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FFPD board: contained – or out of control?

The Falcon Fire Protection District board met Oct. 22 and voted unanimously to approve disciplinary actions against Deputy Chief Jeff Petersma and volunteer Capt. Cory Galicia. Both men had been put on administrative leave in September.”They have offered me a demotion to operations captain, six months probation with a mentor to be assigned to me and a 5 percent reduction in pay,” Petersma said.Galicia said he will keep his position as volunteer captain but will have to go to sensitivity and fire personnel management training.Both men’s lawyer, Rick Callison, said at the meeting that Petersma and Galicia “disagree strongly with the findings of fact of the board.”The disciplinary actions were in response to an investigation conducted by board president Richard Martin and former board member Kevin Ray. In July, four volunteer firefighters filed complaints against Petersma and Galicia with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.Because of legal constraints on the discussion of personnel matters, neither the board nor Petersma and Galicia are allowed to reveal the exact nature of the complaints.After the disciplinary actions were announced, Dawn Petersma thanked the firefighters and the community for their support.”Jeffrey David Petersma was carried in this fire department on his dad’s shoulders as a child. Tonight, he walks out of this fire station a full-grown, honest, dedicated, selfless individual who supports you and your families in any manner he can,” Petersma said. “He has pride. He has respect and he is all about the community for a lifetime. We love you all.”Falcon resident Suzy Hogue expressed her concern about an “interim organizational chart” that was being passed around at the meeting. The chart showed that volunteer firefighters Dave Nadeau, Tom Resha and Chris Debb had been promoted to various high-ranking positions within the department. It also showed that FFPD Chief Trent Harwig’s title had been changed to chief of administration/fire marshal.Board member Dena Bramhall denied that the chart had been prepared by the board.”I ask you to maintain your decorum right now so we can get through all of this and heal this department,” said board member Mike Collins.Audience members said there could be no healing with the current board in place. The meeting ended with calls for the board to resign.Oct. 15 meeting fuels the fireThe Oct. 22 board meeting came on the heels of the board’s Oct. 15 meeting, where the board appointed Larry Robley to fill the vacancy created when Kevin Ray resigned in September.Martin, Bramhall and Collins voted in favor of the appointment. Board member Kerry Smith was not present for the vote, but midway through the Oct. 15 meeting the board received Smith’s letter of resignation.The board also discussed the disciplinary actions against Petersma and Galicia, and allowed audience members three minutes each to voice their opinions.Speaking directly to Martin, former FFPD board member and volunteer Dick Stewart said, “Your willingness to subvert and destroy this structure to simply placate the whiney adolescent demands of four men absolutely boggles the imagination.”Martin responded: “I disagree with almost everything you’ve said. Obviously, you don’t know the facts and what you’re talking about.””The hidden agenda the board has been working on has finally come out,” said former volunteer fire Chief Bud Kucera. “They want to change the policy manual to give the board absolute, sole right to hire and fire as they see fit. They want to change the organization [so] the volunteers control all the firefighters.”Kucera said the reason the district decided to hire a paid fire chief was because all volunteers were not always available when they were needed.”We’re going to tear this department down, one that’s 33 years in the building, start all over again and put this thing in a state of total turmoil and lack of response of the next 10 years,” Kucera said. “Is this what we want?”Kathy Hare spoke as a private citizen. “We have an excellent, wonderful district we can all be proud of,” she said.”I think this is something this board can resolve. I also know it’s time to put everything aside, sit down and work this out. Let’s not destroy this department. Let’s continue with what we have. Build it to make it stronger, to make a community we can all be proud of rather than one that is divided by all this anger.”The audience applauded former board member Dan Kupferer when he said, “I’ll help anybody here with a recall.” He referred to the board’s notice of intended disciplinary action against Petersma and Galicia as a “witch hunt.”Rick Wildman questioned the money the board has spent on legal fees. “This year, you have spent $53,471 on legal fees; you only had $51,887 budgeted,” he said. “You’re over budget on legal fees $1,584 and that doesn’t count today. As a taxpayer, I demand an accounting.””When I moved here, I noticed there really is a lack of community here. I noticed that there’s a lot of division here,” said volunteer chaplain Justin Knight.”If we ever expect to grow, if we ever expect to be a town and a city that’s on the map that’s making a difference in the world today, then we have to be unified. I just want to challenge our community to get behind one another and lay everything aside and let’s become one.”The board then entered executive session.Upon return from executive session, the board passed an amendment to the board members handbook to “clarify the board’s authority,” said the board’s attorney, Dino Ross.One of the changes included the addition of the following statement: “The Board may at any time take any action required or permitted by this Handbook, including but not limited to hiring/appointing, terminating, and imposing corrective or disciplinary action against the Fire Chief or any other any (sic) member.”

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