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Report uncovers many issues with Hoodland Fire posted on 06/01/2020

An Organizational Assessment on the Hoodland Fire District (HFD) performed by the Special Districts Association of Oregon (SDAO) offered 64 recommendations on six areas of the district: governance, personnel management, staffing and organizational design, emergency response system, finances and the training and safety program.

In a letter to the president of the district’s board of directors, Shirley Dueber, that accompanied the assessment, Consulting Services Administrator Shanta Carter noted the district faces “Significant financial and operational challenges unique to your community and District.” The report is based on visits performed by consultants on March 4 and 5, including interviews with the Chief, staff, board members and others.

Interim Fire Chief Steven Abel, who started at the position in early April following Fire Chief John Ingrao being put on administrative leave pending an investigation, credited the board of directors for seeking a third party, unbiased report on what needs to be addressed.

“A plus here is that the Fire Board and staff are all willing to work together to address the identified issues and continue to provide quality services to the community,” Abel wrote in an email to The Mountain Times.

The report cites a “great level of tension” between the board of directors, featuring three new members elected in 2019, and Chief Ingrao, which it attributed to the board’s desire to better understand the district’s operation costs. And while the SDAO report stressed it did not “second guess” the decision made by the previous board and the Chief to implement 24/7 coverage in the district, it did note that consequences from that decision include the Chief’s position being reduced to half time.

The evaluation team also found a lack of general leadership and accountability in the district, citing the limitations of a part-time Chief and the lack of a Deputy Chief position, describing it as a “management vacuum” and that it created “unsafe working conditions” for district employees. Voters in the district approved a levy in 2019 to fund a new Deputy Chief, which is now filled on a temporary basis by Scott Kline until the search for a permanent Deputy Chief resumes.

The report also highlights concerns about the district’s apparati and stations, including that the move to 24/7 coverage lead to defunding the Building and the Apparatus Reserve funds, suggesting that a decision may need to be made to going back to the voters for further financial support.

“It will require the District to consider going to the voters in the future to pass a general obligation bond to purchase new fire apparatus and building improvements,” the report noted.

The report also notes other problems including a lack of required financial audits for more than three years, operational guidelines that have not been met, inconsistent employee evaluations and the lack of an up to date strategic plan.

The report also highlighted some of the strengths of the district, including the high level that the EMS program operates on and maintaining a healthy unappropriated Ending Fund Balance (cited at a little more than $2.2 million), while also noting the the district’s Training Officer, Lt. Andy Figini is “motivated and desires to provide a quality training program but will need the support in his efforts to move the department forward in this area.”

Abel noted in his email that the district immediately addressed some recommendations, while most are in process and ongoing. He added that developing a strategic plan is expected to begin in June, and that the district is “full speed ahead” and will not be impacted by the current investigation regarding Chief Ingrao.

“The Fire Board has given me full authority, responsibility and accountability to address the recommendations,” Abel wrote.

Abel also noted that the report found no evidence of fraud or misappropriations and that one of the “past” audits is expected to be released from the auditor’s office within another week. Completing the past audits is expected to take a few years.

Abel added that the board is “more active in establishing policies and oversight regarding the Fire Chief, fiscal oversight, and in establishing overall policy,” including requiring him to provide monthly updates on addressing the recommendations.

“Moving [at least for now] away from a part-time Fire Chief to a full-time Interim Fire Chief, there is more ‘oversight’ and accountability within staff,” Abel noted. “The Deputy Fire Chief position is a great asset, in that allows us to focus on specific areas to be addressed.”

Abel added that the report is a public document and available for the asking.

By Garth Guibord/MT

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