Council elections could change EFR’s leadership

August 18, 2009

By J.B. Wogan

The ranks of Eastside Fire & Rescue leadership will be shaken up after Election Day.At least two members of the nine-person EFR board of directors will not return to the panel: Issaquah Councilman David Kappler and Sammamish Councilman Lee Fellinge. Neither is seeking re-election.

EFR board members set fire protection policy for Issaquah and Sammamish and use millions of the cities’ tax dollars to respond to aid calls and respond to disasters. EFR officials said they are concerned about the leadership change, because many issues handled by the board — including interlocal agreements and union negotiations — are complex and long running.

“Continuity for EFR is really an important issue,” Fellinge said. “I think all of the partners have tried to keep that in mind. It takes a long time to understand what’s really going on.”

Kappler, who has served on the board off and on since its 1999 inception, offered a similar assessment.

“There’s a certain amount of complexity for someone coming in new to it,” he said.

EFR is a regional fire agency that covers Issaquah, Sammamish, North Bend and two fire districts in rural King County.

Issaquah and Sammamish have two representatives each on the regional fire agency’s policy-making board. Issaquah Councilwoman Eileen Barber and Sammamish Deputy Mayor Jack Barry are the others.

Fellinge said he attended meetings for about a year before he grasped board dynamics, organizational structure and the culture of fire departments.

“It can be very time consuming,” he added.

Fellinge said his time commitment to the board is substantial. He said he spent more time in 2007 working on the EFR interlocal agreement than he did on Sammamish City Council issues.

Fellinge could be replaced by another councilmember with EFR experience. Mayor Don Gerend is a past member of the EFR board. But the composition of the board could also change, based on voters’ decisions.

Barry and Gerend face challengers in their re-election bids. In Issaquah, Barber has no election opponent.

Issaquah Council President Maureen McCarry, a past EFR board member, said she would be interested in returning to the panel if her re-election bid is successful.

McCarry said long-serving members earn credibility and respect on fire policy issues through service on the board.

Fire Chief Lee Soptich said the impact of the upcoming municipal elections might be similar to the first few years of EFR, when the policy-making board had more than 50 percent turnover almost every year.

“It was just a disaster,” Soptich said. “It was very frustrating to staff and very frustrating to the other board members.”

EFR administration has requested cities keep the same EFR representatives, so they can become experts regarding fire protection policy, board Chairman Ron Pedee said.

EFR Deputy Chief Jeff Griffin said the EFR partners sometimes send new representatives even if elections are not a factor.

“Sometimes, it causes us to go back over ground to get everybody caught up,” Griffin said. “But it’s not a big negative. We always get good quality folks.”

Kappler said City Council members must be familiar with budget issues — a key skill for EFR board members, too.

“There are eight people there and a lot of them have got a lot of experience,” Kappler said.

He said new members on the board could be beneficial.

“I know they like to have consistency, but at the same time, a new set of eyes and a new set of perspectives is also good,” Kappler said.

Reach Reporter J.B. Wogan at 392-6434, ext. 247, or jbwogan@isspress.com. Reach Reporter Warren Kagarise at ext. 234 or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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