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King County Fire District 28 Board of Commissioners battle budget cuts and controversy
The political heat that marked the King County Fire District 28 commissioner race in 2013 has continued with little cooling.
The current board of commissioners, Dave Hannity, Angela Stubblefield and Stan McCall, has been seated for about five months and in that time the firefighters union has filed an unfair labor practice grievance, there is an allegation of a retaliatory termination of a volunteer firefighter and a board-authorized investigation of a volunteer firefighter and a couple of office staff. The results of the investigation have yet to be resolved by the department.
If those hot-stove issues weren't enough, the board passed a 2014 budget that included laying off two firefighters and two administrative staff following the November failure of a proposed levy increase.
Stubblefield won the race for Position No. 2. over Elbert Reed by about 10 percent over Elbert Reed in the 2013 general election, but that did little to calm the brewing storm clouds in the district.
Stubblefield took her position in November and the political sparring between Hannity and Stubblefield began nearly the moment she sat down.
At the first meeting it took about 45 minutes for the two members to agree on a time for meetings. Stubblefield wanted the meetings to start at 6 p.m. to allow more public attendance.
Hannity said he was retired and it didn't matter to him, but he was concerned because the district secretary could not attend evening meetings due to a medical issue.
Stubblefield said, "I was elected on transparency and accountability and fiscal responsibility…. I am not going to start going back on my word."
The meeting was being run as an open forum, rather than a business meeting, allowing the audience to speak at will. The 2014 budget was the issue being discussed.
Tension spiked when Stubblefield thought Hannity should tell firefighters in the audience to refrain from laughing during comments made by a private citizen, Ted DeVol.
"If you're not going do it I'm going to ask for it," she said Hannity.
Spark ignited between Stubblefield and firefighters at the Dec. 2 meeting when she described firefighters as acting like thugs during the 2013 election.
"I don't find all the firefighters being mafia, thugs and bullies," Stubblefield said. "But there were a few that actually did creep into that realm."
Stubblefield also said during political campaigns, "Firefighters are supposed to be neutral."
Hannity said, "This was a union function. These guys ran a campaign and you guys ran a campaign."
Members of the firefighters' union pointed out Stubblefield's statement appeared to be the act of a government official attempting to suppress political speech, which is a violation of the First Amendment.
During public comment Reed queried Stubblefield about the allegation of the firefighters acting like thugs, mafia and bullies.
"I want to see fact and data on that. Names (and) who did what," Reed said.
Stubblefield said, "The vote says it all."
One of the more incendiary issues the board has faced in the opening months involved Casey Taylor, who was a voluntary firefighter with the district, and his wife, Angelina Taylor, who set up a Facebook page called Citizens for King County Fire District 28.
During a Dec. 19 meeting, Casey Taylor challenged a statement made by Stubblefield stating she lied during a Dec. 2 commission meeting.
At the Dec. 2 meeting, Stubblefield was discussing ambulance transports by departments versus contracting with a private ambulance service like American Medical Response or Tri-Med Ambulance
Stubblefield said she spoke with Auburn, Kent and Federal Way about their departments providing ambulance transport.
"Auburn has it, Kent has it and Federal Way has it," Stubblefield said. "And I did get a chance to talk to those individuals and they said they would never start that again knowing how this went."
Casey Taylor said at the Dec. 19 commission meeting during public comment he checked her statements about the ambulance transports. He said,"(Valley Regional Fire Authority serving Auburn) is happy with their (transport service). This appears to be a lie."
Each fire service was contacted by The Courier-Herald Monday. Valley uses its own transports for certain cases and contracts out for more serious cases known as advanced life support patients.
Kent Regional Fire contracts with Tri-Med Ambulance and South County Fire and Rescue, serving Federal Way, contracts with AMR.
Stubblefield has also faced stiff criticism from Angelina Taylor on her Facebook page and during public comment.
During the Dec. 2 public comment period, Angelina Taylor said, "You (Stubblefield) don't have the right to run this district. You are attacking our firefighters and attacking our chief."
