Again the highly paid communications officer can’t communicate. He is so used to talking exclusively with staff about internal operations, he must think we too can read his mind.
I imagine the fire district is breaking their arm patting themselves on the back after what they likely consider a quick response to a citizen suggestion last night.
The town hall presentation consisted of dozens of slides glossing over how much they want, how much it will cost you per year, and vague misleading places where it will be spent.
By calling it a Safety measure, they hope you will ignore the millions for a new administration palace (hidden under the name better selling name Fleet/Facilities), or that the new multimillion dollar fire station will sit empty because we have no staffing to fill it, (Unless they staff it with exclusively OVERTIME employees).
But the citizen asked how can the public contact the district with their questions or suggestions.
A good question, since the district had no input method on their website.
But today it think it does. Today it is a Facebook Harvesting ploy.
From the git-go it is filled with juvenile mistakes far beneath the caliber of public servants the district says they have on staff. And want $54,000,000 to keep paying.
Foremost, the page has no information for you to read telling you anything about the ballot measure that might enable you to ask a question. If you did not go to the unadvertised personal invitation only Town Hall meeting, you have absolutely NO IDEA what they want.
No mention of the price tag, no mention of the ‘aging fleet’, no mention of the crumbling buildings, no mention of the Swiss cheese fire boat, no mention of anything that will be on the ballot.
Then, “If you have questions or comments you can send them to us by clicking on the blue writing that says “please share your comments”.
No place on the page is there such a phrase, blue or otherwise.
If you click the blue Community Voice button, however, it goes go to a page that deceives you into thinking something will happen.
You get to play a search game, click several pointless links that take you nowhere and tell yo nothing, and if you are lucky you get to see that the CAO is Top Voice.
Basically, it is a just a Facebook Harvesting ploy.
You are REQUIRED to give them personal FaceBook information about you to even ask How Much they want.
Personal Facebook information like that which got the chiefs son in big trouble with the Department of Health.
But then, I am obviously mistaken. It probably works perfectly as intended. Frustrate the voter and do nothing for the money.
Have they actually heard from even one member of the public not deep in their pocket?
These clowns are so full of themselves and anxious to get their hooks into your wallet they are rushing blindly to the ballot box on the back of a gathering personal information about you.
They are hanging their helmet on the word Safety and hoping you fall for it hook ladder and sinker.
Back to the drawing board.
Thank you all for allowing me a long overdue break from the blog.
As Santa, I had a pretty full schedule for November and December, and suiting up for it took some preparation.
Oh, the stories I could tell. Even the hardened will get a glisten in their eye.
But I am getting distracted.
The break has not been without me keeping up on the fire district, but I have been extremely negligent in posting anything. And there have been several items worthy. Like the shake up on the board of directors with the election this week of the 2015 chair and vice chair. Some on the board showed their true leadership abilities as the decision was being made.
But something really big is about to hit your paycheck and they want you to be ready. At least, that is what they tell themselves.
Have you heard about the $54 million bond measure? Or have you heard about the public meetings the fire district is holding to educate you? And supposedly get your opinion?
That might be because they just thought about asking you a few days ago. Even their website only posted the notice on the 27th.
They have a goal of getting it on the April ballot. Since they have only heard from yes men, they are pretty confident.
For the meetings, at a minimum cost of $400 per meeting, they are holding three of them.
First, I need to say I was wrong. In an earlier post I said the district was coming after your wallet for a huge $45,000,000 tax increase.
I was wrong. I was wrong. I was wrong!
What they want is $53,700,000.
At a time when the state is considering adding a slew of taxes to pay for education, the governor wants to soak you for a new billion dollar energy tax, the county is asking you to add millions to pay for radios, are you prepared for the fire district to saddle you with an additional 20 year long $53.7 million bill for brand new fire trucks, a sparkling new administration building and renovations to all existing fire stations.
Today they held the first of three community meetings to get public opinion. But they failed to reach out and let you know about them. Other than a few flyers at the fire stations.
The commissioners were so excited they could collect and additional $300-$400 each in meeting pay, they refused to put even $100 in advertising in your local paper.
