Happy May. The cool, slightly unsettled weather in the Grand Valley, combined with some of the unsettling news on the environmental and homeland security fronts, will hopefully abate and/or be effectively mitigated to allow for a more peaceful transition into mid-spring and early summer.
This week and continuing through the month and into June, decisions made and information received will make a significant impact in how the local public safety system operates in several areas of the Grand Valley. The preparations for these activities have been occurring in earnest in both the physical and virtual environments, but this month will likely be significant on two fronts.
Lower Valley Fire District
The Lower Valley Fire Protection District provides Fire and EMS services to the bulk of western Mesa County's population. Their service boundaries extend into neighboring Garfield County, and along I-70 into Utah.
The district employs a Chief, as well as some paid staff for administration and initial response, but the bulk of the services are provided by volunteers, who according to media reports make up 80 percent of the responder staff.
These volunteers are reportedly unhappy with recent decisions made by the paid administration, the district's Board of Directors, or both. Because the Board is elected by the residents of the district, today's election for 4 seats on that Board has generated a fair amount of interest in and around Fruita, Loma, and Mack.
A total of 11 candidates are vying for those 4 seats, with at least four of the candidates identified by some as sympathetic to the desire of volunteers for a greater say in how the district makes decisions. These candidates are Tom Sommerville, Josh Warner, Steve Seal and Zeb Smith.
Media coverage of the election, and of the reasons for discontent among the volunteer ranks, has been sparse at best, limited to the League of Women Voters candidate forums held in April. One notable exception has been reporter Tim Ciesco of KKCO-TV. His story from last week was comprehensive, balanced, and has generated a lot of commentary.
Aside from what I've read and heard from people who are involved, I really don't know much about the issues at hand. Having been a volunteer public safety responder first, and continuing as one after making public safety my career, I have a few observations:
- The bulk of the media comment from the Lower Valley district board has come from board member John Justman. According to one commenter to the KKCO story, Mr. Justman also sits on the Fruita Planning Commission, Water Board, and the Co-Op Board. Mr. Justman seems to be the only public face of the Lower Valley Fire District board.
- A voice that seems to be conspicuously absent is Lower Valley Chief Frank Cavaliere. One would think that the Chief would either have something significant to say about the issues at hand, or would take a leadership role in trying to mitigate the bad blood between the volunteers he depends on to help with responding to calls, and the board that is saddled with the obligation to assure that the district operates in a legal and fiscally responsible way. Perhaps he is focused on handling the day-to-day operations. Perhaps he has also been effectively gagged by his board.
- My first foray into public safety was as a volunteer, with a similar governmental entity that provides EMS to several municipalities in suburban Pittsburgh. The board members are appointed by the elected councils or commissions in charge of the municipal government. The EMS authority does not levy property or other taxes to generate revenue.
- This board, while overseeing the paid staff who ran the service, did not step into direct involvement in day-to-day operations. They made sure they hired a good individual to run the place, and allowed him the latitude to manage it, along with the volunteer resources that made up the life blood of the agency through the 1980's.
- As Mr. Justman and the remainder of the current board may be micromanaging their Chief and his operational activities, they would likely do best by allowing the Chief to do his job, and barring gross irresponsibility or criminal activity, stay out of his way. Should the board be substantively changed as a result of today's election, once they have addressed some of the issues that have left many volunteers feeling disenfranchised, they would do well to heed the same advice.
Best of luck to all of the candidates, and to the future district board, staff and volunteers. May effective service to the community be the main goal and motivator of your organization for the future.
Grand Junction Public Safety Initiative
For several weeks now, the City of Grand Junction has been using an online survey tool, combined with in-person surveys conducted by Mesa State students, to assess citizen opinion on how the proposed new facilities for the City's public safety providers should be built.
The survey focused primarily on asking citizens how much should be built, when it should be built, and what financial resources should be committed to building it. As I've stated before, our public safety system is the most important component of the services that municipal government provides; it's imperative that they have adequate and secure facilities, and the sooner the better.
However, the challenges that face the construction of these new facilities extend well beyond just the fiscal arena. Equally important is assuring consistent service delivery before and during construction of any new physical plant; this extends into the realm of operational conditions that impact how those services are delivered across a growing city, not to mention the needs of those City employees that serve every citizen of Mesa County as their lifeline to emergency services; the staff of the Grand Junction Regional Communication Center.
In a post last year, I detailed several factors that I still believe need addressed on a comprehensive basis to assure a level of security, preparedness, and optimized service delivery that is fitting not just for the residents of Grand Junction, but the entire Grand Junction metropolitan area.
Three of these factors stand out as benchmarks for any discussion of how to achieve the above:
- Regionalization / Consolidation - Begin discussions on how to adequately protect every citizen of the Grand Valley in an effective and consistent manner, while reducing duplication of resources and confusion often present across jurisdictional boundaries. These sentiments were echoed by former Grand Junction and Fruita planning director Bennett Boeschenstein, in a letter to the editor printed in last Friday's Free Press and today's Sentinel. No citizen should receive substandard emergency services just because they live on the "wrong" side of an imaginary line.
- Annexation Reform - Figure out a way to curtail the City's growth to match the ability of public safety to adequately respond to it. This ties into the above, along with the existence of additional satellite infrastructure to support consistent response time performance.
- Regional, Secure Facilities - Reconsider the locations of certain mission-critical facilities, such as a new 9-1-1 center, moving them away from the urban core and the risk and security factors associated with it.
I do plan on being at some of the recently announced stops on City Council's "listening tour", and strongly encourage everyone interested to attend as well. Review the supporting material, and take the city's survey. Make sure your voice is heard.
Have a great week ahead.