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King County Fire District 28 commissioner debate | Elbert Reed and Angela Stubblefield

Elbert Reed, right, and Angela Stubblefield  are candidates for King County Fire District 28 commissioner position No. 2. - Courtesy photo
Elbert Reed, right, and Angela Stubblefield are candidates for King County Fire District 28 commissioner position No. 2.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Editor’s Note: Angela Stubblefield and Elbert Reed are running for Fire District 28 Commissioner Position No. 2. The two candidates agreed to a debate in the print and online editions. This week is the first installment. In coming editions the candidates will answer more questions posed by the editorial staff. The candidates also will be given the opportunity to rebut answers and pose questions to each other.

• Describe why you chose to run and why you’re the best candidate.

Reed: I have had a longtime interest and involvement in fire protection, starting as a volunteer firefighter at the age of 16 and later as a forester and wildland firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service. More recently, my interest has been renewed while serving on a citizens’ advisory group for Fire District 28.  I have come to realize that my skills would be a valuable addition to the board of fire commissioners.

The board of commissioners needs a mix of fire operations experience and executive and public involvement, knowledge, and skills.   I believe I have those abilities.

I have over 35 years of experience as a manager and executive with the U.S. Army, U.S. Forest Service, and Weyerhaeuser Co.  I gained extensive skills in management, administration, negotiating contracts, building consensus within groups and organizations, developing policy and ensuring policy compliance.    Additionally, I have successfully managed a wide range of complex multi-million dollar projects and developed both short term and long range business plans.  I have formed annual and multi-year financial plans and ensured that operations stayed within planned limits.

Stubblefield: I chose to run because after attending a few commissioner meetings, talking to Chief Clow, and several taxpayers, I quickly saw that the taxpayer was not being represented on the District 28 fire commission. All three fire commissioners were firefighters themselves. The entire focus was on pleasing the fire employees with salary increases and spending the $2 million that had been held in reserve when the city of Enumclaw controlled the budget.  I also saw that the commissioners, now given complete power to run the fire district after the vote to separate from the city, had no administrative understanding of how to organize and structure a fire district with a $2.7 million yearly budget.

I feel I’m the best candidate for two reasons: Being a volunteer firefighter myself in another district gives me the understanding of how a fire district should be structured. I can see what works and what does not work in District 28.  The second reason is that I am outside the culture of Fire District 28 and am running for office because I have a strong sense of accountability to the taxpayers who are the commissioners’ bosses.  My opponent, though sincere, is acting from the commissioners’ perspective, not the taxpayers’.

• Do you support or not support Proposition No. 1 authorizing an increase of previous property tax levies?

Stubblefield: The request for more money for Fire District No. 28 is akin to putting the cart before the horse.  The fire commissioners did not put their administrative house in order prior to asking taxpayers for more money.  Listed below are examples of how commissioners mismanaged taxpayer money.

• $2 million plus in reserves is now largely gone. Nearly $500,000 was spent on a piece of property valued at $60,000 for a new fire station.  No appraisal or consideration was made for the high cost of possible hazardous waste disposal from an auto repair shop on the site, nor was any thought made for a sewer lift station costing $1,000,000 if the fire station is ever built.

• Overtime is common in the fire service however, unrestrained overtime, should not be rewarded. Last year, $250,000 was spent on overtime for 15 firefighters.

• $85,000 was used to purchase a mobile home from one of the fire commissioners for the Cumberland fire dormitory. This transaction was not arm’s length away and never should have occurred.  The district commissioner sold property that could have been purchased for less than $15,000.  Additionally, $300,000 was spent on unexpected regulatory upgrades.

• The hiring of four additional firefighters using a Safer Grant encumbered the district to pay back ($640,000) if those firefighters are laid off due to lack of funding.

• The fire district’s three commissioners were all firefighters who negotiated hefty contracts for all fire district employees without taking their bosses—the taxpayers—into consideration.  The chief received a $50,000 raise with firefighters also receiving hefty raises 3-500 percent  above comparable districts the size of Enumclaw

The lack of proper financial oversight should not put a burden on the taxpayer with a levy lid lift. I oppose any increase in funding. That is why I will vote no on Proposition No. 1.

Reed: I support the levy lid lift. Should it fail to pass, the current level of response cannot be maintained.  The lid lift will assure adequate funding for:

Critical fire and emergency medical services for the next six years

Replenish surplus funds to replace aging apparatus and safety equipment

Fire District 28 annexed the city of Enumclaw in 2011.  Prior to that time, initial response teams were often less than four people.  In most situations, Washington state law prevents a fire fighter from entering a burning structure if there are less than four on the team.  The current increased response level provides for a minimum of four fire fighters responding 24 hours a day.  The levy lid lift will ensure that this improved level of response is maintained.

Prior to the 2011 annexation, the city of Enumclaw’s general funds supplemented its fire department.  Since then, Fire District 28 has been depleting its surplus funds to sustain the general operation.  This is an untenable situation.  The levy lid lift will enable the fire district to maintain its quicker and better life saving services and to set aside funding to replace aging apparatus and safety equipment.

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