Or submit an item for the community calendar.
Despite all that, the first meeting was well attended.
By fire district employees, longtime supporters and invited guests. And me, of course.
So when they say they want feedback, they really don’t want YOUR opinions. Just the usual bobbing heads and admiration of their friends.
But to be fair, I must also mention the district did conduct a survey last fall to learn what you wanted. And they were pretty loose with your money then, too.
Committing $43,000 to poll up to 500 people.
$86 dollars per phone call
If every single person answered the phone and took the survey. However, I bet very few people stayed on the phone for 15 to 25 minutes answering the 40 very wordy and very leading questions this survey covered.
So the per respondent rate climbs quickly. Could have been $200 – $300 per call trying to swing as few as 150 voters.
Meanwhile, two of your commissioners, without taking the proposal to the entire board, made sure they could line the pockets of a few friends with $43,000 of your tax dollars, and get paid for their committee meetings while doing it.
How much would a full page ad in the Federal Way Mirror cost? Or including a one page insert with a questionnaire on the back to fill out and return? How many people would it reach?
I am still here.
And still watching out for your money.
Even a budget meeting can be entertaining.
The Accreditation of our district.
Does it matter?
Not so much according to Chief Church and validated by Commissioner Jim Fossos.
At the special meeting yesterday, at a point when the district expects a 15.5% increase in property tax revenue, the budget line for Accreditation was left ominously blank. With over $1.5 million in fresh cash infusion for 2015, and nearly a decade since last Accreditation was done, the district decided this is not a good time to bare all to an outside, presumably independent, inspection. For the cost of a mere $15,000.
Keep in mind, this was a special meeting at which the administration was presenting their proposed budget to the commissioners.
A time when the commissioner got to hear what the budget the administration had toiled over these past several weeks, looked like for the coming year, and their first opportunity to ask questions and seek clarification. Of the administration.
When the question was asked by Commissioner Mark Freitas about the lack of budget for Accreditation, the chief answered it was not something we needed right now. It could simply that other expenses were of priority. Commissioner Freitas’ response re-addressed the issue with how important it was for the district to appear in their best light as the pending issue of asking for a $45 million bond were being bandied about.
I assume he felt leading up to asking for money, maybe $45 million, it was paramount that the fire district do all it could to show the public how proficient and accountable it was.
But the chief wanted nothing to do with it. And apparently Commissioner Fossos felt compelled to not leave well enough alone as he proceeded to school Commissioner Freitas and provide the reason.
The rating is “not what it is built up to be”.
The Accreditation, held by a small percentage of public agencies in the state, of which even the great City of Seattle, according to Commissioner Fossos, can’t achieve, doesn’t matter.
Actually, in full context, what he actually said was that if it were done today, we would FAIL!
Citing the state of staffing, equipment, stations and everything in general, we would not fare well under scrutiny.
But we have money for other things.
Adequate firefighter staffing to meet the needs of the district had been cast aside in order to create higher paying positions, pay increases, hiring non-essential personnel and granting a Communications Affairs Officer, (affectionately, I am sure, called a CAO, pronounced COW) position for spinning the actions of the district in a favorable light.
(A position exclusively intended to blow enough smoke at us we don/t see the failures and instead just keep passing tax increases.)
Meanwhile, the budget is simply a prelude to another woe-is-me, people-will-die plea for raising your taxes that is scheduled for discussion at a future meeting.
Get ready. It is coming and it will not be pretty.
Are you ready to give these clowns another $45 million?
After they have wasted and misdirected the $3.5 million per year, you gave them last year?
Remember, they promised to use the Excess Levy money to hire 9 firefighters. But they decided to hire only 2. Redirecting over a million dollars every year into raises, overtime and additional perks.
Gives a new meaning to Excess, doesn’t it?
But I must thank the administration and Commissioner Fossos for their forward thinking. Had they decided to pursue Accreditation, the taxpayers would have wasted $15,000, (estimate provided by Chief Church) and, according to Commissioner Fossos, received a dismal rating.
