Two members of the Northshore Fire Department’s Board of Commissioners resigned earlier this month, following a turbulent summer in which the board cancelled many of its meetings and discussed “the negative effects poor communications can have on board relations.”
The board announced on Oct. 24 that it had a vacancy in position No. 2, held by former board chair Carolyn Armanini. Ron Gehrke was recently appointed to position No. 4, held by former commissioner Kae Peterson.
The vacancies will be filled by appointment with terms lasting through the end of 2019. Both positions are scheduled for election in November 2019.
“We are going to set up an interview process for hopefully the multiple candidates that apply,” Rick Verlinda, who was elected to serve as a Northshore fire commissioner in 2017, wrote in an email to the Reporter.
After his term started in 2018, Verlinda started questioning the fire commission’s compensation policy, and tensions between the board members began to mount.
Under Washington state law, fire commissioners can receive a per diem payment of $114 “for time spent in actual attendance at official meetings of the board or in performance of other services or duties on behalf of the district,” not to exceed $10,944 per year. Peterson and commissioner Don Ellis both hit that limit in 2017, with Ellis reaching it in 2016 as well.
At the board’s April 3 meeting, Verlinda announced that he would file ethics complaints with the state auditor’s office against the two board members for allegedly misusing public funds.
Verlinda did a public records request for vouchers submitted in the past two years, and found that in addition to regular meetings, Ellis and Peterson had been collecting compensation for doing office visits, preparing for meetings, reviewing materials and checking emails. Verlinda told the Reporter in previous coverage that in his opinion, maxing out on vouchers is “not illegal, but not morally right.”
According to the commission’s policy, compensation vouchers must be reviewed and approved by a majority of the board. The board had been placing the voucher approval with the rest of the payroll under its consent agenda.
The consent agenda usually consists of many items that are all passed with a single motion, which made the vouchers almost “invisible” to the commission and public, said commissioner David Maehren. He and Verlinda were working on changes to the board’s policy, but their proposal failed on a 3-2 vote on April 3.
According to minutes from the board’s May 1 meeting, Verlinda said he was “put in a position where he had no choice but to make the commissioner compensation issues a public matter.”
On May 2, Armanini alleged that Maehren had communicated with a Woodinville commissioner and the Northshore union president in an attempt to set up a “clandestine meeting,” describing it as “part of a pattern of covert behavior.”
On May 15, the board discussed its “poor communications,” and suggested reducing its meeting schedule to one per month, down from its regular two. It later canceled its June 19, July 17, Aug. 21 and Sept. 18 meetings. There was no meeting called on Oct. 2, due to lack of quorum.
Armanini and Peterson were not at the Oct. 9 meeting. Maehren was appointed chair and Verlinda appointed vice chair of the board by 2-1 votes, with Ellis opposing both. Gehrke, who had previously served on the commission, was invited to the next meeting, and then appointed.
The board is still seeking a fifth member. Those interested in serving as a fire commissioner should submit a letter of interest and statement of qualifications to the district’s board secretary no later than 5 p.m. on Nov. 20. Candidates selected for follow-up interviews will be notified on Nov. 21. Interviews by the board will be conducted at the meeting on Dec. 4.
Applicants must be a registered voter residing within the fire district. The fire district boundary is consistent with the city boundaries of Lake Forest Park and Kenmore.
See www.northshorefire.com for more.