Recent turmoil within the Russian River Fire Protection District transformed the slow and steady pace of civic engagement in and around Guerneville to a raging river of public discontent.
Normally quiet affairs attended by district directors and community activists, fire board meetings have become raucous events with heated calls for change filling the Armstrong Woods Road fire station.
The maelstrom was set off by the sudden August firing of popular Chief Max Ming, less than two years into a seven-year contract with the Forestville Fire Protection District to share a chief.
"This is an initiative by a community definitely not agreeing to a decision the board made, but it is also that the community has awakened," said longtime Guerneville resident Herman Hernandez, who works in town as a broker with Frank Howard Allen.
Ming's firing outraged firefighters and vocal members of the community who support Ming and, in response, have launched a recall campaign to oust at least two board members.
Even faced with a recall and entering mediation, board members have stood by their decision.
In a list of three dozen reasons behind the board's decision to dismiss Ming from the post that has been circulating in the community, the board laid out complaints ranging from the mishandling of confidential personnel files to delays getting the gutters cleaned.
The 10-page document, produced at the request of an attorney and remarkable in its microscopic look at the day-to-day handling of firehouse business, will be at the center of mediation talks that could take place by Oct. 21.
"I was relieved to see what the complaints — allegations, call them what you want — were," Ming said. "They're not egregious enough to get rid of me, in my opinion."
Ming, who is still chief of Forestville and continues to be paid by both districts, said the list finally shed some light on his August firing, after weeks of silence from the Russian River board.
His firing pitted Forestville's fire district against its neighbor district over the legal question of whether Russian River can get rid of a shared chief without Forestville's agreement.
"Some of the accusations are trivial, quite frankly — seventh-grade issues," said former Forestville Fire Chief Dan Northern, who authored the agreement for the districts to share a chief and is a staunch supporter of Ming.
The two districts and Ming agreed to enter mediation and are currently selecting a mediator. Mediation must take place by Oct. 21 unless the sides agree to extend the deadline. Forestville's board and Ming hope the sides can resolve some of the issues and reinstate Ming as chief at Russian River.
Board members Frank Lambert and Nancy Jo Wood are tentatively slated to partake in the mediation on behalf of Russian River.
Lambert, who was elected to the board after 14 years as a volunteer firefighter, said he was on the committee that hired Ming and that members were aware there would be a learning curve for the veteran firefighter.
"That doesn't mean (Ming) has it inside of him to be a chief; I don't know if that's something you can teach a person," Lambert said. "We did commit it would be a learning process for him, and my feeling is I'm hoping all of this can be worked out and we can move forward."