posted: Monday, January 13, 2014
Article comment by: V Stokes

I believe anyone can request public records via FOIA, but it seems like they will be freely given if asked. If an answer is questioned, just request the documentation.

Posted: Monday, January 13, 2014
Article comment by: Remodeling Old Station 11??

County permits? Remodeling using inmate labor instead of real contractors? Who is paying for this? Who is the general contractor? What's the big secret?

Posted: Sunday, January 12, 2014
Article comment by: Cost Overrun

At one board meeting the contractor said approx. 800,000 went through his books, which did not include the land and other things. If the bid was 526,000, it appears there is an over run on the bid. The bid should have been a turn key bid with some minor changes, but not over approx. 300,000. I hope the bidding on the new admin will be better.

Posted: Sunday, January 12, 2014
Article comment by: Cost Overrun

How dumb do you think the taxpayers are? The bid was$526K the cost was $830K. You had to have the property,concrete, a turnout room, you had to move the generator. We're talking turnkey here! Not bits & pieces.

Posted: Sunday, January 12, 2014
Article comment by: Open Meeting Law 101:

If more than 2 board members get together, it creates a quorum and a meeting. What don't we understand about the law?

Posted: Sunday, January 12, 2014
Article comment by: Butch Meriwether

The entire situation being played out on the various social media outlets and postings on the KDM website reminds me that if is apparent people and I also call some immature children, can’t play nice in the sand box.

If all involved with the ‘back and forth” comments, hatred, misinformation, innuendos and downright shoddiness feel that strongly about the GVFD, why don’t they treat each other with dignity and respect? They need to put forth a genuine concerted effort to get along and help move the fire district into the 21st Century instead of attempting to drive it into the quagmire of despair.

And if that doesn’t help, then why not run for one of the two spots on the board that will be coming up for election during the next election cycle.

Simple as that!

Posted: Sunday, January 12, 2014
Article comment by: Butch Meriwether

Much of the feeling of disdain by various people toward the GVFD and board is, in my opinion, because of one specific board member – Steve Robinson. I honestly believe Robinson could say, “The sun rises in the east and sets in the west,” and the misanthropies, belittlers, scoffers and those who hate him would say, “No, the sun sets in the west and rises in the east,” and we all know both sayings are isomorphic.

I will say right off the “get go,” I do not agree with everything Robinson says or does and I am not Robinson’s “eyes, ears and lap dog” as some misinformed people have attempted to say.

Here’s my take on the entire GVFD situation. I believe both sides of the recall efforts should stop gathering signatures and “come together” for the betterment of the fire district. They should show a concerted effort to work and get along with each other. If the recall effort of any of the current board members go forward and adequate amounts of signatures are gathered, then the GVFD will ultimately end up paying somewhere between $15,000 and $35,000 for the special election. The cost figures came from Mohave County Elections Director Allen Tempert. That money could be best utilized elsewhere for things the fire district actually needs.

Posted: Sunday, January 12, 2014
Article comment by: Butch Meriwether

Some questions have been raised on the various social media outlets and posted as comments on the KDM’s website about Doug McMurdo’s news story.

Do I believe those comments being reported as a “biased commentary” and questions as some having substance or validity not at all.

Doug took the information he gathered during his attending of the town hall meeting and talked with people who attended and officials of the fire district, in addition to attempting to speak with Director Rhonda Brooks who declined the interview. Yes, I can understand why Director Brooks declined the interview. I believe that whenever she says something or votes against something, others question her motives and demeanor.

Many of those questions and innuendos raised by various people were in regard to what was asked during the town hall meeting I hosted.

Let me assure everyone that all those questions were emailed to me and voice messages left on my cell phone besides sine coming from other sources. Some were formulated from Facebook questions and alleged misinformation reported by various bloggers. Some of the questions were even from Jim Consolato’s comments on Facebook or what he raised during previous telephone conversations he had with me.

