Fire District 12 hearing set for Nov. 1
October 27, 2022
The motion hearing for the recall petition for Mason County Fire Protection District 12 commissioners is set for 2 p.m. Nov. 1 in Mason County Superior Court.
Judge Monty Cobb will be presiding over the hearing.
Fire commissioners John Pais, Brian Jutson and Albert Wilder had a special meeting Oct. 20 and voted to retain a law firm to defend the district. Whether the action taken at the meeting is legal is in question, considering the fire district did not properly advertise the special meeting with the Journal before it was held. The Journal checked its records and has not received a public or special meeting notice from Fire District 12 since May 3, 2018.
“My understanding is that since we never posted our meetings in the Journal, we are not obligated to notify,” Pais told the Journal in an email when asked about the legality of the special meeting.
According to RCW 42.30.080, notice of a special meeting shall be “delivered to each local newspaper of general circulation and local radio and television station that has on file with the governing body a written request to be notified of such special meeting or of all special meetings.” The notice must be posted at least 24 hours prior to a special meeting. The Journal sent a request for notification of all special meetings, pursuant to RCW, in an email May 2, but did not receive a response from the district about the request.
According to the state Auditor’s Office accountability audit, the district’s procedures and internal controls did not ensure compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act. The report notes the district did not provide adequate notice of meeting days and times and access codes for virtual meetings to allow public access to the meetings. The report states the district did not “admit members of the public into virtual meetings in a timely matter, if at all.”
“We noted the district did not hold the regular board meetings at the regularly scheduled time. District officials said their regular meeting is scheduled for the second Tuesday each month,” the accountability audit states. “However, our review of meeting minutes found the district held only one meeting at that time in 2020, and did not hold any meetings at the regularly scheduled time in 2021. The district held meetings inconsistently and unpredictably.”
The report also states the district failed to properly document voucher payment approvals in meeting minutes since September 2018, and that meeting minutes often stated the total by fund but did not include voucher numbers. The total voucher payments shown in the minutes were inconsistent with accounting records. The report also states the district did not approve prior board meeting minutes.
In the Auditor’s Office report, it recommends the district understand and follow the Open Public Meetings Act’s requirements, prepare and keep records that clearly show compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act and these records should provide an accurate record of district actions and be easily available for public inspection.
At the Fire District commissioner’s regular meeting Tuesday, the commissioners were noncommittal on opening up regular meetings for in-person attendance when asked by the Journal, with Wilder stating “We’re waiting on our attorney for that.”
During the regular meeting, Pais read a statement about public records requests that haven’t been filled. He said with all the confusion, the district is asking to resubmit records requests to the secretary and include the date it was originally submitted to “see if it was overlooked or whether we even received it.”
The commissioners updated the public on the internal investigation about the state Auditor’s Office findings, stating the investigator will be scheduling interviews, possibly this week, with the district.
“As soon as he can get his information, we can get the investigation over with and move forward,” Wilder said during the meeting.
Pais read a statement during the regular meeting that he also read during the special meeting, although the audio over Zoom made the statement difficult to understand during the special meeting.
“I personally have expressed that the internal investigation be completed before any formal action be taken,” Pais said. “It seems that our request was not considered. After we were all served with recall papers and consulting with our attorney, he presented us with an option and a letter of his approval, which we took care of at the Oct. 20 meeting. Any added expense coming from this event, we believe it is totally unnecessary at this point as a result of those pursuing a recall before allowing the investigation to be completed.”
According to an email from Mason County Fire District 12 lawyer Brian Snure, he said “To my knowledge, the investigation, which was recommended by the Auditor, will be paid for out of the District’s general revenues.”