Bridger Canyon residents say their fire district board has excluded public comment, held illegal meetings and endangered the community’s safety and are seeking to collect 104 signatures to recall all five board members.
A group calling themselves the Bridger Canyon Fire District Safety Coalition contends trustees routinely try to limit public comments at meetings, interrupt audience members when they have the floor and have held several unannounced meetings.
The residents also claim the board’s actions caused most of the department’s most seasoned firefighters to resign when, out of frustration, Chief Dan Astrom left in May.
That meant the department was severely understaffed and undertrained, coalition members say.
A group of residents filed a lawsuit against trustees, saying the situation left them and canyon visitors vulnerable and unsafe.
“The board hasn’t done their job and that’s a problem,” resident Thom Hughes said Monday.
The lawsuit was dropped after a June 24 hearing after which a district judge reversed an injunction that had temporarily reinstated the fire chief.
Speaking for himself and not the board of trustees Monday, Board Chairman Mike Conn admitted the group may not have been educated in meeting laws. But, he said, all five board members have since taken training courses.
“We’ve learned so much about the law,” he said. “I wished I’d never heard of it, but we’ve got to live with it now.
“We don’t want to violate any laws either intentionally or inadvertently,” Conn added. “We have no desire to keep things secret. I don’t know that we were always perfect, but I can guarantee you there was no ill intent.”
Though some say the issues go back several years, the rift widened when trustees wanted to pass a rule allowing community members to drink alcohol on fire station property – a move Astrom vehemently opposed.
Astrom resigned in late May despite trustees voting against allowing alcohol in the department – a vote detractors believe trustees discussed before the meeting, with it passing unanimously without any discussion.
“The board had very clearly made decisions outside public scrutiny and did not want public comment,” Hughes said. “They were hell-bent on doing what they were going to do.”
Conn called the recall petition drive against him and the other trustees a smear campaign, totally uncalled for and malicious.
“They didn’t win in court,” he said. And with a recall petition drive that requires only 15 percent voter approval, “they don’t have to prove anything.”
“They can make any allegations they want,” he said.
As to why the alcohol vote went through so quickly at their meeting, Conn said, the board had clearly heard firefighters comments.
“We saw the uproar that this was causing and decided it wasn’t worth it,” he said. “We agreed with the firefighters 100 percent.”
If the coalition collects signatures from 15 percent of the 693 registered district voters within 90 days, the recall can be placed on a ballot. If the petition is successful and trustees do not resign after being notified, a special election will be held and can pass on a simple majority.
Conn said he and the board are just trying to get new firefighting recruits trained and the department running smoothly.
He claims canyon residents are not at risk.
“We don’t have enough (fully trained firefighters) yet, but we have enough to cover what we’re most likely to encounter,” Conn said. “We have had more than enough people show up (to calls) 100 percent of the time.
“We try to do the best job,” he added. “We get nitpicked even when we’re trying to keep it together.”
Jodi Hausen can be reached at email@example.com or 582-2630. Follow her on Twitter @JodiHausen or on Facebook at Jodi Hausen, journalist.