By Gregg Scott
There was quite a crowd of Chester residents at the March 29 special meeting of the Chester Public Utility District (CPUD). An estimated 75-80 people attended the meeting in response to a notice that the Chester Fire Department was ceasing all Fire and Advanced Life Support Ambulance Service operations and the removal of Fire Chief Brian Layne from his duties as chief. The cessation of emergency services was pursuant to a directive from NorCal EMS, the Regional Emergency Services Authority. For continuity’s sake the following is a brief recap of the events leading up to the March 29 meeting:
During the January meeting of the CPUD, the board decided to try and find a temporary solution to maintaining continuous operations of both the utility and fire departments in the district while being without a general manager. Chairman Voboril stated that he would post an online solicitation for bids to fill the immediate need. At the Feb. 15 general meeting, Voboril announced that four proposals had been received by the board in response to the solicitation. He said the proposals had been reviewed and he would like to schedule a special meeting on Feb. 22 to have the entire board meet and interview the contractor.
On Feb. 22, Adam Cox, managing partner of Sectaris Partners met with the CPUD board and presented the details of his company’s proposal. After numerous questions and discussion, the board voted (4 to 1) to accept his proposal pending discussion of contract details with the district’s legal counsel. The contract ultimately was signed on March 10.
As part of his familiarization and review of district policies, procedures and financial statements, Cox became aware on March 23 that the fire department’s liability policy had lapsed in November of 2021. Cox then contacted the members of the board individually to notify them of the situation and the action he had taken which included contractual notification of NorCal EMS and removal of the fire chief from his duties.
He then contacted other local fire districts and stations to ensure fire response coverage in lieu of Chester engines and also made arrangements for ambulance coverage to be in Chester from Enloe Hospital. Partial liability coverage was also secured and the department and the board is currently waiting on responses from several other underwriters for the remaining coverage required for operation. Board Chair Steve also scheduled a special board meeting for March 29 to update the community on what was happening. The board also authorized an outside independent investigation to find out the exact circumstances and actions that created this necessary suspension of services.
Immediately after the special board meeting opened it was announced that the next item on the agenda would be for public comment. Voboril told those that wanted to speak to please come to the podium, introduce themselves, keep their comments within three minutes and ask any questions slowly and calmly so they could be recorded. He stated that all questions would be written down so they could be answered (in order) after the public comment period.
The public comments ranged from legitimate questions about what state the emergency service coverage was currently in Chester to accusations and personal attacks on the board and interim GM. One woman shouted to the board, “Don’t make excuses, I read all about you on Facebook.” There were numerous kudos to the firemen in the room and a few people asking the audience to listen and understand the district’s procedures of operation. At one point Plumas County Sheriff Todd Johns stepped up and asked the attendees to be respectful and follow protocol so the meeting could move faster and smoother.
During the comment period two of the CPUD board members, Liz Steffen and Blake Mathews, made a statement regarding their resignation from the board and sat in the audience the entire meeting.
The board then adjourned to closed session to address some labor negotiation and pending litigation issues.
After returning from closed session, interim GM Cox gave a PowerPoint presentation as to what has transpired as of the meeting and why the actions were required. The board then announced that they had authorized the GM to enter into contracts for liability insurance coverage that might be over the purchasing power normally assigned to the position and to report such action to the board at the next board meeting. Chairman Voboril announced that former Fire Chief Joe Waterman had been appointed interim Fire Chief until that position can be filled.
The board requested that the recorded questions from the comment period be read as they were asked so the board, GM and District Legal Counsel could answer them. As the questions were being answered it became apparent that some of the answers were not what some in the audience wanted to hear. Several questions could not be answered at all because they pertained to district personnel issues and a few were not relevant to the issues on the agenda. There was still an aura of discontent with the crowd as the board asked for any further input.
By the time the meeting was adjourned near 8 p.m., quite a number of people had left. A departing attendee noted that they hoped the next meeting wound be as well attended, but with better behavior so in didn’t last so long.