DM FireSide Chat 2020

This is not the official website for any local organization.  It is an independent site for sharing community and personal information for the Deer Mountain area of Fremont County, Colorado.


CHAPTER 4

JANUARY 20, 2020, from Elaine Foster, Vice-Chairman of the Deer Mountain Fire Protection District

Under the best of circumstances, there is a great deal of Board work to do. (More on that in a future post.) It is nearly impossible to get it all done and have much of a personal life left. Splitting up the work between 5 Board Members is good, but still there is a lot for each person to do.  There is usually two or three Board Members who have the jobs with the largest workload.

One of the ways to get rid of a Board Member who is not staying in line with the status quo is to swamp him or her with work.  Then when the person finds it impossible to finish all the work, those who want this Board Member gone, criticizes him or her, insisting that they are not a good Board Member and must resign.

If the community allows this type of bullying tactic, we will never be able to keep a Board Member who wants things done according to law or one who steps outside the company line.  No board member will ever be able to call out wrongdoing, or work to change the status quo, because of the accusations of inadequacy that will come down on them.

Such a Board Members will spend his or her precious and limited time defending themselves and not getting the people’s work done.  There is not time for both.  It’s a catch-22.

Remember, Board Members work for the Taxpayer/Voter/Community and as Voters we get the government we deserve.  People often complain about the corruption but, in most cases, the officials are too far removed from us to make much of a difference.

However, in the case of our own Fire District, we are close to the situation and can do something to bring about positive change.

For example, a Citizens Oversight Committee could be very beneficial.  Their primary task could be to Oversee what is going on with the Board and with the Fire Department with the goal of helping to solve problems.

Remember, the Fire District was formed and is funded by the Citizens who own property within the District.  The Citizens of the District have a right to Oversee what is going on within an Organization they are paying for.

In order to be effective, the Citizens Oversight Group would have to be attentive and impartial. In order for the Group to be more effective than what we have now, they would have to want things done according to the law.  If the Citizens Oversight Group only wants to appease the loudest voice, then we could not get closer to fixing the problems than we are now.

Laws governing Fire Districts are not hard to find or learn.  Thankfully, laws are written in plain English and the internet allows anyone to find a law in questions and read articles from law firms that discuss that law.  So the members of the Citizens Oversight Group would need to be willing to do a bit of research when required.  In addition, the Group could also ask to be presented with documentation regarding the issue being brought to the Group.

Also, when difficult personality issues arise, the Citizens Oversight Group could help work them out. Therefore, a few members of the Group should have some negotiation and people skills/training that would give them the expertise to do well with these types of problems.

It’s my suggestion that there be no cap on the number of people who could join this Group.  If the Citizens Oversight Group grew large, which is unlikely, it could be segmented into one part that focuses on legal issues and another part that focuses on personnel issues.

For residents to hear a bunch of rumors and then storm a Board Meeting to get answers does not work.  Problems that carry on for months or years are not solved by shouting matches.  There should be a mechanism where problems are recognized and addressed quickly and in a professional manner.

In earlier chapters of this website, the reputation of the District was mentioned.  The problems we have now started years ago and we are NOT closer to solving them today, even though many Board Members have come and gone.  Something different must be tried.

For example, it seems to me that the Amish must have a system of resolving problems.  I’m not very familiar with what it is but perhaps the wisdom they have gained over the decades would be of value to our Fire District.

Another avenue could be to bring in outside professionals who are skilled in conflict resolution.

Or perhaps there are local retired professionals and non-professionals with good people skills who have had successful experiences who would be willing to serve on the Citizens Oversight Group for one year at a time.

To be honest, I don’t think that the Citizens Oversight Group should be a temporary thing.  Our District seems to fall into chaos on a periodic basis. It is my belief that an ongoing Citizens Oversight Group could be the key to helping this District gain stability.

 


CHAPTER 3

Thoughts from January 18, 2020, by Elaine Foster, Vice-Chairman of the Deer Mountain Fire Protection District (DMFPD) Board of Directors 

Chairman Mike Kevilus is feeling better.  He was finally able to relax and rest.  Thank you to those who pray for him.

 

Going back to the Special District Organizational Structure found in the Colorado State Statutes, this is what I previously claimed the structure should be according to law:

[A] Taxpayers/Voters/Community

[B] Board of Directors

[C] Chief

[D] Firefighters/EMTs

Now I want to prove that this structure is accurate and that it should be followed, and why.

