Three candidates vying for fire board position
Three candidates are running for Crook County Fire and Rescue Board Position 3 amid a time of district growth and division between department staff and leaders.
Incumbent Jerry Brummer is seeking another term after serving on the board for about six years and will face opposition from candidates Beth Mitchell and George Ponte.
All three candidates bring years of fire department experience to the table. Brummer served on the CCFR Budget Committee from 2001 until he was appointed to the board position he currently holds in 2013. Mitchell has worked as an engineer/paramedic with Redmond Fire and Rescue for the past 12 years and has more than 20 years of experience in fire and emergency services in Central Oregon. Ponte concluded a 26-year career as a forester, wildland firefighter and manager for the Oregon Department of Forestry in 2015.
The top priority for Ponte, if elected, would be "to ensure that the department's customers, the citizens of Crook County, continue to receive the highest levels of ambulance and fire services for their tax dollars.
"This includes making sure the department's limited resources are deployed equitably across the district," he said.
Preparing the department and community for the rising risk of severe wildfires is another priority Ponte highlighted. As part of that effort, he is planning to support efforts already under way to establish a secondary access route in Juniper Canyon.
Severe wildfire isn't the only type of disaster Ponte is hoping to prepare if he joins the board.
"I am concerned about the impacts a regional disaster, such as an earthquake, could have on the department's ability to provide services," he explained. "A disaster of this magnitude could affect infrastructure and the department's employees. There needs to be a plan that ensures the continuity of operations if such an event occurs."
Mitchell emphasized a desire to use the Crook County taxpayers' money as responsibly as possible if she was elected to the board. She also stressed a need to improve services to Juniper Canyon.
"I am a resident of Juniper Canyon and would like to see more efficient fire and emergency medical services available in the area by staffing the Juniper Canyon fire station," she said.
Mitchell went on to say that she wants to play a role in bridging the gap between the district administration and the local firefighters' union.
The Crook County Firefighters Association union filed an unfair labor practices (ULP) complaint last year against the district for anti-union behavior. The complaint led to a three-day hearing that resulted in a ruling against the district. The district has recently filed objections to that ruling after learning that the adjudicator for the hearing was offered a job by the union's law firm after the ruling was filed.
"I have read the ULP and am informed on the topic," Mitchell said. "I trust that the Employment Relations Board made an informed and legal decision regarding the issue."
Ponte believes the current rift between leadership and employees is unfortunate and if it continues, "it has the potential to degrade the abilities and performance of the organization."
"There needs to be a concerted effort by both sides to re-establish mutual respect and improve communications," he said. "This will improve the sense of teamwork that the department needs to be successful."
Brummer is not at liberty to talk much about the ULP since the matter is not yet resolved, but he believes the district needs to get resolution and move forward. He went on to stress that he is not against a Crook County firefighters union.
"I'm not pro-union, I'm not against a union," he said, adding that he has been on unions and supervised employees who belong to a union.
If elected to another term, Brummer would like to focus on increasing CCFR staffing. He points out that the district and board have focused in recent years on adding new apparatus and improving infrastructure, and now they have turned their attention to staffing.
"With the data centers up here and the growth that we have had in this community, our demand changes," he said. "I feel we have done a good job of being proactive and staying ahead of this stuff, and we need to continue to do that."