Controversy swirls over McNeill fire chief dismissal

The late june removal of the volunteer fire chief in Port McNeill has become a controversial issue

Controversy is surrounding the decision to terminate the Port McNeill Volunteer Fire Chief from his position.

After being terminated in a June 29 letter from the Town of Port McNeill, Fire Chief Chris Walker says he was denied a proper process and investigation into complaints against him, while the Town of Port McNeill says the decision came after Walker breached their trust.

Walker, an engineering officer with the Forest Service, served as a volunteer firefighter in Port McNeill for the past 17 years.

He says that after returning from professional development courses, he was called in the morning of June 23 to meet with Port McNeill Mayor Shirley Ackland and Administrator Sue Harvey.

Walker says the Mayor told him there had been complaints made against him, one of which was allegations of a personal relationship with a female firefighter.

Walker says that he was told by the Mayor he had a choice to resign or be terminated during the meeting, and that when he asked if he could leave to consult with his wife he was told the decision needed to be made immediately.

He says the allegations left him “completely blind-sided,” and adds that he has strong personal relationships with many of his firefighting colleagues.

On June 29 after not receiving an acceptance of his resignation, Walker says he rescinded his resignation. At 5:30 p.m. the same day, he received a termination letter.

The letter, signed by Mayor Ackland, cites the reason for dismissal as “a personal relationship with a female member of the volunteer fire department,” and says that this is in violation of the Port McNeill Volunteer Fire Department’s Code of Ethics, items #2, 3 and 4.

A July 3 statement from the Town of Port McNeill acknowledges Walker’s dedication over the last 17 years, and goes on to say that he was removed from his position because he “breached their trust.”

The statement also says that the town insists all firefighters act in a respectful and positive manner, and that the Fire Chief’s conduct must “be ethical and beyond reproach.”

The statement also says that the Port McNeill Council is looking at further steps they can take to help the fire department develop best practices.

Walker says that while the allegations have been upsetting and damaging to him, he is most concerned about what he perceives as a lack of process or investigation surrounding his termination.

“I’m not looking for some kind of validation of innocence,” he said in a July 3 interview, adding, “What I want people to understand is this to me is not a democratic process.”

He specifically takes issue with the termination meeting taking place privately, away from the public eye.

The statement from the Town of Port McNeill addresses this, saying that this meeting counted as one of the meetings listed under section 90 of the Community Charter that can be closed to the public, although the statement did not specify which criteria exactly it fell under.

An online petition has been started to reinstate Walker in his position, and as of press time had 285 supporters.

 

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