Bonus, some of the savings will be spent in additional newsletters. You know, that full color flyer you get that seems carefully timed to arrive with your ballot filled with stories of how important your fire department is? The budget for Educational Programs/Website Programs was upped from $12k to $18k just so they can cover the upcoming election cycle. The chief explained the increase was so they can send three newsletters out next year instead of the traditional 2.
Claims of speaking the truth.
Something to consider as we head into another huge revenue seeking ballot measure. And fat revenue forecast.
At the last board meeting, a commissioner was trying to clarify a matter in the commissioner guidelines about accessibility to having issues brought to the board.
The process works something like this: a member of the public might raise a question to an administration member, fire commissioner or the fire chief, and if the answer does not satisfy them, what alternative do they have? Some would think the matter ends with the person’s response (or lack thereof) without remedy. Others might consider the Public Comment section of the board meeting their only alternative. But this venue also often is passed over (outright ignored) without due review.
According to the guidelines, there is another avenue; put it on the agenda for the next meeting.
Apparently the guidelines have a process for in individual to do exactly that. Presumably, if it is on the agenda, it will get more attention than just a comment. A comment is often heard for the first time at a meeting and unless the answer is immediately known, (it usually is but they can play dumb with supposed surprise) it can be politely shuffled off to eternity.
Not likely if they don’t want to deal with it, but at least the commissioners and the administration have at least 24 hours, possibly 72 hours, to become familiar with it, if any of them are remotely so inclined.
When the Chief speaks
Anyway, while the matter of an individual adding an item to the agenda was being aired, an example, (blogging reports), was mentioned to help clarify when such an action might be requested by the individual.
The example was quickly seized upon by Chief Church as an opportunity for him to declare if you want the Truth, ask him. He will impart the Word to you.
The chief says he wanted to address the issue of bloggers misrepresenting the ‘facts’. Actually he alluded to them more as spreading lies.
And further claimed He is the truth teller of the department. While some of his lacky commissioners bobbled their heads in assent, He reaffirmed if you want the truth, ask Him.
Even the chairman of the board says this is the right process to pursue.
Of course, don’t expect an answer. Any email I sent the Chief has been ignored for months now. Typical.
But let’s hear an example of the Truth as told by the Chief.
However, as to the truth, Chuck Kahler’s nicely restored vintage Kenworth fire truck that the Chief allows to be parked 24/7/365 for years inside a fire station now remains out of public view, even though the Chief Truth Giver claimed it was used many times at public events and to promote good in the community. In sharp contrast to what the Chief says, it has NEVER been to a public event. And of course, the other relic that his good buddy Chuck Kahler owns still sits behind station 64, is totally unworthy of public display as it sits neglected and rusting away.
Dick Body is the only driver to move any of the antique fire trucks and while his log does not identify which truck he drove, at every occasion mentioned the only classic in view was the Chevrolet/Stanford pumper. This is understandable since it is the only restored fire truck owned by the district.
Meanwhile, both of Chuck Kahler’s privately owned antiques remain on, or inside, publicly owner property at taxpayer expense.
This is the truth and no one at the district has proven it false. Especially not the Chief.
So is it the almighty Chief that is spreading lies, and his ‘dear friends’ the commissioners openly supporting it?
Remember that when he comes asking for tens of millions for new equipment. Is it really needed? Or is it just another spin on the Truth?
If the Chief is so inured to telling lies, how can the public be convinced anything he says is true?
Will his penchant for ignoring the voters cost our district new equipment?
It is quickly becoming obvious there is little confidence in his ability to lead this organization.
Open Public Meetings
Wonder why they bothered sitting through the Open Public Meeting seminar. Oh, wait, I know. They got paid for it.
I have been waiting patiently since June 24th for a response to this email:
Subject: The vintage KW and the Chevy fire trucks
Can you give me some dates and events in the last few years where the vintage KW that is at station 65 and the vintage Chevy that is at station 66 were last used for appearances in public, say maybe for a market, community event or school function? And the name of the driver for those trucks?
I recall seeing the Chevy at an event or two, but never the KW.
