The Philomath Fire & Rescue Board of Directors announced Thursday following a closed meeting that two members will meet with the fire chief to “work through employment issues.” (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

UPDATE: Daphne Phillips, Philomath Fire & Rescue Board of Directors chair, confirmed Friday afternoon that Fire Chief Tom Miller has been placed on “paid nondisciplinary administrative leave,” which became effective on Friday. Phillips said that in the chief’s absence, the board will appoint an interim chief at its Sept. 12 meeting “to ensure continued smooth operations throughout the district.” — Ed. 

The Philomath Fire & Rescue Board of Directors came out of a 32-minute closed meeting on Thursday afternoon and unanimously passed a motion to delegate two board members to “work through employment issues with the fire chief.”

Board members Doug Edmonds and Daphne Phillips were authorized to enter into the discussion with Tom Miller, who has served as the local district’s fire chief since February 2016.

The board scheduled Thursday’s executive session for two reasons as permitted under Oregon law — “to consider dismissal or discipline, or complaints against an officer, employee, staff or agent” and “to evaluate the performance of an officer, employee or staff member.”

The subject at hand obviously involved Miller based on the vote taken afterward in open session. The four board members present for the vote were Rick Brand, Ken Corbin, Edmonds and Phillips. Joe Brier was not at the meeting.

The board in July enlisted the help of the Special Districts Association of Oregon (SDAO) to perform a human resources “review of accusations of retaliatory actions” and to bring in a consultant to “review district operations.”

The board has not publicly released any information related to the SDAO reviews.

The situation relates to a dispute in recent months related to Miller’s decision 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 both voiced various concerns.

Just last month, the district and union reached an agreement on an unfair labor practice complaint that the union had filed with the Oregon Employment Relations Board. Local 4925 in the complaint claimed several alleged violations of state statutes involving Miller, including threatening and intimidating employees, taking retaliatory action and discriminating against employees by discouraging membership in union activities and employee organizations.

In response to the settlement, Phillips called the development a positive outcome that “will create a stronger working relationship with all members of the team.”

In June, the volunteer association and the union announced that each membership had approved votes of no confidence in the fire chief’s leadership.

Miller has remained mostly silent on various matters other than interactions with the board during public meetings. In July, Miller said publicly during his fire chief’s report “that I am very sorry that it’s gone this far and … I’m doing everything I can to make this place run smoothly and to make sure that we have everything we need to make sure that folks are safe.”

After coming out of the closed session on Thursday, the board had no discussion and simply took the vote to appoint Edmonds and Phillips to work through the employment issues with Miller.

The board plans to meet for its regular monthly meeting at 3 p.m. this coming Monday and plans to begin the afternoon proceedings by again adjourning into an executive session under the same state statute permissions as Thursday’s meeting.

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.