Public continues to bring concerns to the board
Seeley Lake Fire Board
September 24, 2020
SEELEY LAKE – Members of the public continued to express their concerns surrounding the Seeley Lake Fire Department leadership and board oversight at the Fire Board meeting Sept. 15. While some of the concerns have been addressed, there are others that the public feels the board should investigate further.
Lavonne Dunster and Cristine Matheny spoke during public comment. Both of them emphasized that they want to support the department and help it get better. That is the main reason they feel they need to speak up. They also said they have nothing but appreciation for the volunteers and their service to the community. Their concerns are directed at the paid staff and leadership within the department, including the elected board of directors.
Both Dunster and Matheny were disappointed with how much energy and concern the department is investing with drama on social media instead of addressing the concerns brought to them in a public forum.
“When real people are in front of you to speak about real issues you blame your trouble on Facebook,” said Dunster. “Deflection, distraction and denial.”
Dunster pointed out that the public was told at the last meeting to go in and talk to the Chief Dave Lane if they have issues. She said people did talk with him regarding the speeding incident July 6 and were ignored. When they brought it to the board, they were met with the reply of “I don’t think it happened” instead of an acknowledgment of the complaint and explaining how it would be addressed. She claimed this behavior is a pattern.
“Dear Board, you are either disconnected or in denial of what is actually happening on calls,” said Dunster. “I know this fire department has had to be rebuilt and no one expects perfection in the beginning but we do expect that the leadership is humble enough and teachable enough during this time. Claiming everything went great on every call is a red flag to anyone who knows the industry.”
Dunster and Matheny argued that the board, as elected representatives, have a responsibility to ask questions to learn more about why people are upset and follow up on complaints with those making them rather than just asking Lane for his side of the story.
“For every one person who has gathered the nerve to come down here and speak about a concern or a problem, many others have stayed silent,” said Dunster. “Do not ignore the few speaking out because they represent so many more. Start asking questions.”
“I feel the leadership and lack of concern about issues by the board and the complete arrogance in this department is a huge problem,” added Matheny during her statement.
Both Dunster and Matheny brought up the concern with the District Administrator, who, at the July board meeting, was accused of calling an employer about an employee’s behavior. They claimed after people spoke out at the August meeting, the District Administrator, a paid county employee and the face of the Department, came into businesses, asked questions that were not appropriate and threatened that the District would not be doing business with them.
Matheny asked if the District Administrator was speaking for the whole Department and how the small business owners on the board felt about this behavior?
Matheny felt another contradiction between what the board said and did was when Board Chair Scott Kennedy addressed an incident at a local establishment at last month’s board meeting. The incident involved a local family that was not there to defend themselves. In his statement, Kennedy said he was offended by being called names yet did so himself.
“If you can’t take any heat that may come with your position and conduct yourself in a professional way, since you are a public figure, maybe you should resign,” said Matheny.
Following the August Board meeting, Matheny claimed friends of the Chair also approached people at their place of work regarding things said at the meeting.
“Do you think that makes the community members feel comfortable and have confidence in this department?” asked Matheny. “I think a lot of the community feels the same way, intimidated to speak here and rightfully so.”
Another member of the public, who also attended the August Board meeting, questioned the speeding claim. Being a past race car driver, he said it is not possible for the Chief to be doing 70 miles per hour coming onto the Highway from A Street.
The response from those concerned with the speeding was if it is making the community uncomfortable, it should be addressed not denied.
Kennedy said the Chief is a professional. Once the concerns were raised, they were addressed.
Dunster said she has seen a change in the Chief’s driving habits this last month and appreciates the more prudent speed.
Board member and volunteer Rita Rossi provided the board with the text that she sent following the call in 2018 that was brought up at the August board meeting. She pointed out that her communication was sent three days later. She simply asked the caller not to contact patients during an incident because it was disruptive to patient care. The text was intended to address future calls.
In other business:
• Jeanne Koester sent a letter thanking the department for their assistance.
• The board voted to select Kennedy as the board contact for any matters dealing with the attorney.
The next board meeting is Oct. 20 at 6 p.m. at the Fire Hall. Visit seeleyfire.org for the agenda and other announcements.