Here are some excerpts from the Statutes that describe the duties of the Board. You can read the entire section for yourself by going online here:

www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/michie/

Then click on the link for Colorado.

Here are some excerpts:

COLORADO REVISED STATUES
SPECIAL DISTRICTS
PART 10
GENERAL POWERS

32-1-1001. Common powers – definitions. 

(1) For and on behalf of the special district the board has the following powers:

(h) To have the management, control, and supervision of all the business and affairs of the special district as defined in this article and all construction, installation, operation, and maintenance of special district improvements;

(i) To appoint, hire, and retain agents, employees, engineers, and attorneys;

(m) To adopt, amend, and enforce bylaws and rules and regulations not in conflict with the constitution and laws of this state for carrying on the business, objects, and affairs of the board and of the special district;

(n) To have and exercise all rights and powers necessary or incidental to or implied from the specific powers granted to special districts by this article. Such specific powers shall not be considered as a limitation upon any power necessary or appropriate to carry out the purposes and intent of this article.

 

Section (h) above says, “To have the management, control, and supervision of all the business and affairs of the special district as defined in this article”. 

Notice that this section of the Statute does not say ‘all business affairs’.  It says, “all the business and affairs”. 

In other words, the Board has oversight responsibilities of everything that goes on in the Fire Protection District organization.  The Voters choose the Board Members to oversee “all the business and affairs” of the Special District Organization for them.

This is in line with our overall Representative Government throughout the United States.  The Board of Directors represents the Voters, carrying out what the electorate wants done.  It goes without saying that the Voters would expect the Board of Directors to stay in compliance with federal, state and local laws and run the District as all Special Districts should.  There may be a few citizens who don’t care, but it must be assumed that most Voters do not intend to elect Board Members who will break the law or allow the Organization to be run in a way contrary to the State Statutes governing Special Districts.

From what I have observed, the Organizational Structure got messed up a few years ago.  At that time, the Board started working for the Chief instead of the Taxpayers/Voters/Community.

As the years went on, people both inside and outside the Organization began to believe that this is how it is supposed to be.  When I got on the Board in May 2018, that is what was happening – the Board was taking orders from the Chief, “right or wrong.” Never once did I see the Board give an order to the Chief but I frequently saw the Board doing what the Chief told Board Members to do.

When an organization’s proper structure is not followed, chaos ensues.

When the Board of Directors gives up its oversight responsibilities, lawlessness can occur and there is confusion within the Organization as to who is ultimately responsible.

On the other hand, outside agencies are not confused at all.  They know the Statute and they know that the responsibility falls squarely on the Board of Directors for failing to oversee everything that goes on within the Organization and to ensure that all is done by the book.

 

Here is an excerpt from the Special District Association’s Manual:

A special district is governed by an elected board of directors, in whom rests the authority to manage, control, and supervise all the business and affairs of the special district.

 The special district board has autonomous authority for governing the district within the scope of the district’s powers, just as the City Council has for the governance of a municipality.

Autonomous means independent.  The Board has the independent authority for governing the District.  The Board does not share the authority for governing the District.  Nobody else within the District Organization has the authority to govern the District. In short, the buck stops with the Board.

So this brings us to the recent false accusation, mentioned in Chapter 1 below, that some Board Members were trying to access the HIPAA records (protected medical records).

A few years back, the Personnel Files were moved from the Board Room to the Chief’s Office.

A few months ago, we got new Board Members who want to return the Personnel Records to the Board Room.

After doing my research, I learned that HIPAA records do not belong in Personnel Files.   They are to be stored, by law, in separate files and locked up apart from Personnel Files.

Here is just one of many HIPAA-related article I studied:

https://www.bizjournals.com/bizjournals/how-to/human-resources/2017/12/do-your-employee-medical-files-meet-ada-privacy.html

It says in this article, “any employment-related documentation containing medical information must be maintained in confidential files completely separate from the general personnel file”.

So three Board Members asked the leadership in the Fire Department to remove the HIPAA documents from the Personnel Files and so that Board Members could have access to the Personnel Files.

Remember that the Board of Directors has the authority and responsibility over every aspect of the District. It is the Board’s responsibility to see that these HIPAA records are separated.

The Board Members got nothing but resistance.  We could not get the proper employee to make separate HIPAA folders and take any private medical documents out of the Personnel Files.  In short, to this day I am not allowed to view any Personnel File because of the failure to make this separation.

At least I was told it was not done.  If I look to verify and it is not done, I will be accused of breaking a HIPAA law.