The issue with Casey Taylor hit critical mass when he was terminated by Chief Joe Clow Feb. 21.
According to a letter from Clow, Taylor was terminated for "acts that are considered to be insubordinate and that show disrespect to the fire department officers and our chain of command."
The issue involved an email from Taylor sent to all the members of the fire department including the chief and the board of commissioners.
Taylor was objecting to commissioners being provided with door codes to the station.
Taylor wrote in his email, "Now that our security at the station is no longer intact, I will no longer be standing sleeper shifts until such time as this situation is remedied. There is no need for Commissioners (who are essentially civilians that also have a single vote on our policy board) to have unfettered access to our operational facilities and sleeping quarters at all hours of the night."
He also wrote in his email, "I have recently been victimized by an egregious racial slur by Cmr. Stubblefield as well as other clear targeting for retribution by her for my private political activity."
The slur Casey Taylor is referring to involves a Feb. 13 incident.
Angelina Taylor said she was at the Enumclaw fire station the morning of Feb. 13 when Clow asked if her husband has any tattoos.
"Then he (Clow) said 'oh no, no he doesn't because I wiped him (Casey Taylor) down when we deconed (decontamined) him after the wreck," Angelina Taylor said. "Then he (Clow) explained to me that Angie Stubblefield had called him that morning and said she had seen somebody that morning walking by the high school with tattoos all over their arms and they were part of the Aryan Brotherhood."
Angelina Taylor said, "I told the chief at that point this is slanderous and this is not the end."
Concerning door codes Stubblefield stated at the March 17 meeting she needed to have the door codes to be able to evaluate the district.
McCall said, "If the the fire department really doesn't want me to have door codes, I don't really care. I can still do my job. I'm kind of embarrassed this has become an issue."
Angelina Taylor believes her husband was fired partly because of posts on her Facebook page including a poem written by Casey Taylor.
Some of Stubblefield's supporters alleged the poem was meant to intimidate Stubblefield.
According to Angelina Taylor, his poem was posted Feb. 6 is response to a departmental issue.
Casey Taylor said the inspiration for the poem was a free speech issue. He alleged Stubblefield requested the district end a contract with an independent service because the owner of the service posted a critical comment on the Facebook site.
In an email to Clow, Stubblefield wrote, "As a contractor for this district, his response is unprofessional and inflames…. He is not a citizen or firefighter in this district. This contractor responds in a troubling tense of "WE" and as a result, will not help this district regain public trust. As a contractor, this individual's position to provide EMS service for this district should not enable him to be a defacto spokesman for this district or district firemen."
Stubblefield pasted the message allegedly written by contractor she was objecting to in the email to Clow: "This whole thing has been a travesty for our firefighters. They were not personally responsible for the situation that they are now in, they had no control over the way the election went. With the effort of a few misguided citizens they raped the fire department. This needs to be very clear. The levy failure had nothing to do with no new taxes. It was an all assault on the fire commissioners under the guise of no new taxes. We have now lost four people. We are functioning at below minimum staffing. The only thing we can do is a new levy to restore what lost. So far I have not seen a plan brought froth from the naysayers to fix this mess."
Casey Taylor said, "It became clear political recourse was becoming the norm for private speech. That's when I got the inspiration for this poem."
• The Warning
by Casey Taylor
Let the political purgings begin
Nevermind the blood on the wall
It is only the voice of freedom
Now there will be silence instead of sirens
I am become their purge; their scorn
My blood will only just slake the rats’ thirst
The Eagle cannot feed her young on carrion
But the curs cry for yet more silence
Fears and Legal Action
Stubblefield did not provide a comment on Casey Taylor's termination during a phone interview, but in a Jan. 10 email she stated her fears.
"Chief, honestly given the climate of things, I do not feel safe entering any District 28 station," Stubblefield wrote. "Each station feels very hostile and not safe for me. As a person who experienced the Civil Rights movement first hand; issues relating to department personnel (culture), has returned me to a very unpleasant time in my life. I experienced desegregation. As an excited kindergarten student, a teacher told me that while the law changed, she did not have to like it. This was a teacher who slapped, kicked and ripped my dress at the neck, for simply being a Black little girl asking questions."
