Feb. 21, the 692nd meeting of the El Dorado Hills Fire Board was different. While there were 35 chairs for the public this night only four or five were filled by citizens not employed or otherwise linked to the department. While the quantity of citizens was lacking the quality was not.
Bill Sturge appeared for a second time to ask if the department had made an effort to help returning veterans. He cited veteran high unemployment and difficulty in readapting to civilian life. In November he presented to the board a need for community acceptance of veterans and proposed the department consider a hiring or interning program. Bill received no response so he came back.
He acknowledged our fire crew is one of the best funded governmental operations around (an understatement). He thought that might allow for more creative local engagement. Turns out he is wrong. Chief Roberts explained the general outreach done when recruiting, that several firemen are veterans and, recently, a veteran returned from our current military engagement has been hired into the medical tech role at the department. But there was no focus on veterans support. Several board members sensed the value of Mr. Sturge’s request and directed the chief look into what might be done locally and even include it in the strategic plan.
I think they are right. If we have time and money to spend on international accreditation we must have the time for veterans. The chief had made a presentation on enhancing relationships as item five in the strategic plan. Those were relationships with business, the Chamber of Commerce, CSD, sports leagues — those that I consider “power brokers” in the community. Yes, maybe returning veterans warrant enhanced relationships.
And the meeting got even better. Two other citizens appeared — Patti Seepole and Vanessa Otsuka. They represented several citizens who on their own pursued the Cal Fire board in challenging the governor’s annual State Responsibility Area, or SRA, $150 fee on all us “wild land rural residents” in EDH. And they have been successful so far! They told a tale of a begrudging state board not happy about citizens attending their public meetings and challenging them. But as Patti said, their village area did not fit the SRA criteria. The basis for some of the bogus fee is purely by regulations, not statute. Further the state board has not kept current as to applying its own SRA criteria. Maybe the squeaky wheel does get the grease and they are persevering. They needed Chief Roberts to sign off on their change of designation. The chief did sign, as the fire board saw no reason not to, noting the legal challenges pending will probably take years to resolve.
Bill, Patti, Vanessa and company renewed my faith in citizen participation. Citizens, willing to be informed, can see clearly when lethargy, status quo or “we’ve always done it that way” or “no one really cares” or special interests or just plain foolishness is being masqueraded as good policy. We need more of them.
Yes, most meetings are like watching paint dry, but that night if you listened close it was Michelangelo painting in the Sistine Chapel, and it was beautiful. Thank you.
El Dorado Hills