Kenwood Fire Protection District to expand board
At a special session on July 25, the three-man Board of Directors for the Kenwood Fire Protection District (KFPD) voted to add two more directors, ending an awkward situation where no two members could be in the same room discussing fire district business without violating state rules against unannounced business meetings. Chairman John Cooper, along with Directors Dennis McIntosh and Jim Kempers, passed the resolution unanimously.
The resolution next goes to the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission – LAFCO – for approval. LAFCO is a state-mandated county agency that oversees all special districts. It likely will consider the KFPD resolution at either its September or October meeting. After approval by LAFCO, the KFPD can invite district residents to apply for the new positions, and once the appointees’ terms expire, their seats will be up for election. It was suggested that one new member might be appointed for two years and the other for four years, coming up for election in the 2020 and 2022 regular election years. Details on the length of the terms will not be developed until the resolution is formally approved by LAFCO.
“I think it’s great,” Fire Chief Daren Bellach said. “It’s good for the district. For years we’ve had a three-man board, where most boards are at least five.”
In fact, Kenwood is currently the only district in Sonoma County with only three members, according to LAFCO Executive Director Mark Bramfitt.
“I think the reasons are straightforward. You can have a hard time getting a quorum, five is better than three, and there are things coming up,” said Bramfitt, referring to Sonoma County’s ongoing efforts to consolidate the county’s many small fire districts to improve efficiency and reduce operating costs.
The subject of increasing the number of directors was first raised at the July 10 KFPD board meeting by Assistant Chief Ben Gulson on behalf of the Kenwood Firefighter’s Association.
According to the resolution just passed, the expansion was made, “for practical and sensible governance by the governing body, including maintenance of a decision making quorum at all times; the ability to form ad-hoc committees to study and report on complex issues without violation of Brown Act rules, and the anticipated future complex negotiations leading to operational consolidation with adjacent fire agencies, it is desired to increase the number of elected members from three to five.”
There are three ways a special district can modify its board, Bramfitt explained: a community petition to the board to have an election; the existing board can pass a resolution and go to an election; or the existing board can pass a resolution and have LAFCO directly amend the bylaws to add members to the board. Given the Aug. 10 county deadline to get any more items on the November ballot, the KFPD sought to pursue a more direct and less costly path to achieve their goal through LAFCO.
The Kenwood Fire Protection District was formed in 1946 and depended solely on volunteers for its direction and operation up to 1993, when it started hiring staff. As the district continues to hire staff and finds volunteers more difficult to recruit, and as the county continues to seek consolidation of its numerous small fire districts into more manageable and economic organizations, having greater resources and expertise to draw on becomes more essential to continued high quality operations.