Are you aware of any other company or organization where a person or group is responsible for hiring employees and then the Employees refuse to provide the Employer access to the Personnel Files?

It is my belief that the problem stems from the false belief that the Chief is over the Board of Directors in the Organizational Structure.  Back in Chapter 2, I laid out this incorrect Organizational Structure that has been implemented for the past few years:

[1] Chief

[2] Board of Directors

[3] Chief

[4] Firefighters/EMTs

The Board hires a Chief and then the Chief tells the Board what they can and can’t do.  In my experience, this has caused problems many, many times, such as this time.

So this “tradition” is passed down from Chief to Assistant Chief and the Organization is never run correctly.  The Board cannot fulfill its oversight responsibility because some of the employees won’t allow it.

So you may ask, “Why don’t you explain this to them and not to me?”

In the past few months, since the two new board members joined the Board, we have tried – to no avail.  We have each spent many hours talking and emailing, explaining and asking for the HIPAA records to be separated so that our new HR person can get at the Personnel Records.  No success.  Just arguing and stonewalling.

 

Then came the January 13, 2020 letter from Joe Watt’s lawyer, stating that he has retained Interim Chief Robert Themel as a client.  The lawyer states that his letter is in regards to “a request by the Board that he [Interim Chief Robert Themel] provide access to secure facilities that contain HIPAA protected medical records maintained by E.M.S. personnel”.

This is the exact opposite of what we were trying to do.

So Board Members cannot have access to the Personnel Records of the Employees they hire because the Organization is not running as it is supposed to by law.  The Employee is telling the Employer what s/he can and cannot do.

When the new Board Members recent tried to straighten things out, they were confronted with an angry mob who refused to hear what I’m telling you now.

Since I am not allowed to speak this information plainly while at Board Meetings, I will continue to use this platform to speak to the residents of the Deer Mountain community who are sincerely interested in why our Fire District has a bad reputation and repeatedly returns to a state of chaos.

(To be continued)


CHAPTER 2

Thoughts from January 17, 2020, by Elaine Foster, Vice-Chairman of the Deer Mountain Fire Protection District (DMFPD) Board of Directors 

I just heard from Chairman Mike Kevilus.  He is sick and weak.  Prayers are still needed.

 

Before continuing with the keys and records accusations mentioned above, I must take you to a concept that will explain the root of these problems…

I have traced the problems I am facing now back a few years and to a complete lack of understanding of how the State of Colorado set up Special Districts.

Let’s start with that so you can see how the structure of the DMFPD organization has been perverted so that Board Members CANNOT get all their work done without resistance.

When the residents first decided to pay taxes to support a fire department, a mill levy was passed and the Fire District Board of Directors came in existence.  At this point, the organization changed from a volunteer fire department to a fire district.

Fire districts are regulated by a set of statutes found mostly in Title 32 of the Colorado Revised Statutes.  These can be found and read by anybody who is online. The latest version is 2019.

The structure of the Colorado’s Special Fire District is this:

[1] The Taxpayers – These are the people who own property within the boundaries of the Fire District.  Everything within the organization belongs to the Taxpayers because they pay for it.  Everyone who works within the organization ultimately works for the Taxpayers.  Voters are an expanded group from the Taxpayers.  A person may be a renter or family member and not pay DMFPD taxes.  However, they still get a say in the Fire District.  It could be argued that the Board of Directors work for all the Voters and Community Residents, not just the subset who are Taxpayers.

[2] The Board of Directors – These are 5 people who work DIRECTLY for the Taxpayers/Voters/Community.  Whether a Board Member is elected at a Special District election or appointed to fill a vacancy, they still work directly for the Taxpayers/Voters/Community.  (More on this in a future post.)

[3] The Fire Chief – This person is hired by the Board of Directors.  He or she is an employee of the Board. The Chief’s duties are to manage/supervise the fire department, the firefighters and EMTs, see that the vehicles get fixed, etc.

[4] The Firefighters and EMTs – These are also employees of the Board. Whether they are volunteering or getting paid, they are all employees because they are hired by the Board and covered by Workman’s Comp Insurance.

THIS structure outlined above is the proper structure of all Colorado fire districts as outlined in the Colorado State Statutes, Title 32.

 

In recent years, the Deer Mountain Fire Protection District has operated with a different structure.  This has caused a great deal of confusion within the organization because not every person knows their position within the organization or exactly who they should be working for.

