s
s
Sections
Sections
Search
Subscribe

Targeted Russian River fire board officials offer defense


Two Russian River Fire Protection District board members facing recall petitions defended their integrity in written responses filed with the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters.

Kevin O'Shea, who served as fire chief from 1977 to 1985, said the district was in a shambles when he was elected to the board in 2000 but has improved during his tenure.

Linda Payne, who runs a daycare and joined the fire district board in 2010, said she took an oath to uphold the law "even when it was unpopular with some members of our community."

Recall supporters have said the board members have micro-managed the department and taken a confrontational position against staff instead of constructively working through issues, according to a notice of intent to circulate a recall petition.

The group also alleged the current board violated the state's open meeting law — the Ralph M. Brown Act — on several occasions leading up to Chief Max Ming's firing on Aug. 5, obscuring board decisions from the public and staff.

In his response, O'Shea said the petition cited "no facts whatsoever."

"I am therefore unable to provide an intelligent response other than to categorically deny all of the proponents' assertions," he said.

A recall election for two board members could cost the district between an estimated $13,654 and $22,332, according to the registrar of voters.

Proponents have threatened to try to recall a third board member, newest director Raymond Locke, which could cost an additional $650 to $1,300.

They will have to gather 813 valid signatures, which represents 25 percent of the Russian River fire district's 3,251 registered voters.

The recall effort began after the unpopular firing of Ming, who was heading both the Russian River and Forestville Fire districts under their contract to share a chief.

Vocal participants at board meetings since Ming's Aug.5 firing have repeatedly called for O'Shea to resign.

At a Sept. 23 board meeting, several speakers confronted O'Shea about his handling of district finances.

Former Forestville Fire Chief Dan Northern, who crafted the districts' chief-sharing contract, handed a stack of financial documents to Payne, who is vice president of the board, and asked her to investigate O'Shea's district credit card use.

When confronted during the meeting, O'Shea said he has inadvertently used the district credit card for personal expenses and said he paid the district back.

Some residents have said that the recall effort is an unnecessary cost for the district.

Margaret Kennett, Guerneville resident and owner of Fern Grove Cottages on River Road, said she feels it has come to a point where some of the directors are distractions from district business and should resign.

Kennett, a board member with the Russian River Chamber of Commerce, said her opinions about the district were personal and not those of the chamber.

"It really doesn't matter whether the board feels they've done the right thing," Kennett said. "The right thing to do is to resign."

Longtime resident Herman Hernandez said that, although he has not decided on the recall, he shares the belief of many who have voiced concerns about the district that "we want to get this resolved and move forward."

"These districts should be operated by one chief, one board of directors," Hernandez said.