Board fails to give volunteers say on chief

WOODSTOCK – Contention continues to grow between Shenandoah County and the volunteer New Market Fire and Rescue Department.

An effort by half of the Board of Supervisors to let the volunteer agency appoint its own chief failed on Tuesday. Vice Chairman Richard Walker made a motion that would effectively require Tim Williams, interim chief of the county Department of Fire and Rescue, to step down as chief of the New Market volunteer agency. The motion specifically stated that Williams would remain interim chief for the county department but could not serve as an officer with the volunteer group.

Walker’s motion died on a 3-3 vote.

New Market Town Council recently appointed Williams to serve as chief of the volunteer station after Gary Yew, then chief of both the volunteer and county departments, retired.

District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey and District 5 Supervisor Marsha Shruntz voted with Walker in favor of the motion. Bailey had invited members of the volunteer organization to the meeting. Bailey reiterated her concerns that the county continues to leave the volunteers out of the loop and fails to inform them when the board discusses the New Market agency. Several members of the volunteer department attended the meeting at Bailey’s invitation.

Chairman Conrad Helsley said he wouldn’t support a motion that would undo what New Market Town Council approved. Helsley voted against the motion along with District 1 Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese and District 2 Supervisor Steven Baker. Neese represents New Market and the surrounding area.

County Attorney Jason Ham explained before the vote that Walker’s motion, if passed, would direct Williams to not accept the appointment. Walker added that Williams could still aid the volunteer agency in his capacity as chief of the county department.

At one point before the vote on Walker’s motion, Helsley suggested the board postpone action so New Market Town Council members can weigh in on the matter. Bailey chimed in to say that this was the board’s decision.

Earlier in the meeting the board attempted to go into closed session to speak with Ham about the matter. Bailey questioned the need to go into closed session and suggested that the board allow the volunteers to sit in on the discussion. Ham voiced concern about letting volunteers become involved in the closed-door discussion. Ham said there wouldn’t be a closed session if the board allowed volunteers to attend. County Administrator Mary T. Price also pointed out that a closed session is meant for the board members, to which Helsley agreed.

Prior to going into closed session, Helsley allowed representatives from the volunteers to speak even though the public comment period of the meeting had passed. President Maeghan McAlexander and Treasurer Joan Goodrich spoke before the board. Goodrich asked about a letter Price said she sent to volunteers in the county. Goodrich said she did not receive the letter and asked when Price sent the correspondence and to whom. Price said the administration of the Department of Fire and Rescue has a list of officials at each volunteer company to whom it would send the letter. Goodrich said McAlexander also did not receive the letter.

Bill Rogers, also on the board of directors for the volunteer agency, commented on the situation, noting that he didn’t feel the county should play a role in picking a chief.

“I don’t know why we’re going through this,” Rogers said. “I don’t know why you folks can’t let us elect our own officers.”

Helsley pointed out that New Market Town Council picked the chief. Walker echoed Helsley’s remark.

“Believe me, it is not this body that is prohibiting you from doing so,” Walker said. “This body was not consulted and that’s the reason for my questions.”

Rogers questioned Williams’ “automatic” appointment as successor to Yew. Helsley asked Rogers if he had expressed his concerns to Town Council. Rogers said he was out of town when the council picked Williams.

McAlexander asked the board why the county doesn’t notify the volunteers when supervisors discuss matters that pertain to the New Market agency. McAlexander added that the town also doesn’t notify the volunteers when council intends to discuss the agency and failed to do so ahead of taking action to appoint Williams.

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