Followup: North Highline Fire District board’s response to report

For White Center Now, Deanie Schwarz went to today’s North Highline Fire District board meeting to see what would be said about the newly released state report (see our story from earlier). Here’s what she reports:

As spokesperson for the Board, the Fire District’s lawyer Brian Snure told WCN that the Board’s response is contained within the Auditor’s Report, but went on to say: “The Auditor concluded that the Board, essentially, made bad discretionary decisions. There’s nothing that the Board needs to do.”

He then went on to qualify that comment by saying, “One of the incidents happened five years ago. The other incidents were discussed in the report is contractual in nature. One of those incidents is being addressed in the collective bargaining agreement right now. And the Board is going through policies which Chief Marstrom has now worked on, to prevent future issues from arising.”

Asked what the specifics of that would entail, Snure said, “The response of the Board is to work hard to make sure that future decisions don’t generate the type of issues prior decisions made, “ adding that means the revisions of policies and making sure (administration) contracts are in place. “I think, part of the problem, as reflected in the Auditor’s Report, is that there were different versions of different contracts which created problems. … You prevent that in the future by paying a bit more attention to the details and making sure management has got a handle on the contracts and making sure policies are in place, so you don’t end up having to decide between competing contracts when you are dealing with a personnel issue.”

Regarding the Fire Chief’s salary change, Snure said, “The salary change was based on the desire to avoid the wage compression between the battalion chiefs who earn overtime and what the chief was earning at that time. So, the Board adopted the salary schedule based heavily on longevity.”

Asked about the timing of that decision, Snure replied, “The thinking of that decision, at that time, was to solve the wage compression issue between the chiefs and the BCs. The timing of it, because the Chief was retiring in the future, the Board had to basically document that that was a salary schedule for the future and that’s what it did. It went through the Retirement Board and it said it was perfectly legal to do that and it wouldn’t violate their rules. …If Retirement chooses to review that again, we will respond to their questions just like we responded to the Auditor’s requests.” Chief Marstrom is an interim chief and his contract is different from the normal fulltime chief, the district says; his task is for the transition, he’s not a full-time or full paid employee, his official designation is administrative chief.

Put another way by Snure, the take-away strategy based on the Auditor’s Report is: “The game plan is to make sure that all employment contracts are clear in terms of what happens when they end.”

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