The South Lane County Fire and Rescue (SLCFR) board met on Sept. 17 for the first time since its June 18 meeting, a session which saw both the reinstatement of the district’s fire chief and resignation of its vice president.
During last week’s meeting, SLCFR board members voted to accept the resignation of former Vice President Jennifer Radcliffe.
Radcliffe announced her resignation during the June 18 meeting immediately following the board’s decision to return Fire Chief John Wooten to full duty without disciplinary action.
Wooten had been placed on non-disciplinary paid administrative leave after a controversial post made by the chief on Facebook was amplified by a KEZI News report on June 2.
The post in question read: “So I made the comment we should shoot the rioters and someone asked me how I could possibly do that. I replied it depended on distance, wind, temp, humidity and a few other variables but once I had the calculations done it would be a matter of breathing control and trigger squeeze.”
Public responses to the report were split into both support and condemnation of Wooten.
While stating appreciation for the chief’s overall job performance, Radcliffe took issue with the board’s decision to reinstate the chief without discipline.
“In light of recent events, I really have lost confidence in the rigor of this board to do what it is they were elected to do by the [people] in Lane County,” said Radcliffe during her resignation announcement. “They’ve been acting more as the fire chief’s friends than his employer.”
In deliberating how to address the currently vacant seat, the board tabled discussion pending a report from Wooten on filling the vacancy.
With more than two years remaining in Radcliffe’s term, the board will await advice from Lane County Elections before a decision is reached on filling the seat.
Board members also voted to assign Wooten to update the board’s public notification policy to reflect current requirements of ORS (Oregon Revised Statutes) 192.640.
The state law requires public bodies to “provide for and give public notice, reasonably calculated to give actual notice to interested persons including news media which have requested notice, of the time and place for holding regular meetings.”
The ORS also requires notice of principal subjects anticipated to be considered at the meeting.
Other requirements include notices to the public regarding executive sessions and a minimum of 24 hours’ notice for special meetings.
Wooten reasoned that a policy update was needed because current board policy phrasing designates newspapers as the manner by which public meeting notifications are distributed while state law makes no such specification.
“It’s been problematic for staff at times with these meetings because all the papers have deadlines,” explained Wooten to the board. “And to advertise in the Register-Guard is more expensive than advertising the The Sentinel...”
The policy update does not specify the manner in which future notifications will be posted.
“Nothing is changing as far as the availability of public documents for the meetings,” Wooten told The Sentinel. “The board is considering updating the language to remove print media as the sole source of public meeting notification.
“The policy will simply be updated to refer to ‘Public Meeting Notifications’ [to] comply with the ORS.”
In other SLCFR board news:
• Board seats shifted as Cheryl Shannon was elected as board president, Dan Duffy as vice president and Tom Munroe as secretary/treasurer.
• The board authorized payment to Knife River Corporation-Northwest in the amount of $134,011 for a training yard paving project at Station 201 (233 Harrison Street) in Cottage Grove.
• Chief Wooten reported that personnel assigned to the Holiday Farm Fire have returned except for Division Chief Joe Raade, who remained (at the time) assigned with the OSFM (Office of the State Fire Marshal) Incident Management Team.
The district had six personnel and four vehicles assigned to the fire.
The meeting was also marked by the return to public eye of Wooten, who had been on extended medical leave following his reinstatement in June.
“I’m happy to be back and report to the board that my doctor has seen fit to release me for limited administrative duty. I’m not clear to go on calls yet, but it’s a first step,” he said, adding in a statement, “I will slowly begin resuming normal hours over the next few weeks.”
The reason for his medical leave was not specified.
The board meeting was streamed on the internet while a link to the meeting and call-in line was made available to those who requested notification.
Due to technical issues with the public joining the meeting, Wooten suggested that the board authorize an expedited release of “draft-unapproved” minutes of the meeting on the district’s website, which was approved.
For a copy of the minutes or other inquiries, email [email protected] fire.org or contact the main of-fice at 541-942-4493.