GRAHAM, WA — The January 23rd Graham Fire District Commissioners meeting was a lively, and occasionally raucous public event. There were a few brief minutes of procedural agenda items, including Chief Baskett explaining a ladder truck was damaged when the gate of a local closed on it and another truck had ladder damage from a low tree. The board made a motion for a special meeting at 9 a.m. on Feb. 3.
When the minutes were being approved, former commissioner Bob Skaggs jumped up with a point of order regarding the approval. Displaying strong emotion, and spouting a surprise expletive, he complained that the letter from the union about the Chief was not included in the minutes of the previous meeting.
After the Chair explained it, in fact, was there, just interspersed with comments from the Chief, Skaggs apologized and sat down.
Then Chief Baskett read his reply to the Union letter, noting his disappointment that they chose to take a vote of no-confidence during contract negotiations. He expressed confidence that an un-biased third party would find that the logic and reasoning he used to make decisions for the department were sound management and that he acted in the best interests of the local citizens. The letter extends and olive branch to the union and his willingness to work with the to resolve any issues they have.
The floor was then opened to the public for comments. Bob Skaggs rose again and stated that the Union President had been promoted to Assistant Chief for Field Operations and was no longer eligible to represent the union, asking the board to look into the issue.
Carolyn Benum then rose to read a letter from multiple community members into the record. That letter sharply criticized the union president for having done this same thing to other fire chiefs and all were during contract negotiations. The letter names 6 other fire chiefs and deputy chiefs that had been the subject of Local 726 no-confidence letters and resulted in the chief’s dismissals, retiring or stepping down.
You can read the citizen letter here. Mrs. Benum also read a letter from Amy Cruver in support of Chief Baskett.
Several other citizens rose to speak in support of Chief Baskett followed by Bob Benum. Mr. Benum pointed out the previous Fire Chief had left the district with almost $2 million in debt and Chief Baskett had brought solvency back to District 21. He also pointed out that one of the Graham Commissioners, Adam Rosenlund ran a very expensive campaign for his seat against Bob Skaggs and only reported raising $295. There was no other expenditures or in-kind or independent expenditures reported on his campaign although it included two mailings, 2 billboards, a large volume of signs and was purportedly close to $60,000 in expenses. It went further to state he is a union member and often works in lock step with the president of the local. He requested the commissioners also look into the ethics and apparent conflicts of interest.
Troy Flowers, a Local 726 member then rose and complained about character assassinations. He noted 58 of the rank and file of 60 had voted no-confidence.
Former commissioner Verne Pierson spoke of the need for commissioners to vote for the good of the people of the desires of the union.
Luke Wahl from Local 726 then spoke that the fire fighters hadn’t intended to make the letter a public event, but that it was the opinion of the rank and file that there was not reasonable communication during this time of contract negotiations.
The commissioners went into executive session for almost an hour. However, Commissioner Adam Rosenlund did not join them. Upon their return, Chief Baskett offered to take an administrative leave during the time the third party review was being conducted. They expect that to be about three weeks. Assistant Tony Judd will take charge during that time.
The next meeting of the commissioners will be a special session at 9 a.m. on February 3. The next regular meeting will be February 13.