Photo by Hubble Ray Smith.
KINGMAN – There were more sparks and barbs than a Jerry Springer Show at the Northern Arizona Consolidated Fire District’s board meeting Wednesday, where former fire chief Wayne Eder was rehired by a controversial 3-2 vote.
Eder was to start his job today at a salary of $95,000, taking over for interim chief Tim King and replacing Patrick Moore, who resigned in December amid infighting on the board that has turned the fire district into a debacle.
Battalion Chief King had been serving interim as chief of the district and returned to his regular duties Thursday.
King had initially said he was not interested in the fire chief position in December, but agreed to take the position until the board found a replacement.
Patti Lewis, chairwoman of the NACFD governing board, said it’s not what King was doing as interim fire chief that bothered her, it’s what he’s not doing.
A committee of two was formed to hire the new chief, and that drew a cacophony of groans from more than 20 firefighters who attended the meeting, some of them from Kingman Fire Department.
“What two would that be?” one of them asked.
Lewis said the board assigned King to find a new fire chief, but King questioned her as to what meeting that was assigned.
“You’ve got a committee and you’ve got a chief. Thank me,” King said.
Board members Mike Collins and Jim Bailey were adamantly opposed to bringing Eder back as fire chief. He was fired by the former board after the district’s budget fell from $5 million to $2 million with the loss of grant money, resulting in the closure of three fire stations.
Eder, who served as NACFD chief from 2003-2008, also cut ties with Kingman Regional Medical Center, ending a 25-year agreement with the hospital to provide physician consultation in the field and medical equipment to the district.
Collins questioned whether Eder was at Lewis’ home over the weekend.
“I had to ask if he would take the job,” Lewis responded.
Added Bailey, “You guys are going at this like it’s your own personal fire district.”
Tension on the board was exposed during a heated exchange between directors Collins and Vic Riccardo, with firefighters from the audience joining in with biting comments, rumblings and sarcastic laughter.
At one point, Riccardo threatened to close the meeting to the public, which would violate Arizona’s open meeting laws. One of the firefighters noted the board was already out of compliance with Roberts Rules of Order by not conducting roll call at the start of the meeting.
At another point, board clerk Sue Wilkin picked up the chairwoman’s gavel and pounded it to restore order, and again, one of the firefighters chastised her for being out of place.
“I don’t know where to start,” NACFD Capt. Forrest Taylor of Valle Vista said during a 2-minute comment period. “I’m appalled at what’s going on here. I don’t agree with what you’re doing. The things I saw occur here are absolutely mind-blowing.”
Then he turned to the crowd of firefighters and asked if any of them agreed with the board’s hiring decision.
“I’ll wait,” Forrest said when he saw no hands being raised.
Eder has previously served as fire chief for the Butte Valley and Twenty-Nine Palms fire districts in California, and was director of the Fire Science Academy at University of Nevada-Reno.