Jerome wavers on fire department policy

Resolve dissolves on not micro-managing volunteers

The Jerome Town Council returned from executive session with its attorney Tuesday night seemingly resolute not to "micro-manage" the town's fire department. John Scarcella made a motion to pass on hearing an appeal that essentially would tell the department who it can hire.

It looked like a done deal.

After an hour and a half of discussion, however, Scarcella's motion had been withdrawn and replaced with another to table the agenda item. The council wanted more input from its attorney.

At issue was an appeal by councilman John "Bob" Bouwman for the council to overturn a decision by the executive board of the fire department not to accept him back as a volunteer firefighter.

During the discussion, everyone on the council and everyone on both sides of the issue stated their positions -- several times.

The discussion became so broad that the council's attorney, David Gordon, reminded members, at least three times, that they had an open motion on the floor and should restrict comments to that motion. More than once, council members had to ask what the motion said.

When the agenda item came up, Bouwman recused himself but retained the right to make his own case. After resigning from the department in October 2004, Bouwman applied to rejoin about three months ago. He said that a month later he received a letter from the department denying his application.

"I don't know the reasons for my being rejected," Bouwman said.

He presented his qualifications to the council. Those included certificates as Firefighter I and Firefighter II. He said he is currently a volunteer firefighter for Cottonwood.

Fire Chief Terry Molloy told the council that the policies are spelled out clearly in the department's bylaws, and that changes to the personnel policy supporting the department's authority to decided who to hire had been agreed to by the council. He said the council should defer to the bylaws.

Mayor Jane Moore earlier stated that policy says the fire department's executive board may approve, or not, someone applying to be on the department.

After Molloy spoke, Moore said she thought there is "one gray area." She read part of the policy that says anyone who feels he or she was treated unfairly or discriminated against shall notify the governing board. She wasn't clear whether the council or fire department's executive board is considered the governing board.

"I do not want to deny anyone due process," Moore said.

Molloy repeated his position that hiring decisions are up to the department's executive board. He said the decision to deny Bouwman's application was not arrived at lightly. The board's decision to deny the application was 5 to 2 against. But Molloy said he did an informal poll of the board members again and that they were 7 to 0 against having the council tell them who they had to hire.

At that point, the council went into executive session to get legal advice on procedure.

After returning to open session, Scarcella said he was sympathetic to Bouwman but the council does not want to become the appellate court on these matters.

Moore said the intent is not to have the council micro-manage the fire department. "The town needs to have confidence that the fire department is making the right decisions," she said. But she said the council does not intend to second-guess the department's executive board.

Other council members shared that position, but it did not live long.

Bouwman argued that he should be allowed to appeal to the council.

Councilwoman Jeanie "Jet" Tennant said she couldn't understand why the department would deny someone with Bouwman's credentials. But she said she did not want to micro-manage the department. "The fire department must operate in a cohesive environment," she said.

Tennant further stated that she did not believe the council should tell the fire department who it has to hire.

A while later, Tennant decided she didn't want to make a "rash decision." She said she hadn't seen the bylaws and wanted more information.

Molloy pleaded with the council to make a decision. "This is a morale issue," he said. "A severe morale issue."

Eventually, Scarcella withdrew his motion and after more discussion moved to table the item until the attorney could determine if the council is in fact the appellate body.

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