THIS structure below has been the structure of the DMFPD for the past few years:

[1] Chief

[2] Board of Directors

[3] Chief

[4] Firefighters/EMTs

At the moment, I can’t explain exactly where the Taxpayers/Voters/Community has been fitting in.  There is talk of “serving the community” but it is being lost in the confusion of who works for who within the organization.

You might say the struggle for power that has not been authorized by Colorado State Statute/law has been clouding the fact that the Board works DIRECTLY for the Taxpayers/Voters/Community and the Fire Chief works DIRECTLY for the Board of Directors.

At the present time, there are some people who believe that the Board of Directors work for the Firefighters/EMTs.  This has caused further confusion, as you can imagine.  (More on this, too, in a later post.)

 

So going back to the civil rights experience that I described in yesterday’s post above, I was told to follow the Chief’s lead “right or wrong” because the other 4 Board Members believed they worked for the Chief and NOT the other way around.

Because I had read Title 32 before I took a Board position in May 2018, I was bewildered.  I wondered how could someone think the Board works for the Chief when the law says the opposite?  It appeared to me that they either didn’t read the Statute or didn’t care what it said, or both.

This put me at odds with the Board from that point on.  When I said that the Chief was not acting correctly or lawfully, I was told that I was not to question him, as if he was MY boss rather than my employee.  As if I was accountable to him rather than the Taxpayers/Voters/Community.

This misalignment of understanding of the structure of a Fire Districts really came to the surface in December 2018 with the firing of the Hispanic woman.  I knew that her employment with the DMFPD was being terminated without her being allowed to go through any progressive disciplinary steps or having a fair appeals process.  The “appeal” was just a sham when 4 Board Members believed they worked FOR the person who fired her.

And I also knew that this Hispanic woman had the right to file a complaint with an outside agency because she didn’t get a fair shake WITHIN the organization.

I tried everything I could think of to get the rest of the Board to listen to me and understand that they were putting the District in legal jeopardy.  The root of my dilemma was that they believed they worked for the Chief and not DIRECTLY for the Taxpayers/Voters/Community.  I was told in writing that I should support the Chief “right or wrong” but I KNEW that doing so (improperly) would cause a huge legal problem for the organization and Taxpayers/Voters/Community.

On the day of the Hispanic woman’s appeal with the Board, I was the ONLY one who opposed the Chief’s wishes.  From that exact moment, I became a target of harassment, bullying and retaliation.  That was thirteen months ago and my life has been disrupted ever since.


CHAPTER 1

Thoughts from January 16, 2020, by Elaine Foster, Vice-Chairman of the Deer Mountain Fire Protection District Board of Directors

My phone messages and email inbox are filling up but you all have to be patient.  My friend and Board Chairman Mike Kevilus had a heart attack after the Deer Mountain Fire Protection District meeting on Wednesday night and I’m taking a few days off to help care for him.

The meeting was a disaster.  Some members of the public were so disruptive, demanding answers and yet not letting the board member answer.  Mike tried his best to be fair to everyone to get through the 3-minute public comment period but there was bedlam.  The stress was too much and he ended up in the hospital.  His wife called me from there asking for prayer, so that’s what I did part of today.  Mike and his wife, Roberta, are home now, both resting after an exhausting ordeal.

If you want to serve on the board of directors at Deer Mountain, you must be prepared for plenty of stress and tons of thankless hard work.  This job is life consuming.

 

I have decided to tell my story of what it has been like for me to serve on the Deer Mountain board of directors.  At the present time, there are many lies being spread around.  Instead of fielding dozens of calls about this, I’ve decided to put my thoughts here for anyone to read.

Some of what is being said is so far from the truth that it is nearly the opposite of my experience.  Many tales are so hard to believe that we are getting calls from people who are sincerely confused.  There will always be people who are curious about the other side of the story, so I will present my side here.  As a board member, I work for the public.  I  believe that the public has a right to know what I have experienced while working for them.

My story is long so I’ll try to post several times a week until I reach the end, whatever the end might be.

Here goes…

Back in December 2018, I was a witness to what I believed was a crime.  I contacted the other board members right away but my information was ignored.  Seeing that no remedy would come from within the organization, I reported what I knew to the proper authorities.  Since then, some people inside and outside Deer Mountain Fire Protection District have tried to make my life miserable.

At the time I first tried to inform the other board members, I was advised to go along with whatever happens, right or wrong.  I have that advice in writing.

That philosophy doesn’t work for me.  Perhaps I don’t want to live in a world that totally ignores laws that protect people.  Perhaps I want something better for my community.

