Point Roberts’ new fire chief has accepted a substantial cut in vacation and sick leave, acknowledging that the original contract amount was “way out of bounds for a part-time position.”
At the September 12 regular meeting of Whatcom County Fire District 5 fire chief Christopher Carleton announced that the contract commissioners approved on September 5 had been modified by mutual agreement.
Carleton described the existing contract as their “first shot at it,” and stated it had given him 160 hours of vacation and 160 hours of sick leave in his first year: starting at 120 hours as of September 1 and accruing 10 hours per month. The contract pays Carleton $3,400 per month for 20 hours per week. The vacation package would have afforded him two months of vacation by the start of 2013.
Under the revised contract Carleton will start with 40 hours of vacation and will accrue 3.5 hours per month. In addition, the cap on accrued vacation time has been lowered to 120 hours of total accumulated time until his contract is up for renewal in 2015. Sick leave hours are equivalent.
Audience member Rob Dean questioned whether the revised contract still meant Carleton could “take the last six months of your contract off and get paid for it.”
“Yes,” Carleton answered. “Would I? No.”
Other audience members questioned whether there was enough time to do the job, and Carleton assured them his full time position as a paramedic with the Ferndale fire department gave him “20-plus days a month to do my duties here.” He added the 20 weekly hours he is contracted for would be spent in Point Roberts, and other business he does for the department, such as meetings off the Point and training, would not count towards that amount.
Commissioners announced that they would not be hiring a paid administrator. “In checking with our fire chief we find he does not need an administrative assistant to accomplish what he needs to accomplish,” Riffle said. While the agenda item stated the “previous announcement for a part-time administrative assistant will not be created,” Meursing said that did not mean they had taken the action to eliminate the position prior to the meeting, which would constitute a violation of the state open meetings act. “We made the decision in passing, talking to the chief,” Meursing said, adding he thought this reporter’s concern with the transparency of the board’s decision making was nitpicking. “It could say instead of not be created, not be filled,” he said, adding. “We’re making the decision now.”
When asked if the district had received any correspondence, Carleton told commissioners nothing had been received. However, captain Joe Gary said prior to the meeting he had hand-delivered a letter to Carleton and Meursing to notify them he intended to remain on leave from the department until certain issues of compliance with state labor laws were resolved. “I feel over the past five years I have been incorrectly compensated,” due to overlapping duties as a paid part-time administrator and a volunteer. “I just don’t like the way they do business,” Gary said prior to the meeting, adding he was not seeking additional compensation, but transparency and clear policies compliant with state laws.
Commissioners have scheduled two special meetings; one for September 19 to interview applicants for the commissioner’s position left vacant by David Gellatly, and another on September 20 to approve the minutes of that meeting. Commissioners Bill Meursing and Stanley Riffle encouraged the members of the public attending the meeting to submit an application for the position. “It can be in letter form,” Riffle said. “We’d just like your work experience and why you would be interested in the job.”