Leadership at the Salt Spring Fire Improvement District has taken a dramatic change this week with the resignation of two fire board trustees, including chair Ron Lindstrom, and the placement of the chief administrative officer on leave for the remainder of her contract.
By direction of the board, CAO Laurie Taylor will finish active duty with the fire district as of 4 p.m. Friday, at which point she will be on paid leave until her contract ends and her retirement begins on Nov. 20. Previous CAO Andrew Peat will come out of his retirement to fill the role as an interim measure beginning Monday.
The development is partly responsible for Lindstrom’s resignation from the board last week, along with that of fellow trustee Joanne MacDonald.
“It’s been great working with the fire department. The chief and the firefighters are great and I hold all of Salt Spring Fire Rescue in the utmost respect. It’s simply a matter of dynamics within the board,” Lindstrom told the Driftwood on Friday.
While their letters of resignation have not yet been made public, Lindstrom and MacDonald said Friday there are several main concerns that caused them to part ways with the improvement district.
“My reasons are primarily that I’m very concerned about spending and I’m very concerned that the board continually revisits decisions it’s made in the past, so you never know if a decision is going to stand,” MacDonald said.
A serious case that Lindstrom and MacDonald each cited is a desire among other trustees to reverse course on the one-employee corporate model, which the board adopted in 2019.
A related issue is how the board has dealt with Taylor, who announced last month that she would not renew her contract in November. The board’s decision to put her on paid leave until her contract runs out, and pay a second person at the same time, was an insurmountable issue for the two former trustees. It comes just as the board is hoping to ramp up community support to fund a new fire hall build.
“We hired a very well-qualified, deeply experienced CAO who has taken other communities through the same process we need to go through now, and we were careful in the process of hiring that person,” MacDonald said, adding that replacing Taylor before her time is up is not respectful of ratepayers’ money. She also thinks it says more about trustees than staff if they don’t trust the people they have hired.
A further area of division between the two trustees and other board members is related to the new fire hall campaign. The board voted in May to re-engage the architects who created building designs in 2013 and contract them to revise those plans to reduce space and account for updated needs. Some trustees have since been advocating for a whole new process instead.
Lindstrom and MacDonald observe $150,000 of taxpayers’ money was spent on the original drawings and said they believe starting from scratch would not be cost effective.
“I feel personal interests, personal preferences and personal alliances have taken over the collective good, and I can’t in good conscience continue,” MacDonald said. “I need to represent what I think is best for the ratepayers, not what one or two trustees think is essential to ram through [according to] an artificial timeline.”
The fire district board will meet this Monday, Sept. 21 at the Lions Hall beginning at 6:30 p.m. Trustee Per Svendsen, who has been away from fire board business for several months, will serve as interim chair for the time being.