The April 24 meeting of the Fire District 16 Board of Commissioners came to an abrupt end when, during a break, Commissioners Al Yanity and Jim Bosch got into a physical altercation.
Around a dozen witnesses, including two reporters, a former fire chief, a former fire commissioner, the fire district attorney and firefighters watched the scene unravel, as district personnel tried to break up the two men. At one point, Bosch, apparently pinned into a corner by Yanity, requested for 911 to be called, stating that Yanity had a gun. No weapon was discovered on Yanity when police arrived, according to Detective Ed Troyer, spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff Department.
“Yanity picked up a coffee mug and hit Bosch with it,” Troyer said. A broken mug handle and blood on Bosch’s face were visible when the scuffle ended, after which Bosch was treated by district paramedics and later reemerged with a bandage around his face.
The building was locked down for two hours after several Pierce County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the scene around 10:30 a.m. Troyer said Bosch was taken to a hospital “for stitches and observation.” Yanity was questioned and eventually transported, wearing handcuffs, to Pierce County jail. He was booked for second degree felony assault and later posted $10,000 bail. He was arraigned on April 25, with no further court dates available at press time.
While waiting for police to respond to the April 24 incident, one witness observed, “It had to happen sooner or later,” to which another person replied, “It’s… not surprising.” For more than a year, disagreements and personal attacks between Bosch and Yanity have turned many of the commissioners meetings into extensive debates over meeting minutes, reimbursements, attendance of non-district functions, and personal disagreements.
At a November 2006 meeting attended by the KP News, the commissioners spent about two hours on the consent agenda, including 45 minutes discussing approval of vouchers that included commissioner reimbursements on which Yanity and Bosch disagreed. The meeting was attended by the district’s attorney Joe Quinn, at the rate of $160 per hour. One audience member commented: “You’ve wasted more money arguing about it. Get on with business.” Quinn, whose hourly contract rate increased to $200 in March, has been present at many of the meetings in the past year and a half. Following the April 24 fight, district officials said the presence of a police officer may be requested for future meetings.
Audience members ranging from residents to firefighters have commented at the meetings how dysfunctional the board appeared to be. At the Dec. 21 board meeting, Union Local 3125 President Robert Bosch said, “These meetings are a circus and have become an embarrassment to this district.”
Bosch and Yanity have been accusing each other of various wrongdoings including slander, intimidation, lies and extortion. Bosch submitted a formal complaint after a Nov. 28 meeting at which Yanity threatened administrative manager Christina Bosch, the district and the board with legal action related to his access to records. Bosch wrote in the complaint that “these threats to intimidate and harass District 16 employees violate their statutory rights” and requested that Yanity be censured; no further action was taken because commissioners are not subject to the district’s code of ethics that prohibits harassment of employees.
The conflict between the two, former longtime friends, escalated recently to criminal complaints against each other submitted to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office. The filing stemmed from a March 27 board meeting, at which Bosch tried to submit a letter that alleged Yanity sexually harassed a woman who rented his cabin in Alaska. According to Quinn, the allegations have “nothing to do with district business” because the letter, apparently mailed by an Alaska resident, “has nothing to do with Commissioner Yanity—it’s about Al Yanity” as an individual. The two commissioners have accused each other of writing the letter, with Yanity subsequently accusing Bosch of extortion and Bosch calling Yanity “a perpetrator.”
Before the fight closed down the April 24 meeting, the commissioners had passed a motion to put a measure on the November ballot asking for board expansion from three commissioners to five. The proposal was recommended by the district’s Future Planning Committee, chaired by Bosch. “I lean toward a five-member board in hopes to get a more positive atmosphere, but I’m not sure it’s going to happen,” Bosch said at a committee meeting. Yanity voted against the motion, although in an interview prior to the meeting he said he was likely to abstain. “I’m not in favor or not opposed to it,” he told the KP News. “I personally think it’s a waste of money. If people think they want it, they can vote for it.”
