The Chester Public Utility District posted a special meeting notice for Tuesday, Aug. 21. The sole purpose of the meeting was to appoint an interim fire chief.
Upon calling the meeting to order, board members Tonu Plakk, Gregg Scott, Dick Withrow, Ben Thompson and John Knopp went into closed session.
Plakk reconvened the meeting at 4:35 p.m. and said, “On Monday (Aug. 21) I was handed a letter that read effectively and immediately Bill Turner has retired and disaffected himself from the district 100 percent.
“Ben Thompson has been appointed interim fire chief for a period of 30 days, with no compensation, no benefits.”
Plakk said the district would post the position and a job announcement would be out within 30 days.
“We are going to fly it locally and all over the state of California and then we will go from there,” Plakk said.
“Since Mr. Turner submitted his resignation on Monday we now have two less volunteers than listed at the last meeting,” resident Wes Scott said.
Plakk responded, “There was only one topic listed on the agenda, the appointing of an interim fire chief, and I am not going to open discussion on items from the last meeting.”
“So what we are saying here is that there is no one currently qualified on the fire department to hold that position?” Steve Trotter asked.
“No one said that,” answered board member Gregg Scott.
“If an appointment were made from current employees there would not be such a rush to hire someone. For a minimal cost to the district you could have appointed someone who is already working here,” Trotter added.
Trotter also began to offer his opinion about not appointing Captain Chris Dean to the position. “Chris is a 15-year member of the department who has worked his way up through the ranks.”
After stating he was not going to enter into that discussion, Plakk added, “Ben Thompson was an eight-year volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician with the district.
“He also worked his way to the rank of lieutenant, and as I said before, there is no salary or benefits involved with this appointment.
“At this point of time, there is so much infighting within the fire district that the board felt appointing someone from the district board would allow the board more insight,” Scott said.
In response to whether Thompson would be general manager for the entire district, the response was he would only work the fire division side of the house.
The district board will work on a wage for the fire chief as a position separate from the water, sewer and streetlight divisions.
“I want to ensure that the ratepayers have the opportunity for input into the wage of chief,” resident Steve DeWitt said.
The board response was that the wage would be set in-house.
“Who would make the decision as to who is hired as fire chief?” asked Garn Pringle.
The board members said they would make the selection.
An unidentified audience member suggested, “The board members, as elected officials, should meet with the male and female firefighters to hear their complaints.” If they did so, the “problems could be nipped in the bud.”
The same individual expressed concern that Thompson already has a job working eight hours a day.
Thompson said, “Yes, I do work at Collins Pine but I am off every afternoon at 1:30 p.m. and can be at the fire department by 2 p.m. to work as long as needed.”
“Welcome, Ben, what is your plan to get volunteers into the department?” Rob Painter asked.
“I plan to talk to past volunteers to see if they would be interested in returning to the department. I do intend to put together some programs that would encourage people to be involved,” Thompson said.
After the meeting, several members of the audience and fire volunteers approached Thompson.
“If any of you are interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter, come to my office at 2 p.m. tomorrow,” he said.
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