Three Washington Fire Board directors resign, local leaders and residents weigh in

By Rose-Ann Aragon

July 9, 2014 Updated Jul 10, 2014 at 10:52 AM CDT

WASHINGTON, Ill. -- Tuesday night's heated Washington Fire Board of Directors meeting left residents without answers and now leaves the city without a full fire board.

President Bob Linsley, Vice President Ken Klotz and Central Fire Protection District representative Bill Hartter have resigned from the Washington Fire Board of Directors. That leaves the board unable to form a quorum.

Tuesday night's meeting ended after board member Brian Barron walked out. That derailed a vote to end Washington Fire Chief Mike Vaughn's contract. The previous vote was not valid for several reasons.

The biggest one -- two board members terms had expired, Linsley and Hartter. When asked about the expired terms the Vice President dismissed it as an "oversight."

The bylaws state that each member of the Washington Fire Board can only serve for two consecutive three-year terms.

There are five board members. How they are appointed varies.

One is a representative of Washington (formerly Bob Linsley), appointed by the City of Washington.

Two more are representatives from the individual fire protection districts, Central Fire Protection District (formerly Bill Hartter) and Pleasant View Fire Protection District (Regina Slonneger). How those representatives are chosen is up to the districts.

Additionally, the Washington Fire Department members elect a department representative (Brian Barron).

The fifth serves as an at-large member and is appointed by the Fire Board (formerly Ken Klotz).

Residents say someone should be looking at these bylaws and someone should be held accountable. That was one of the points made very clear by residents at Tuesday's Fire Board meeting.

"That doesn't hold any of you less accountable to make sure it gets taken care of," said Washington resident Esmeralda Ozella, referring to the board's lack of awareness of the expired terms.

"[It was] an oversight on our part," responded former Vice President Ken Klotz.

It was an oversight that residents say is unacceptable. The board's attorney said they would not be able to comment.

However, residents say the City of Washington should have also known about the terms being expired. Washington Mayor Manier says because of Washington's contract with the fire department the city's hands were tied.

"We are specifically stated in there, more or less, not to meddle," said Mayor Manier. "We're not to get involved with the day-to-day operations or how they remove a director."

The contract is an "Agreement between the City of Washington Tazewell County, Illinois and the Washington Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad, Inc. for fire protection services and for ambulance and emergency medical services." The section under the "Department Affairs" portion of the contract reads, "The city shall not interfere with or participate in the day-to-day operations of the Department, its training programs, or of the election of its officers or directors, except as otherwise specifically allowed by the Department's Bylaws or to ensure compliance with the law."

Mayor Manier said, "We were living by our contract and unfortunately the contract doesn't state in it that what the term limits were, and we were trusting the Board of Directors to do the right thing."

Mayor Manier said the city's next step is to appoint another director representing the city, which he said would be discussed soon--most likely by the end of the month.

If a third fire board member is not selected by the end of July, Chief Vaughn's contract automatically renew for three years.

If a third member is appointed, then the board will have reached quorum and could potentially vote on the future of Chief Vaughn's contract.

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