If voters approve the proposed Regional Fire Authority (RFA) of Olympia and Tumwater, its governing board would likely be composed of one individual appointed by each city council and five citizens elected to new RFA board positions.
At the RFA committee meeting yesterday, council members from each city voted to recommend the fire authority's governing board structure, with the results to be presented to Olympia and Tumwater city councils on Tuesday, August 9.
In the previous meetings, consultant Karen Reed presented six governance options:
The voting committee members agreed to have seven seats on the fire board but preferred options 3 and 4.
The committee is currently composed of three council members from each Olympia and Tumwater council, with the participation of fire chiefs from each community and fire labor leaders.
The voting committee members are councilmembers Jim Cooper, Yen Huynh and Lisa Parshley from Olympia; and councilmembers Leatta Dahlhoff, Eileen Swarthout and Michael Althauser from Tumwater.
Dahlhoff, who currently serves as committee chairman, said she is sticking with the idea that the majority of representation should be fire commissioners. She recognized Althauser's concern about better representation which may not be reflected if the majority of at-large positions came from Olympia or Tumwater.
"I am looking down the road of there is no Olympia, Tumwater. It is the Regional Fire Authority, Dahlhoff said."
Althauser believed that options 3 and 4 are "recipes for success." He said having more council members is suitable for the developing organization. He added city council members have worked on policy, budget, and all related to the current fire service.
"I think people will be more comfortable by guaranteeing that there will be at least two seats for each city to represent that kind of regional interest,” said Althauser.
"I feel like Option 3 is a better sell to our voters, who in this time are generally not supportive of more government. We have to be careful about what we create. I think it will do better at the ballot box with option 3 and better served long term," Cooper said, adding he is willing to go with the consensus of the majority and support the final recommendation.
Huynh expressed hope that the RFA would be represented by more people with experience in fire service. "What better folks to make decisions than people in the fire service."
In the end, the majority of the voting committee members voted to recommend option 4.
Firefighter union presidents Steven Busz of Olympia and James Osberg of Tumwater settled for option 4, but with reservations.
"I would say from a labor perspective, I have been in favor of an option that is zero councilmembers and all elected [for seven seats]," Osberg said.
Osberg said that the “voters trust” is “a poor reason” to include council members in the RFA governing board.
"I recognize the councilmembers want people on the board,” Osberg explained. “I hear a lot from councilmembers about voters' trust to say that we should go with one option or the other, which is invalid because, for every voter that likes one of our councilmembers, I can find one that doesn't."
Although not his preference, Osberg said he could agree to option 4. "If that is where everyone in this group can land on an agreement, then it is the preferred option."
Busz asked, "what is the point of creating an RFA if we are still going to be governed by a majority of councils?"
Tumwater Fire Chief Brian Hurley said he was leaning towards option 4, adding that it is important to have council members involved at the start.
Olympia Interim Fire Chief Todd Carson expressed concern about the council members' workload.
"There is such a diversity in the things [council members] have to cover. We want folks that are exclusively in tune with what the RFA needs are," Carson said.
Carson relayed the union members' preference that they want somebody to be "very intuitive and present that is not overworked with or burdened with other work."
Both city councils support an initial board with three council members. They would serve from August 2023 to December 2025.
The first election cycle for directly-elected board members would be in 2024.
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