Posted: Sunday, January 12, 2014
Article comment by: Le Me Count The Lies

I just read over the questions and answers from the town hall meeting in Golden Valley. No wonder they didn't want the entire board there. Half of those answers are pure crap.

Posted: Sunday, January 12, 2014
Article comment by: Please Explain Bogus

Robinson please explain why the open meeting law complaints are bogus. What are they about?

Posted: Sunday, January 12, 2014
Article comment by: No Need for GVFD Ambulance

Golden Valley doesn't need the fire depatrment screwing up a perfectly good ambulance business. Right now only the people who USE the ambulance pay. If GVFD had it, all of the taxpayers would pay.Tell them to drop the CON now.It will bankrupt the dept.

Posted: Saturday, January 11, 2014
Article comment by: Congratulations Robinson

"Steve Robinson passes the bar!" So you now know more than the lawyers. Why even have a lawyer when they have you with all of the answers?No wonder Brooks consults the real attorney. You need help.

Posted: Saturday, January 11, 2014
Article comment by: From the website

Director Robinson I sure hope you find some classes on OML.
First, in the case of an "actual emergency," the meeting may be held upon such shorter notice as is "appropriate to the circumstances." Id. § (D). An actual emergency
exists when, due to unforeseen circumstances, immediate action is necessary to avoid some serious consequence that would result from waiting until the required notice could be given.A.R.S. § 38-431.02(C)

Posted: Saturday, January 11, 2014
Article comment by: First Things First

What do you say we focus on public safety and the condition of the fire apparatus before we build yet another million dollar station? All the CON money could have gone toward a fine new fire truck.

Posted: Saturday, January 11, 2014
Article comment by: Steven Robinson

I see that the "former" (or current?) Spokesman for Director Brooks is still spreading real "misinformation" after attending only 1 or 2 Board Meetings. I will give clarity and understanding to the report.

1. The larger figure was an honest mistake by the Chair. I called and gave the correct number that was discussed at the December meeting. But in reviewing the billings for just 6 months, the $1,900 is much less than the real figure that's well above $6,000 and counting.

2. I and at least one other Board member were extremely upset about not attending. I even spoke to the Attorney suggesting an "Emergency Session" posting, which he advised against. It's funny that he complains WHEN Director Brooks had NO plans to attend OR participate.

3. NONE of the complaints by Lovelle Barnett or Ms. Brooks have been validated by the AG's office. I've reviewed the latest three and they are just as bogus as all the preceding ones.

Mr. Consolato didn't honestly report the length of the Chief's speech at an earlier Town Hall or that it was advertised I don't expect him to give the facts now.

Posted: Friday, January 10, 2014
Article comment by: Who's Questions?

Does anyone really believe those questions were asked by the public? That chief takes the cake.

Posted: Friday, January 10, 2014
Article comment by: Jim Consolato

I am a little bit insulted that the Miner's reporter McMurdo chose to down grade very critical issues to the people of Golden Valley by labeling them "rumors". As a matter of fact the iisues are so serious oin some cases that the Mohave County Establishment is engaging in a massive cover up, in a velled attempt to stop the PR damage to the Golden Valley Fire district. Issues have been smoldering, again excuse the pun, for years now.They say figures don't lie but liars figure, and there is I beleiev alot of that taking place in the GV fire district. There is a long standing back pay issues pending where firfighters have been cheated of ceretain pay. We have the issue of 4 uncontrolled credit cards with limits at 17, thousand 500 each, and have had frequent late fees the tax payer must carry. We recently at a home burn to the ground in Walnut Creek like 1/2 mile from the Oatman Station and the water tender truck which was suposed to be there by special grant was at another location. A close inspection would prove that the current board does not know the open meeting rules and I saw a violation right before my very eyes. People of G.V., this is not the stuff of rumors but the stuff of mis management and pending disaster for the district not to mention higher taxes sooner than later.

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