3 supervisors claim deal with volunteers not followed

Some Shenandoah County leaders say the government isn’t following its years-old deal with volunteer fire and rescue agencies.

County Administrator Mary T. Price proposed the creation of a group that would study the local fire and rescue needs. Price presented her proposal to the Board of Supervisors on Thursday but three members said they wanted the county to let the volunteer fire and rescue association revive its advisory groups.

Those members – Vice Chairman Richard Walker and Supervisors Cindy Bailey and Marsha Shruntz – also claimed that the county was not following an agreement reached with the volunteers about eight years ago. The subject of the agreement was not on the work session agenda. The other supervisors – Chairman Conrad Helsley and Supervisors Steve Baker and John R. “Dick” Neese – didn’t join the discussion about the agreement.

Bailey gave more specific examples Friday by email of what she claimed were instances the county did not follow the agreement. She noted that parts of the agreement not followed include:
• The chief’s decisions on personnel to be assigned to volunteer stations shall be made in consultation with the volunteer leadership of the applicable company.
• Station duties shall be coordinated with the chief and company’s chief operational officer.
• Evaluations of employees assigned to volunteer companies shall be completed with input from the company’s chief operational officer.
• Formal complaints concerning employee behavior or performance must be forwarded from the company’s chief operational officer to the chief, in writing, for official investigation.
• Formal complaints concerning a volunteer’s behavior or performance must be forwarded from the chief to the company’s chief operational officer, in writing, for official investigation.

Neither Price nor Gary Yew, chief of the Department of Fire and Rescue, would comment Friday on whether or not the county had failed to follow parts of the agreement.

“The agreement wasn’t on the agenda so none of us were prepared to discuss it and to this point I’m still not sure what they’re referring to with their inference that the county’s not following it,” Yew said. “I’ve not had a conversation with any of the board members to determine what part of it we’re not following.”

Price said she plans to present her proposal to the volunteer fire and rescue association as planned when it meets later this month. But Price said the association can also look at the agreement.

“I just have to see what the next steps are and I’ve received my direction,” Price said.

In response to one of Bailey’s claims, Yew said “we’ve never assigned career staff to a volunteer station that … didn’t ask for them.”

The county developed the agreement in 2006 when it implemented a combination fire-and-rescue system of paid and volunteer responders. The independent volunteer companies executed the agreement, according to information from Price, who provided a copy to supervisors and the media on Friday.

Bailey states that the county most recently failed to follow the agreement when Yew was appointed to lead New Market Fire and Rescue. New Market Town Council named Yew as chief of the volunteer agency in December, unseating the previous chief appointed by the group’s leadership. Council cited a state code section that allowed it to make the appointment. Whether or not council’s action and the county’s support violated the agreement remains uncertain.

Part of the agreement allows paid responders from participating as members of a volunteer company except in the station in which they are assigned. But the agreement also forbids paid responders from holding operational or administrative positions in a volunteer company.

“In order to guard the company from potential conflicts of interest, all parties to this agreement recognize the need to restrict the level of management participation in a company by County career employees,” the agreement states. “It is agreed that career employees of the County shall not be permitted to hold an operational or administrative position within the chain of command structure of any Shenandoah County company or serve as a voting delegate or officer of the Shenandoah County Fire and Rescue Association.”

Bailey claims Yew’s appointment creates a conflict of interest. Yew has said that he intended for his appointment to be temporary.

“Chief Yew should not have been appointed to that position,” Bailey states. “This is a conflict of interest and was unnecessary. Communication and cooperation, willingness to solve problems at the onset, must be corrected by county officials.”

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com