Please refresh my memory.
But, since I was not expecting one, waiting further seems pointless.
But let’s consider the circumstances, created by the chief himself.
It was made a big deal of at the meeting a week ago how Jerry got it all wrong when he reported the housing of personal owned fire trucks at the fire stations. Amid vocal assent from the members of the board, it was declared Jerry should have simply asked the chief for clarification about these trucks before reporting the information. Then it could, according to the chief, be ‘correct’ and everyone would know no wrong doing or misconduct was afoot.
So, in light of the suggestion, and in an effort to report accurate information, that evening Jerry sent Chief Al Church the above email asking for dates the KW, which Chief Church says is owned by the district, (but, as reported here, has been identified as actually being personally owned by a district employee), had been in a parade or at a school, or for that matter at any public appearance representing the fire district.
I also asked who would have driven it, since the owner, not the district, is the only one who has the keys and, lacking permission for regular firefighters to drive or even move it, has caused severe inconvenience when station personnel are attending to normal station duties.
A week has passed. The chief has been in the office. He has been at various social events. But answer the question he wanted the citizen to ask him personally?
A week passed and not a word from the chief. So much for asking at the source for accurate information.
Apparently, even with the grandstanding and fanfare, he has nothing to rebut my accurate reporting.
At the meeting, the chief also stated both antique fire apparatus were owned by the district, that they were stored inside with district approval and that all the appropriate permissions had been followed, and that any liability would be covered by the umbrella policy for the district.
What a convoluted and conflicting statement. If they were indeed fully owned by the district, why would there need to be extraneous district approval or redundant appropriate permissions for the vehicles to be inside the station? Unless, as reported here, accurately, I will add, we do not hold title to the vehicles.
In which case, the chief flatly lied to the commissioners. And the public.
He wouldn’t do that would he?
Even for a friend?
How do you compliment the district policy without pointing out a few slips?
No organization is immune to human nature. Just because you are a policeman, mayor, CEO of a major company or even a fireman, things you may not be proud of done off the clock can have an impact in your career.
Statistically, there is a percentage of the population that drink and then drives. Recently there was a story in the news about a firefighter that had repeat DUI arrests. That is not why the media felt it worthy of reporting, though.
The surprising thing to many was the fact that while this firefighter was required to use an ignition interlock device on his personal vehicle, used to report for work, and as long as he held a current valid driver license, the fire department had no policy limiting his ability to drive those huge personnel laden fire trucks around the city. Though red lights. At high speeds. Weaving in and out of traffic.
He would simply park his ignition interlocked vehicle next to the station, then, at some point in his 24 hour shift, jump into the fire truck and race toward an emergency. No ignition interlock device required.
Now many, if not most, employers I know would somewhat allow the same thing, considering most employers do not require their employees to drive or the individual involved only used company vehicles on company property. The only restriction would be when the employee did not possess a valid driver license. Since suspended driver license is not the issue here, we will not pursue it.
However, what needs reporting is that Seattle Fire Department seems to regard the safety of the public a lot less than South King Fire & Rescue.
Human nature and the law of averages at play, on an occasion, or two, South King Fire & Rescue has had the uncomfortable opportunity to deal with an employee who had been mandated to have the ignition interlock device installed on their personal vehicle.
South King Fire & Rescue has a union contract with IAFF 2024 which includes what I will describe as a public safety clause. Really a responsibility and common sense clause.
Should a member of the union be required to have an ignition interlock device installed on their personal vehicle. several mandatory actions must be followed.
Foremost, the firefighter must inform management of the requirement. And keep management apprised of progress through the courts if applicable.
And, the employee, along with union and management enter into a Memorandum Of Understanding.
That Memorandum Of Understanding has several features, including accountability, progress and term.
But what I consider the most important, from the public standpoint, is that the firefighter is restricted from taking or being assigned any role in the department as driver, or even possibly becoming the driver, of a fire truck or aid unit, while required to have the ignition interlock device in their personal vehicle.
The firefighter can perform their normal duties, except for driving, in what is known as the 3rd position.
