The Chelsea Area Fire Authority Board (CAFA) voted 2-1 with two abstentions on Tuesday morning on a resolution that states the authority board “has the authority over final approval of the hiring and firing, promoting and demoting of all CAFA personnel.”
Board members Jamie Bollinger and John Francis voted in favor of the resolution and Board Chairman Rod Anderson voted against the resolution.
The resolution strips Fire Chief Jim Payeur of these duties and takes away his authority as chief of the Chelsea Area Fire Authority.
Prior to the vote, he had the final say on all personnel matters within the department.
Board members Kurt Koseck and Craig Maier voted to abstain on the resolution.
“The action this board has taken will be catastrophic,” Anderson said.
The vote came near the end of a contentious meeting that began with Firefighter Ian Ballard reading a letter signed by six other firefighters, which among other things, requested that Francis resign his post on both the Policy, Procedures and Personnel Committee as well as his seat on the board as the Lyndon Township representative on the authority.
The firefighters contend in the letter that Francis has overstepped his charge from the board as a member of the committee, which is working on revisions to CAFA’s policies and procedures and employee manuals as well as its incorporation documents.
In part, the letter states that the committee “misrepresented itself to (firefighters) by using the meetings to conduct investigations into individual employees as opposed to gaining insight so that they can better review and develop the CAFA Employee Handbook and policies within,” the letter states.
Francis said the interviews that were held with firefighters were a way to glean individual opinions, suggestions and statements about the operations of the department as a way to improve the inner workings of the department, which has been in disarray following a failed union vote of the firefighters.
He said there were a lot of firefighters who wanted to speak to the committee and the committee was trying to get the department back on an even keel.
He said during the course of these conversations, he was made aware of allegations about the possible misappropriation of funds from the Paint Chelsea Pink event, and he sought an attorney’s opinion about how to proceed.
Francis read a long draft document with a list of complaints and suggestions from the firefighters that included an unauthorized Facebook page, complaints of the department’s chain of command not being followed, paid on call firefighters not being paid promptly, off-duty firefighters who come and go from the fire department when not on duty, a lack of conflict resolution, hiring policies that vary with the individual, damage to vehicles that goes unreported, uncertainty about the SAFER grant situation, and training issues among the different shifts.
Following the discussions with the committee some of the firefighters said they felt as though they had been intimidated and that they had been asked questions about personal issues that took place outside of the fire department.
The firefighters who signed the letter said they felt the meetings were investigations and should have had legal representation present during the meetings.
And when Lt. Scott Basar was asked a question about the Pink Chelsea Pink event during the meeting, he said, “You can talk to my attorney; there have been some serious allegations made.”
Francis said that he’d been told that some of the funds that had been collected for the Susan G. Komen Fund had not been turned over to the charity.
“My concern is that funds, donations that were collected for one organization wound up in the TCF firefighter account,” Francis said.
The firefighter’s fund, a separate bank account, which is maintained by the firefighters for charity and other community events, was brought under scrutiny because it is included in the department’s budget as a line item.
Some board members questioned whether the CAFA board had any authority over those funds because it was a line item in the CAFA budget.
Anderson said he’d gotten a legal opinion about the fund from Ron Richards, CAFA’s attorney, which said, in part, “The CAFA board would have no more authority over that fund than over my personal bank account.”
Following the discussion, the fund was voted to be removed from the CAFA balance sheets.
Below is a copy of the firefighter’s letter that was read to the board.