Philomath Fire & Rescue’s board initiated two separate actions during votes taken on Tuesday — a human resources “review of accusations of retaliatory actions” and to bring in a consultant to “review district operations.” (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

The Philomath Fire & Rescue Board of Directors plans to bring in an outside organization to take an independent look at administrative issues that have surfaced within the local fire district.

The fire district board’s four members in attendance at a meeting on Tuesday came out of an executive session and unanimously voted to enlist the Special Districts Association of Oregon (SDAO) to perform two separate actions — a human resources “review of accusations of retaliatory actions” and to bring in a consultant to “review district operations.”

The board met in a closed meeting for roughly 90 minutes as allowed under state statute to “consider the dismissal or discipline of or complaints against an officer, employee, staff or agent.”

The fire district board did not offer much in the way of conversation during a 6-minute open session beyond the motions at hand and who would be assigned as the point person on each review. On the allegations of retaliatory actions, Board President Daphne Phillips volunteered to be the SDAO’s contact.

The board’s action occurs in the midst of an ongoing dispute over the past few months related to the fire chief’s plans to staff personnel at the district’s Wren substation. The Philomath Fire & Rescue Volunteer Association and Philomath Firefighters International Association of Fire Fighters Local 4925 have voiced their concerns with the chief’s plans.

On June 21, Miller suspended the volunteer association’s top officers — Andy Louden and Jessica Olsen. Miller sent them both an email that he investigating them for their “involvement at last week’s (June 13) board meeting and your continued resistance to provide coverage to Station 202 (Wren).”

Local 4925 represents Fire & Rescue’s professional members. The Philomath Fire & Rescue Volunteer Association is an independent nonprofit organization that represents the district’s volunteers.

On the second vote related to district operations, board member Rick Brand was appointed as the point of contact for not only the SDAO, but also for Miller to report any significant personnel-related matters during the time frame of the review.

“We are going to have a point person to discuss any major disciplinary actions or significant staffing changes that the chief may wish to make with a single point of contact only during this review period of time,” Phillips said.

The board’s request for the district operations review comes a week after the volunteer association and union had announced that each membership passed votes of no confidence in the fire chief’s leadership.

SDAO, founded in 1979, “provides support services to member districts throughout the state in the areas of research and technical assistance, legislative representation, training programs, insurance services, information and reference materials, financing services and employee benefits programs,” according to Oregon Blue Book.

Tuesday’s motions at the board meeting both passed 4-0 with Phillips, Brand, Joe Brier and Ken Corbin in attendance. Board member Doug Edmonds was not present.

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.