Increasing the board to five members is a move that would cost about $10,000 per new commissioner per year for per diem and travel reimbursements, including an expected raise in per diem from $70 to $90 that was approved by the Legislature and at press time awaited the governor’s approval.
Commissioner Rick Stout, board chairman, said in an interview that having five commissioners would allow the district to have two commissioners on the same committee and other gatherings without constituting a quorum. It will also take three people to pass motions, which Stout feels means better constituent representation.
At the April 10 meeting, Ben Thompson questioned whether that move would bring improvements. Thompson, who lost his bid for the board to Yanity in 2005, ran on the platform of increasing to five members. He said in an interview: “The district is just deadlocked; there is no incentive to discuss the direction of the fire department… It seems like a poor method of running the district with a three-person board.”
Thompson told the board at the April 10 meeting they should investigate the feasibility of combining the district with a neighboring one. Following that comment, Ed Taylor, former fire commissioner, told the board: “I don’t think there’s another district that will have you—they’d be embarrassed.” He suggested the solution is for the two commissioners to resign, to which Yanity replied, “…I will not resign for the convenience of Mr. Bosch.”
While neither commissioner would resign, a move is under way to potentially force them out of office. Mike Salatino, who referred to himself as “an irate citizen” during the introductions at the April 10 meeting, said is he is ready to write a recall petition. He told commissioners the fire district “is an absolute embarrassment to the community.” Salatino told the KP News the petition should ask to “recall everyone culpable and who we feel are responsible for the mess down there today,” referring to the April 24 altercation. “We need a complete shake-up of the board,” he said.
Fire District 5 in Gig Harbor has increased its board from three to five members in the 2005 election. Kevin Entze, chair of FD-5 Board of Commissioners, said the change has been discussed for a few years. Although they didn’t have the political squabbles that are plaguing FD-16, Entze said Fire District 5 felt a three-person board “makes it tough to do things because two people make a quorum.” “It’s worth the expense,” he said. “It’s proved beneficial for the district and has created a better relationship with the firefighters and the union—and the community.”
While moving to a bigger board could improve efficiency, supporters of the idea acknowledge it may not improve the political climate: The two new commissioners would be appointed by the existing board. According to state law, one would serve until the next “general fire district election after the appointment, at which two commissioners shall be elected for six-year terms, and the other appointee to serve until the second general fire district election after the appointment, at which two commissioners shall be elected for six-year terms.” Which means if the public doesn’t vote until November, it is likely the new commissioners would not be appointed until 2008, when the current board’s composition may change even without a recall: Stout’s term expires this year.
Stout, a retired FD-16 fire battalion chief whose tie-breaking vote frequently agrees with Bosch’s, told the KP News, “I haven’t made up my mind yet” about running for a second term. The deadline for candidate filings is June 8, and so far no one has publicly announced candidacy.
Regardless of Stout’s decision about candidacy, Salatino is moving forward with a recall committee, which will meet at his home at noon on May 5. He said the committee may write two petitions; the second one would be to expand the board now instead of waiting for November elections. Salatino was overheard at earlier meetings saying that he didn’t like the idea that an expanded board would entail two appointments rather than elections.
Citizen action is a welcome concept for Detective Troyer. In his opinion, the threats and blackmail accusations of Yanity and Bosch have required too much police involvement. “(We) shouldn’t have to be using police resources for fire commissioners,” Troyer said. “Since we can’t get it straightened out, maybe the citizens can.”
Division Chief Chuck West, while not familiar with the recall discussions, said fire district members have no control of commissioners. “The commissioners are elected officials. The public needs to step forward on this and we are encouraging them to do so,” he said. West added that despite the recent events, district firefighters and paramedics continue to do their duties in serving the public. “My guys are still doing their jobs. They are affected by this personally, and their feelings,” he said. “But professionally, these guys are out on the street still doing a great job.”
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