The Russian River Fire Protection District Board of Directors on Wednesday agreed to discuss mediation with the Forestville Fire Protection District over the firing of the chief shared by the districts.
Board President Kevin O'Shea announced the decision following a closed-session discussion among the five board members and an attorney, which took place after more than an hour of impassioned demands from the public for the Russian River board to reinstate veteran firefighter Max Ming to the post.
But the decision did not satisfy many in the vocal crowd of more than 120 people who packed the garage of the Guerneville firehouse on Armstrong Woods Road. Several people asked the board to explain why they did not simply bring Ming back to the post.
"The questions being asked are right; you need to change your vote and start over again, you're going down the wrong road," said former Forestville Fire Chief Dan Northern, who helped draw up the contact to share a chief between the Russian River and Forestville districts.
Many in the public stood up and demanded that Ming return to running both districts during the mediation process - and some even called for members of the board to face a recall. Board member Frank Lambert responded by offering a motion to bring Ming back as chief in the interim if the Forestville Fire Protection District agreed to mediation by Sept. 1.
Yet the motion was met by silence from other members of the Board of Directors.
"The motion dies due to lack of a second," said O'Shea, striking the gavel.
Ming was fired Aug. 5 when he was handed a letter by O'Shea and newest board member Raymond Locke that stated simply that his services were no longer needed. No reason was given, Ming said.
News of Ming's dismissal from the Russian River district was met with outrage by district staff as well as residents.
Ming remains chief of the Forestville department. The Forestville board's attorney in a Wednesday letter accused the Russian River district of breaching the contract and said the board has refused to explain concerns over Ming's performance.
The Russian River board "has been playing hide the ball since the beginning of this exchange," the letter stated.
The districts shared Ming's salary with the contract, which began in December 2011. Forestville cannot fund Ming's entire salary, which the districts split, Ming said.
Last week, the board postponed appointing an interim chief at a contentious public hearing where residents of the Russian River area and other firefighters said the board had no reason to fire Ming, who was described as a popular leader. O'Shea said they were prohibited from providing an explanation because of personnel privacy concerns.
Wednesday's meeting was even more raucous at moments when members of the public expressed outrage that the board didn't simply vote to reverse its decision. The hearing was a special meeting scheduled for the board to meet with an attorney and review its decision to remove the chief.
"You have lost face with this community," said Lloyd Guccione of Guerneville, a local activist who is among the few who have regularly the meetings.
Guccione and Ryan Lantz, Russian River firefighter and president of the union representing the district's dozen staff, penned a letter accusing the board of violating "both the spirit and the letter of the Ralph M. Brown Act,", the state's open meeting law. Guccione and Lantz demanded the board correct the violations and respond within 30 days.