Thursday, November 22, 2007

Timberlake Fire District Election

No, Hades hasn’t dropped below freezing, but something almost as unusual has occurred. In an election that was under attended, a write-in candidate for fire commissioner in the Timberlake Fire District brought down the long time incumbent, Bat Masterson.

Jon Guinn, a retired US Air Force officer and long time volunteer fireman and EMT, originally turned in a petition to the Kootenai County Elections Department with ten signatures, five needed for a nomination and a position on the ballot. Five were unregistered and apparently, two lived just outside the district he was running in, thence keeping him off the ballot. Not to be deterred, he launched a write-in campaign, complete with yard signs and web site. Running against a long entrenched commissioner, Bat Masterson, he won going away, with a 190-141 victory.

Asked to what he attributed his amazing feat, he told us that “certainly a low turnout helped a lot, but he also referred to the “closed club” atmosphere with many of the meetings going to executive session, running the public off. Acknowledging that certain issues, such as personnel have to be discussed in private, he went on to claim that open meetings were rare, with two commissioners ruling the roost and the others followers. He went on to say that he wanted fair hiring and firing practices, transparent open meetings, and an end to the” good ‘ol boys” closed atmosphere. Guinn went on to point to one chief and five full-time firefighters being fired in the last two years, with much of the experience going with them.” He reckoned that perhaps two deserved it, and the others didn’t.

The Timberlake Fire District was originally formed with the merging of the Athol and Bayview Fire Departments, back in 2000. Now, only manned at the Athol location, the district has five fire stations, all dormant, except for the Little Blacktail station, built mostly from local funds. Now formed by five commission districts, and five fire stations.

Guinn is fearful that a firefighter might either be seriously injured, or killed by not having a qualified chief to make safety decisions while fighting a house fire. The,” do we enter to rescue a screaming occupant, or is to too late and risky to enter the hypothetical burning building decisions are being made by very inexperienced people.”

Jon Guinn comes from Walla Walla, Washington. He graduated from WSU with a degree in Police Science. Guinn spent over 20 years in the Air Force, retiring as a Lt. Colonel. His Air Force career was spent in Security and investigations. After retirement, he served the US Government as a Consulting contractor for security issues. He claims certification as an EMT, as well as having taken courses in fire investigation. Currently, he is on inactive status, as a volunteer firefighter with the district.

Unable to reach the defeated incumbent, Bat Masterson, we spokes to the president of the board, Sam Scheu. Scheu told us,"We could have done a better job of publicizing the election." He went on to say,"only four percent of the registered voters showed up to vote." When asked about the 23% voter turnout in the areas of the district lying in Bonner County, he suggested that," It could have been from concentrated campaigning. Perhaps we need to find ways to communicate with these folks better." We spoke to Kootenai County Elections Manager, Deedie Beard, who said, "I don't recall in my thirty years in this department, ever seeing a write-in candidate win, although I could have forgotten." She went on to describe the conditions needed for a write-in victory. "A small turnout in a small taxing district would usually be the case."

We spoke off the record to two other members of the Department who wished to remain anonymous. Neither was happy with the results.

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