Casey Taylor asked for a hearing before the board, which had not been scheduled by the date requested.
He said Friday since the board is not willing to give him a hearing he plans to consider legal action.
Taylor said he has been a volunteer firefighter with the district for five years after serving five years in the Marines. Prior to the Marines he was a volunteer firefighter in Black Diamond.
Taylor said he felt the board and "particularly Stubblefield" had attempted to stifle private, political speech. He said after serving time in the Marine Corps, "I felt someone had to stand up and take a stand. If not me, who…? I feel my termination is retaliation against my private, political activity. I took a risk when I decided to stand up…. I decided someone had to do it, against a tyranny of government."
The Next Steps
As the board attempts to douse one fire after another, the district made it through the initial budget crises of the first quarter without the sky falling. District Attorney Mike Reynolds pointed out during a March 3 meeting the district was living on a tight budget, but a "balanced account" rather than existing on reserves.
Hannity said at the March 17 meeting in terms of the budget, "The district is in "better shape than you (Stubblefield) ever thought we were going to be."
He also noted the chief's budget projections in December were on the mark.
"There's no doubt it (the budget numbers) could be better," Hannity said. "But it could be a heck of lot worse. If it wasn't for some things done in the old board we would be in big, big trouble right now."
Stubblefield advocated for setting money in a reserve account to prevent the problems facing the district this year.
"I don't want to be looking at sometime in August and we have to talk to these firefighters and say 'you know what, we just didn't make what we projected we thought we were going to have,'" Stubblefield said. "(Then) we have to let go one, two, two more people."
With the addition of McCall and Reynolds, who is the city attorney for Enumclaw and acting as the fire district attorney, the business meeting have become more efficient with less open rancor between Hannity and Stubblefield.
Public comment continues to be fiery.
Reynolds informed the commission during an April 7 meeting an agreement was reached with the firefighters union representatives involving unfair labor practices preventing the filing a PERC or Pubic Employment Relations Commission complaint.
The agreement was passed unanimously by the fire board.
McCall said appreciated the willingness of the union leadership to come forward and negotiate an agreement with the board.
"Communication needs to be enhanced and I recognize that," McCall said. "We need to do whatever we can to improve our relationship with the union and firefighters."
The agreement included training on labor law and legal conduct for the commissioners; noted that board discussions of wages and working conditions must be reserved for collective bargaining negotiations and that commissioners must follow the chain of command and avoid direct conversations with union members regarding conduct.
The grievances partly centered on an issue from the Nov. 26 commission meeting when Stubblefield asked the firefighters in the audience to raise their hands if they would be willing to take a pay cut to "keep boots on the ground." The union alleged the commissioner was violating the collective bargaining agreement.
The other chain of command issue relates to commissioners not attempting to retaliate when union members make statements board members may not like.
Serving the Community
One of the most difficult issues for the board and firefighters has been the cuts in staff since February.
"This year, we've had to drastically cut staffing, which has a huge impact on our ability to serve our community, particularly when it comes to response times," firefighter and union president John Bloomer said. "It's in all of our best interest for the board to work with us to solve these problems and restore adequate funding, to ensure our community and our families are safe."
McCall said during a phone interview Friday the last few months have been a difficult transition for the department.
"I think we have great firefighters and they provide wonderful service," McCall said."They are never criticized for their service and the board is very proud of our fire department. Our mission is to help them in anyway we can."
Stubblefield said during an interview she knew she had made some mistakes as a new commissioner who is facing a steep learning curve. She said she felt she had "walked unknowingly into" some of her mistakes, but denied there was any malice in her actions. She said her plan is to improve the fire district.
She echoed McCall's statement, "The firefighters do an excellent job."
Stubblefield added she intended to keep her campaign promise to advocate for a ballot measure increasing the board to five members, although she said the cost to the district is a concern.
"It's not the highest priority right now, but it will stay present," Stubblefield said.