At a board meeting a few months ago, former board member announced that he had been told by a friend that Deer Mountain Fire Protection District has a very bad reputation.  This is true.  The philosophy of some in charge of the Fire District, past and present, is ‘go along, right or wrong.’  (My translation of this: Sure things happen here that are wrong. Cover them up and nobody will be the wiser.)

Unfortunately, injustice and criminality have a nasty way of being seen.  All you need is a small handful of people who do not like cover-ups and out pops the head of those crimes.

 

Early in 2019, I had to hire an attorney at my own expense to help me stay out of the tangled web of illegal activity.  This being my first term on the Board of Directors and not being good at going along “right or wrong,” I was naturally nervous that I would inadvertently take a wrong step and find myself compromised.  For those who are not clear on how “being compromised” works, let me explain: A person who is not willing to keep her mouth shut about what she sees and hears is tricked into doing something she is ashamed of.  She would then be willing to keep her mouth shut in order to get cooperation to keep her own action covered up.  I wanted to avoid this type of situation and I knew I would need help.

Thankfully, I was able to get a lawyer who has helped me every step of the way and is very experienced in helping his clients avoid the landmines.  It is now the 13th month since I dared to open my mouth about what I know about what is going on inside my Fire Protection District organization.

Although I may not be compromised in a larger sense, that does not mean I have never made board-related mistakes along the way.  It is not possible to do this job day in and day out without making mistakes.  I am called out on it frequently and I take the time to correct them.  Unless you have been a board member of a special district, you cannot image how much work there is and how complicated this job is.  When there are troubles, the work load is compounded.  That’s why it is very common for board members to come and go.  It is a thankless, time-consuming job that is impossible to do perfectly and without loads of criticism.

By law, board members can be paid $100 if they attend a board meeting.  If they work hard all month but cannot attend the meeting, they get paid nothing.

Board members work for the public.  It’s important to understand why board members collapse under the weight of this very difficult job.

Throw into the mix the most unfortunate situation I found myself in in December 2018.  The choice was mine, as I stated before.  If you take the road less traveled, you become hated and reviled by many members of the organization and some of the community, but not by all.

To prove that I’m here to inform and not whine, let me talk about the people in my life who have encouraged me to speak out.

In no particular order, I already mentioned my wonderful lawyer who is amazingly responsive to my pleas for advice and explanations of the law.  Without him and his hard working paralegal, I would not have been able to stay standing for this long.

Then, of course, there is my supportive family who do not expect me to go-along-to-get-along-right-or-wrong.  They have known me too long to even think that would happen so there’s no point in them trying to change this old lady now.

Then there are the members of the community who say, “Thanks for not quitting.  I know it’s hard to stay but, if you can hold up, keep trying to get things right up there.”  These people don’t come forward because they know the backlash they will get.  I understand that.  I live it.

 

If you are not familiar with this situation, you are probably saying by now, “So what the heck did they do that’s so bad you would allow your life to be in upheaval about it?”

Back in December 2018, a young Hispanic woman, who had worked as an EMT for our Fire District for 15 months without a blemish in her personnel file, was abruptly fired. She came to me as a board member and told me what had happened and I offered her a chance to appeal her termination to the Board of Directors.

By this time, I already had the evidence I needed to be convinced that she had been fired for ethnic reasons.  What’s worse, I had been told by a District employee that our African-American firefighter, being “ethnic”, would be gone soon, too.  Sorry to say, it came true.

There are hundreds of details that support what I saw and heard.  I won’t get into them at this time.  They would fill a short novel.  There is literally a ream of documentation about these two civil rights complaints.  You couldn’t read it all in a week, so it’s not just he-said-she-said.

Anyway, being the person I am, I spoke up and have paid the price ever since.

 

In order to keep today’s post to a reasonable length, I will break off from this civil rights saga for the time being and address a more recent problem:

 

Recently, the latest drama has surrounded two issues:

[1] Some board members are trying to get the personnel files where the board can more easily access them.

[2] Some board members worked hard to get access to the District’s buildings by getting and inventorying the keys.

The other morning, I sat down to my computer to discover an email from the District’s lawyer, Dan Slater. Attached to that email was a letter from Joe Watt’s lawyer, stating that he has now taken on Robert Themel as his client.

The board was now being accused of:

[1] Trying to get access to the HIPAA files (i.e. private medical records).

[2] Wanting the keys to the drug box.

Can you see how our intentions were twisted?  We were upset at being accused of doing these things and I believe that this emotional upset contributed to Mike’s heart attack 12 hours later and after a very stressful board meeting.