by Robert Lynch; July 12, 2023
To Add to this Story:
On Thursday, July 13th, Enfield Fire Chief Greg Stevenson issued this Public Statement regarding the Enfield Town Board’s appointment of Fire Commissioners the previous night, July 12th:
“I’m pleased that the Town of Enfield has named the five initial fire district commissioners. I look forward to working with them, as I have with the Town Board in the past, to assure that Enfield and its residents and visitors receive the best emergency fire and medical services possible.”
This writer/Councilperson’s previous coverage of the story follows:
In a move that already has angered some Enfield Fire Company leadership and volunteers, the Enfield Town Board Wednesday tentatively chose Town Highway Superintendent Barry “Buddy” Rollins as one of five appointed members of its Board of Fire Commissioners, the body that will govern the newly-formed Enfield Fire District through the end of 2023.
Rollins and the four other appointees, whose selection the Town Board expects to confirm at its next meeting, August ninth, would need to stand for election in December to retain their appointments. They could either be replaced in the election or continue as Commissioner for terms lasting as long as five years.
“Bad move,” Enfield Volunteer Fire Company (EVFC) President Dennis Hubbell said of Rollins’ appointment during privilege of the floor comments at the close of Wednesday’s meeting. He made his remarks only minutes after the four attending Town Board members had announced their Commissioner selections. “Buddy has a big conflict of interest,” Hubbell complained.
Rollins has been “openly hostile” to the Fire Company, Fire Company Secretary, EMS Director, and former Enfield Town Clerk Ellen Woods told those at the meeting. “And now he’s going to be regulating the Fire Company,” Woods stated in anger. She then walked out of the room. Woods had applied for an appointment as Commissioner.
The Town Board announced its five choices following a 20-minute, closed executive session held one floor below the Town Board’s meeting room, members conferring in a portion of the Enfield Food Pantry. The Board chose its appointments from among eight candidates who’d applied for the Board of Commissioners. Rollins was the first to submit his application.
State law and Attorney Generals’ opinions permit a Highway Superintendent to serve concurrently as Fire Commissioner while also holding his Town elected office.
(This writer, Councilperson Robert Lynch, cannot legally or ethically divulge the substance of the Town Board’s executive session discussions that led to its Wednesday decision. He will only state that the private deliberations were collegial and civil; and that Board members reached their decision through collaboration and compromise; each member preferring the Board to speak with a common voice.)
“We had a lot of awesome candidates,” Supervisor Stephanie Redmond stated as the Town Board returned to its public session to announce its choices. Redmond said the selections, in her opinion, reflected “balance” and recognition that some in Enfield support transition to a Fire Commission, while others do not.
Joining Rollins as tentatively-selected Fire Commissioners are: Geoffrey Hollister, a former Fire Commissioner in Richford and a past EVFC Board member; Robyn Wishna, a current EVFC firefighter and EMS responder, and former volunteer firefighter in Ithaca; Jim Matthews, a 13-year firefighter and medic in Fairfax County, Virginia, and the current President and CEO of the Washington-based Rail Passengers Association; and Marcus Gingerich, a Rumsey Hill Road resident once-active in Enfield’s Black Oak Wind Farm debate.
Also applying for Fire Commissioner, though not selected, were EVFC Secretary Woods; former Enfield Town Supervisor Roy Barriere, a current EVFC volunteer; and Larry Stilwell, a 61-year firefighting veteran, his service mostly in Enfield.
The EVFC Board of Directors had Tuesday forwarded to the Town Board the names of Hollister, Wishna, Barriere, Stilwell and Woods as interested Commissioner applicants. Fire Chief Greg Stevenson reported to the Board that “a resolution to forward these names” passed by a 7-0 vote, with one abstention. Stevenson clarified Thursday that the referral did not necessarily imply a recommendation. The EVFC Board had also included the name of former Town Supervisor Frank Podufalski. However Podufalski has never tendered an official application to the Town Board.
“I feel that I have years’ expertise in budgets, and equipment,” Rollins wrote in a June 17th email to the Town Board, stating his qualifications for appointment as Fire Commissioner. But in that email, Rollins also had warned against stacking the Commissioners’ Board with too many EVFC-friendly volunteers. He’d even oppose the three-member firefighter majority that the Town’s attorney, Brad Pinsky, had suggested at the Town Board’s mid-June meeting.
“I feel that if it stays the way it was presented at the board meeting, that it would be a waste of a community member’s time,” Rollins said in opposition to any outsider’s serving were EVFC members in control. “As the fire personnel would have the majority of the votes,” Rollins said, “the community members would never have an equal vote.”
Some of the strongest public criticism of Rollins’ appointment during the closing moments of Wednesday’s meeting came from Chris Willis, the candidate who’s challenged Rollins’ reelection as Highway Superintendent, but who lost badly to the incumbent in the June Republican Primary. Willis will go on to face Rollins in November, running as an Independent.
Judging from critical remarks hurled by EVFC volunteers upon learning the Town Board’s selection of Rollins, it’s likely the Fire Company’s membership will launch a concerted effort to oust him as a Fire Commissioner when all five seats come up for a vote December 12th.
Councilperson Lynch (this writer) urged Wednesday that those selected and those passed over by the Town Board consider running in December. The Town Board’s choices, though crucial to the new Fire District’s organization, will only serve in office for five months, Lynch noted.
Lynch also queried whether the Town Board should confirm its preferences immediately with a formal resolution. Supervisor Redmond waved off such a move, preferring the Board to wait until its August meeting, noting it cannot officially appoint Commissioners until the Fire District takes effect August first. Nonetheless, Redmond said she expects appointees designated Wednesday to begin their duties unofficially before their appointments become official.
Remaining unfilled following Wednesday’s discussions is the post of Fire District Treasurer, a position which, unlike the Commissioners, may be a paid job and need not necessarily be held by an Enfield resident. The Town Board must continue searching for a treasurer candidate, as none of the Commissioner applicants at Wednesday’s meeting expressed an interest in becoming Treasurer.
(Note: Councilperson James Ricks, excused from Wednesday’s meeting, took no part in the discussions.)
(Also note: A previous version of this story had stated, apparently erroneously, that the EVFC Board of Directors, in forwarding Commissioner candidates’ names to the Town Board, had recommended in favor of those candidates. Fire Chief Greg Stevenson has since indicated that such was not the case. Furthermore, Chief Stevenson, not in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting, emphasizes that any “anger” expressed by some in EVFC leadership with the Town Board’s decision, should not be extended by implication to his office. This writer regrets any erroneous inferences that he or the reader may have drawn. Also, at Ellen Woods’ request, her additional title as EVFC’s EMS Director is duly noted.)
Expect more to be posted on this story.