Drunk Drivers at the wheel of South King Fire & Rescue Fire Trucks?
Not a chance.
Thank you, the men and women of South King Fire & Rescue, for recognizing that even the perception of having a driver with an interlock device in their personal vehicle sitting in the drivers seat of an emergency vehicle is bad policy, bad image, bad all the way around.
Unlike in Seattle, in our district, when that emergency vehicle is approaching, you know the driver is sober.
Update – 06-24-14:
Three points of interest.
First, the chief and some commissioners confirmed they read my blog, surprising only in that I thought the chief put me off limits. and they forbidden to. I must be wrong, in at least that the moratorium does not apply to upper admin.
Second, they call this post on the blog ‘misinformation’ and tried to explain it away today.
And third, in order to prevent misinformation from being spread on blogs, it was mentioned by the chief and some commissioners during the meeting that all one needed to do to get the real story, the truth, was simply ask the chief. So, in addition to the three earlier public records request which culminated in this report, I sent Chief Church an email this afternoon. Let’s see what happens. And when.
While a common honest citizen might find it expensive, the chief is giving it away in what many consider looks a lot like stealing.
The open market value is anywhere from $100 per month for a fenced off uncovered open field to about $300 for a heated garage.
Perks from friends
So why are we GIVING away a comfortable heated space, actually INSIDE Station 65 to a SKF&R employee? For OVER FIVE years?
Well, speculate as you will, but it must be because Chief Al Church thinks you will never find out.
While you would forever be worried about someone damaging or stealing your vehicle, one of the chiefs friends gets 24/7/365 guards in the way of secure building and full time firefighters.
Here is the list of vehicles owned by SKF&R as of June 4, 2014.
You will see that one of them is a 1941 Stanford Pumper. Is that the truck we see at parades and other public events the fire district attends? I think not. See below.
Most of the others are functional vehicles, fire trucks and aid units along with vehicles the administrative staff get to drive home every day. (Why pay for gas when they have your wallet?)
Wheres the KW?
Do you see a KW fire truck on the list? A shiny fully restored vintage KW?
Well folks, the reason is it is NOT a district owned vehicle.
Even though it is parked at 4966 S, 289th, Auburn, WA 98001. Commonly called Station 65.
Right next to the aid unit. Inside the station.
Admittedly, it is hard to get a picture of or even see the KW, since the doors are usually kept closed, and since it is normally hidden behind the fire engine. Even with the doors open, you can’t see it from the public side of the station when the regular trucks are in the station.
But once in a while you get lucky and drive by on a warm day to find the fire engine blocking it on a call and the bay door wide open.
So why is it not on the list?
Private vehicle gets free secured garage, at your expense
So why are the taxpayers of this district giving an overpaid administrator a $300 per month heated parking spot for FREE?
This is a gift of over $3,600 per year and Chief Al Church is more than happy to give your money away. Conservatively, using this space alone for the last five years, he has authorize over $18,000 to be stolen from you.
But, don’t worry, the chief is alright with that. And I suspect his 4 fire commissioner cronies know and agree.
As an extra bonus, Chief Church does not require what a retail storage unit will require, (title must match renter, vehicle requires insurance, vehicle requires registration and vehicle requires title)
He knows about it and condones it. Integrity?
What about Insurance fraud?
Oh, and what about the liability to the district?
If this personal vintage fire truck were to be the cause of damage to any district property, or injury to personnel, we would, quite simply, be screwed. Although, I am sure the ‘facts’ would show it was not the cause. They would probably show the personal vehicle was not even in the building. Surprised?
And talk about integrity. Where the hell is the integrity? For YEARS, many of our battalion chiefs, assistant chiefs, duty chiefs and union firefighters have been assigned guard duty for this private vehicle and said NOTHING!
Nearly everyone in this district knew about this illegal storage and not a soul came forward, much less bothered to question the ethics or integrity.
Such is the rule of a czar.
Don’t dare cross Al Church.
And another one
At Station 66, just off 272nd in Des Moines, there sits another nice collector piece from the past. A well restored and cared for antique Chevrolet.
