With two of its members facing a recall, the embattled board of the Russian River Fire Protection District on Friday reinstated the chief it summarily fired in August.
It was the latest turn in a drama that has roiled the district for months, since the board unexpectedly and without explanation dismissed popular 29-year fire services veteran Max Ming.
Board Chairman Kevin O'Shea, who with board member Linda Payne is the target of the recall effort, announced the decision with the board's attorney at his side Friday, saying Ming would return under an amended agreement with the Forestville Fire Protection District.
The two districts share a chief and Ming, since being fired from Russian River, has remained at the helm in Forestville, which had protested his firing and pushed for mediation to resolve the issue.
Ming was on vacation in Las Vegas and not at Friday's meeting.
Given the months of emotional argument, the audience of about 80 reacted to O'Shea's announcement in an unexpectedly muted manner, with just a brief smattering of applause. That appeared to be partly because the board would not disclose what had been amended in the agreement that governs Ming's employment, saying he and the two absent board members, Nancy Jo Wood and Frank Lambert, had yet to sign it.
"You can't say anything about it until everyone signs it, and then it's a done deal?" exclaimed Lloyd Guccione, a leader in the recall bid. "We're in the dark, and this is our district."
Also accounting for the quiet reaction was, perhaps, that the crowd was still caught in the angry discussion that had preceded the closed-session vote. From the meeting's first minutes, community members called on O'Shea and Payne to resign and demanded that the vote be postponed until Wood and Lambert were present.
"I think it's morally wrong that the board does not resign," said one speaker, Margaret Kennett, standing in the Guerneville fire station garage where the special meeting was held.
"Your relationship with the community is so fractured that I don't believe you can serve it anymore," said Ginger Hamilton.