Five Days Before Election, GVF&R Declares Board Candidates
BREAKING NEWS at Press Deadline:
GVF&R Board of Directors Election Cancelled
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
Girdwood Volunteer Fire and Rescue (GVF&R) announced three candidates for Girdwood Fire and Rescue Board of Directors [BoD] election, five days before it begins. The board seats are for a four-year term.
In a breaking development, BoD member Steve Conway withdrew his name from contention early Mon., March 26, four days before voting starts. At press time, it was not clear whether Conway’s name will appear on the ballot or not.
The election is set to run March 30-April 3 at Girdwood Community Center, except for April 1. The election is independent of the Municipal vote by mail election, with both ending April 3.
An open election is being held for two candidates, Shannon Cothren and Nick Georgelos, running for two seats. The ballot has an option for write-in candidates. The top two vote winners will be appointed to four-year seats on the BoD, whose primary responsibility is hiring and overseeing the Fire Chief.
GVF&R’s Member Advisory Committee (MAC) runs BoD elections. MAC is responsible for recruiting, vetting and placing BoD candidates on the election ballot. There is considerable disagreement between BoD and MAC about how the election has been managed and the last-minute announcement of candidates.
There is pressing need for a fully seated, five-member board to interview and hire a new Fire Chief. John Banning resigned Dec. 31, 2017 after eight months in the position. Interim Chief Manch Garhart was appointed after a BoD executive session on Jan. 8, 2018. A current search is underway for a new chief, with interviews beginning this week.
To learn more about the situation, the Gazette interviewed Conway and Gibson Gamel, GVF&R Ad Hoc Firefighter/EMT and MAC Chairperson. The Gazette also spoke to BoD member Deb Essex, but she was not authorized to speak for the board. BoD President Ken Waugh communicated via email.
Conway said he was approached Jan. 14, 2018 to fill a board seat on an interim basis after Mike House passed away. Conway sent his resume to board in Feb. In early March, he was notified of his selection to the interim seat and was asked to attend the March 21 BoD meeting.
“It was at that board meeting that I learned there was an upcoming election,” Conway said, “and that I was a candidate in that election.”
Conway maintains he was never asked if he wanted to be in the election and thought it was understood he was only sitting on the volunteer board on an interim basis. The March BoD meeting gave him some concerns.
“My misgiving was learning there was an election in a mere nine days,” Conway said. “That didn’t make sense to me. And I was a candidate for the election. Not only did I not know about an election, I didn’t know I was a candidate. I had no official interaction with MAC. I was perplexed. I was appointed an interim to help the board of directors get to an election.”
Conway also expressed unease with the five-day public notice of candidates on the ballot.
“It just doesn’t feel right,” Conway said.“At a minimum, it feels rushed, not well planned. No one I know in Girdwood knows anything about the upcoming [BoD] election.”
Conway was candid about his fit for serving the board.
“I don’t know that I’m an ideal candidate,” Conway said. “I live in Girdwood part time. We have a place there, and my daughter and grandchildren live there. We spend a lot of time in Girdwood. I pay property taxes there, so I certainly feel that I have the right to speak on matters related to Girdwood. I don’t live there full time.”
The combination of circumstances led to Conway’s email announcement of withdrawal from the BoD election four days before it begins.
“I just told the MAC I withdraw my nomination from the upcoming election,” Conway wrote in an email. “I cannot be associated with this election, nor part of an organization which allows a Membership Advisory Committee the ultimate authority over the organization.”
Gamel is the MAC Chairperson on the BoD, where he serves as Secretary. He relays information to the BoD and the membership of GVF&R. Gamel explained the reason for the delay in announcing the candidates to the public five days before the election begins.
“We were prepared to have the bios and all of the candidate information out earlier this week,” Gamel said. “We had one candidate who was not sure if they were going to be part of the election, and they have recently backed out. That’s what we’ve been working on, waiting to get that election information out. Once we had a confirmation they would not be a part of the election, we moved forward with putting out the candidate information.”
When asked about Conway’s assertion about not being asked if he was running, Gamel replied Conway was informed at the BoD meeting, and he stated he would run.
Though the election was announced in Feb., it is unusual to announce candidates with a five-day notice for two four-year positions.
“The call for nominations happened months ago. The only notice that is short term is the candidate information out to the public. There were notices put out in Feb. that we were calling for nominations for an April election. I am unsure if it will hinder or aid in the election.”
The election is governed by MAC bylaws. There is no bylaw about announcing candidates for an election, just that an election is being held. The situation gives Girdwood voters little time to make an informed decision on candidates.
“There is no public notice in the by-laws [about announcing candidates]. That is something that we’re discussing and working on. For the upcoming election, that is something that will be considered.”
Recruiting candidates for the BoD has traditionally been difficult and has contributed to the situation. The candidate recruitment process begins with a public call for nominations followed by candidate submissions. Ideal candidates are those invested in what is best for the community and GVF&R, live in Girdwood or own property there, and have no conflicts of interest with BoD or other positions.
“We had a public call to replace Mike House’s seat for three to four weeks,” Gamel said. “We had zero nominations for that seat. After that, we opened up nominations for the general election for another three to four weeks, and three submitted applications came through during that portion.”
Gamel explained that part of the problem has been a history of miscommunication between BoD and MAC, something he and Essex are planning to resolve in the near future.
“Communication between the two entities has not been what it could be, or what we hope it will be,” Gamel said. “That’s something that myself and current board member Deb Essex really want to change and want to work on. I understand that the election being held by a separate entity than the board, with the communication issues we’ve had, has had some problems between the two entities. We’re doing the best we can to make sure the community is in mind, that we’re not trying to hide anything from the community. We want their input and thoughts.”
BoD President Waugh chose not to run for another four-year term, which led to a second board seat being open. In an email statement, he made it clear he wanted nothing to do with the current election.
“I have asked my name not be associated in any way with this election,” Waugh wrote, “and would ask that you note in whatever story you produce that the GFR board played no part in design or implementation, nor did we even have any knowledge until 10 days before the election was set to commence. I feel the entire situation is unfortunate and should have been halted prior to community notification. While that was the recommendation from the board, it was just that a last minute recommendation on a process we found out about far too late.”
Girdwood Fire and Rescue Board of Directors Election
All voting will be at the Girdwood Community Center.
Dates and times as follows:
Fri. March 30 – 6-10 a.m.
Sat. March 31 – 12-4 p.m.
Mon. April 2 – 5-9 p.m.
Tue. April 3 – 5-9 p.m.