If you read this article in the Waterland Blog, you may have caught this quote:
“Did you happen to see the antique fire truck from South King Fire & Rescue with its new co-pilot last Saturday? Custodian Dick Body said “this dog is going to be with me wherever I go from now on.”
While one might assume from the text that the truck was owned by SKF&R, it is not real clear, and the truck is not on The List.
So, again the gift of absolutely FREE storage for a friend. Is this the truck we see at all those public events? The one the firefighters polish up while on duty?
We may even be paying for the repairs and parts.
But why are the taxpayers of this district giving an overpaid administrator and another of the chiefs friends $300 per month heated parking spots for FREE?
This is another gift of over $3,600 per year of your money that Chief Al Church is more than happy to give away. Conservatively, using this space alone for the last five years, he has authorize over $18,000 additionally be stolen from you.
Anyone know who is getting this sweet perk?
I almost forgot to mention.
Go to the commissioner meeting at Station 68. Look out the window into the training yard. Or see it by looking through the fence on the east side. If this is the 1941 Stanford Pumper on the official list, it is not nearly as cared for as the privately owned ones.
But then what would you expect for a publicly owned fire truck no one wants? They would treat it like they do the privately owned ones?
Business as usual for our chief. Another way to screw the taxpayer.
Many thought I was blowing smoke.
Soon you will see the fire.
I said many times the current board of commissioner was eager to raise taxes without added value to the citizens and they will soon be proving this true.
Last summer, leading onto the fall election, a hush-hush group lead by commissioners Bill Gates and Jim Fossos, under the eager direction of a fire chief salivating to preserve his $340,000 severance check, (it will be treated like a bonus for screwing the taxpayers) commenced meetings to merge our larger district with a smaller district. Once accomplished, our chief will be deemed no longer needed, services will be terminated without cause and he gets a fat bonus from your wallet. Sweet!!
To be clear, rather than logically add the smaller district into the larger one, the proposal would be to annex the larger into the smaller.
Because it will raise your taxes.
You wisely turned down the Service benefit Charge in 2010 because it could have raised your taxes by up to 66%.
You cautiously passed an Excess Tax in 2012, only to be duped about the number of firefighters you were told would be hired.
So the chief and his cohorts found another way into your pocket. And a raise of up to 66% again, but at least a raise of nearly 30%
Currently the district collects about $16,743,752 per year in assessments. After the merge, that effective rate immediately jumps to over $22,000,000.
Without any increase in service. The excess revenue will not hire any new firefighters, put any new equipment into service or add one fire station to the area.
It will however raise your taxes and secure raises and benefit packages for current employees.
And easily offset the $340,000 termination bonus for the chief.
This news should break in the next month or so. Maybe sooner.
Now you know why the union wanted to keep Bill Gates at the helm.
They knew he was a dependable source of revenue. And cared not a whit for the citizens except for increased taxes he could impose on them for his friends and coworkers.
The added bonus for SKF&R employees, is this gets their tyrannical boss out and they get raises. Whoopee!
The bad news is there are still a lot of mini-me Church wannabes in the management.
But the real question is: Do you care?
The April regular meeting did not have drama written in as an agenda item, but it showed up none the less.
The public comment section was longer than usual as some citizens showed up to mention items of interest. Subjects included the opening of the Des Moines Farmers Market and appreciation for the AED which was presented by the fire district last year, comments about the fundraiser basketball game between the fire district and the police department and all the good that will come of the contributions raised, and show of support from an employee for her boss.
It could have been the usual friendly banter of commissioners, employees and citizens.
But the charges made by the fire chief, and the failure for them to hit their mark, are still apparently festering.
Every meeting has another jab to the hilt. Last month it was the chairman himself wielding the shiv.
So much for those hollow words of the chairman, lets put this behind us and move on.
Thank you to the South King Fire & Rescue Search & Rescue Team members for joining the efforts in Oso.
Last week, Gary White, Shane Smith, Paul Mernaugh, Travis McKenney and Roy Smith have given up the comforts of home and family to join the operations at the devastating mudslide in Snohomish County.