Lynnwood City Councilmembers have been vocal about their disapproval of racially insensitive remarks made by two Fire District 1 commissioners earlier this month. Largely because of those comments, the three Lynnwood councilmembers appointed to serve on the Regional Fire Authority Planning Committee proposed adding a two-year transition board to the plan.
Discussions about creating a regional fire authority (RFA) have been ongoing since last fall. However, no decisions have been made regarding how best to fund it or how the RFA would be governed. Those decisions are expected to be finalized in the coming weeks, with a draft plan to be presented at two public open houses scheduled for April 12 and 13.
While no decisions had been made regarding governance of the RFA as of Monday, March 27, discussions to that point had seemed agreeable to creating a seven-member RFA board, with each member serving six-year terms. Under that arrangement, the first RFA board created in 2018, if voters pass an RFA measure expected to be on the ballot this year, would consist of five members would be the current Fire District 1 commission as of 2018. The other two would be Lynnwood city councilmembers appointed by city council.
Though the Lynnwood City Council still gave a consensus that a seven-member board, broken up into five districts with two board members serving the service area at-large, would be good in the long-term, many were uneasy about simply transitioning the current Fire District 1 board into the RFA board following comments made by Commissioners Bob Meador and David Chan.
The comments in question happened during a conversation recorded on video during a break in the March 7 commission meeting. Chan and Meador did not know their microphones were on at the time and were discussing recruiting and hiring paramedics.
“Could we hire a Mexican paramedic?” Chan asked. “I dunno,” Meador replied, laughing. “It’s cheaper,” Chan responded, also laughing. “I don’t wanna,” Meador said. “I don’t want those immigrants. They can’t do the job.”
Last Tuesday, the two commission members received a reprimand from the Fire District 1 Board of Commissioners in a unanimous vote. Both commissioners have since released formal apology letters. Click here to read Meador’s apology. Click here to read Chan’s apology. Both have said they will not resign. Chan is up for re-election this year. (Fire commissioners cannot be fired as they are elected officials.)
In response, during the RFA meeting on Monday afternoon, Lynnwood City Councilmember George Hurst and city staff proposed a transitional two-year board, made up of current Fire District 1 commission members and Lynnwood city councilmembers with all seven positions going up for election in 2019.
“There is concern about recent events that happened at Fire District 1 and it had an effect on people’s confidence in the current structure,” Hurst said.
Councilmember Ian Cotton, who also serves on the RFA board, called this approach an opportunity for a fresh start.
“This really gives an opportunity for the new RFA governing board to set a new culture and a new tone for themselves as a governing board,” Cotton said. “I think the fresh start idea is really what we’re looking for here.”
The proposal from the Lynnwood city council presented by Hurst also included shrinking the transition board to include two fewer Fire District 1 commissioners.
“I think that speaks for itself,” Hurst said.
Fire District 1 commission members Jim McGaughey and Richard Schrock both attended the RFA Planning Committee meeting on March 27 and said they are against both ideas. Bob Meador, the third Fire District 1 commission member on the planning committee, was absent.
“We need to straddle terms so there would be continuity between the transition board and the permanent board,” Schrock said. “I still believe that’s true. There are not three votes for this on our board, and that includes me.”
McGaughey said he believes the Fire District 1 board will be more open to creating a two-year interim board than to eliminating two positions. He said they have been operating on the basis of an 80/20 split between Fire District 1 and Lynnwood, based on size, total population and contribution to the creation of an RFA, and eliminating two Fire District 1 representatives is not a fair proposal.
Schrock said the proposal is unfair to commissioners who may not get to serve their full six-year term.
Cotton said several councilmembers voiced their support for the proposal before it was presented Monday.
“We have to acknowledge that Lynnwood is a minority majority community,” Cotton said. “We have to acknowledge around this table that there is going to be a ripple effect about the things that have been said. We’re looking for ways to address that.”
Schrock said Lynnwood’s demographic is no different from Fire District 1’s demographic.
“We’re looking for solutions too, and that’s why we passed a resolution last Tuesday reprimanding the commissioners,” he said. “Maybe there are other ways to address your concerns, but this isn’t going to work in terms of interim transitional governance.”
While Schrock and McGaughey both say they will bring the proposal to their board for consideration, they both feel pessimistic about its ability to pass.
“(Under this model,) the people who elected two of us won’t have representation on the interim board,” Schrock said. “It’s not a small step. It’s not an interim step. It’s a big step for two commissioners who would no longer be governing.”
Again, no final decisions have been made in terms of how the RFA would be governed. However, those decisions are expected to be made before two public open houses on April 12 and 13.
–By Natalie Covate