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Washington Voices

Newman Lake saying ‘no’

Thu., Nov. 12, 2009

Measure to add commissioners to fire district board failing

Additional ballot counting makes it clear that Newman Lake Fire and Rescue voters think three commissioners are enough.

A proposal to increase the fire district’s board from three to five commissioners was failing with 52.9 percent opposition after a third round of counting Tuesday. The vote was 384 yes, 432 no.

On election night last week, opposition to the measure stood at 51.6 percent, with 88 ballots uncounted – mathematically too close to call.

The proposal to expand the board, authorized by state law, grew out of dissatisfaction with Commissioners Clayton Andersen and Eileen Weyrauch.

A public disclosure request by critic Kathleen Small revealed that Andersen and Weyrauch had discussed district business in e-mails, an apparent violation of the Washington Open Public Meetings Act.

Much of their private discussion concerned efforts to curb the pay of two well-regarded deputy chiefs, Kathie Neu and Toni Halloran. Neu’s husband, Commissioner Bob Neu, didn’t participate in the e-mail dialogue or in any public actions regarding the deputy chiefs.

Small and others got up a 99-signature petition to expand the board to five members as a means of diluting the influence of Weyrauch and Andersen. Satisfied that the petition had the necessary 79 valid signatures, commissioners unanimously agreed to place the proposal on last week’s general election ballot.

Weyrauch apologized for the improper e-mails when the petition was received in June.

Andersen, an attorney who practices in Coeur d’Alene, declined to comment on the e-mails at the time. However, the commissioners later consulted the district’s attorney and sent a letter to the state Auditor’s Office acknowledging “apparent violations” of the open meetings law.

The letter said the violations were “based on a misunderstanding” of the law.

Writing on behalf of the board, Commissioner Neu said commissioners had “taken steps to cease all communications, via any medium, between board members regarding district business outside of open public meetings.”

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