By Janet Jacobs
Members of the Mildred Volunteer Fire Department would not confirm that the Mildred Fire Chief, Richard Williams, has been forced off the fire department, nor would the mayor, Robert Duane Carpenter.
However, in a phone interview Williams said he was forced off the department because of a “personal vendetta” against him by the mayor. He claims the mayor threatened to withdraw the city’s insurance payments for the fire equipment, and use of an office in city hall if the chief wasn’t voted out of the department. Williams admitted he was not part of the discussions, and was relaying information given him by other firefighters.
Tuesday evening, Carpenter said he had no authority over the fire department. However, he assured volunteer fire department members that the office was theirs, and said the city would have a new lease drawn up. He also said he was satisfied with the department’s care of the grounds and building.
The two entities have an agreement that the department will mow and tend the lawn in exchange for the $1,800 annual insurance payment by the city.
Charlsey York, who identified herself as treasurer of the department, repeatedly said “no comment,” both to the media and the city council. She would not say who is the current fire chief.
Although both sides are mum, what was evident at the regular Mildred City Council meeting Tuesday was anger towards the city, either as a body or individually, from the fire department. Wayne McGuire, who serves both on the council and the fire department, was clearly distraught as he submitted his written resignation from the council. He said he was torn by family strife over the situation.
Williams is McGuire’s son-in-law.
“I’m leaving the council, but I think if there are any problems with the council or the fire department, it needs to come through the mayor,” McGuire said. “If the mayor has a problem with us, it needs to come through the mayor not some other council member coming out there raising Cain.”
Carpenter tore up the resignation, saying that McGuire was needed on the council.
McGuire asked the council to think about it.
“It’s caused a lot of enemies,” McGuire said.
York detailed an argument she said she had Saturday with Latriece Richter, who is both on the council and serves as the city secretary.
“She started hollering ‘you’re not going in that building,’” York quoted Richter as saying to her.
In the middle of the recounting, Richter left the council meeting, although she left a digital tape recorder behind and running.
Early in the meeting, Richter stood up and addressed the seven members of the volunteer fire department, never referring to the fire chief or the fire department.
“When I took this job I realized each of us on the council had a fiduciary responsibility to the citizenship,” she said. “We’ve all worked hard and tried hard to build the city up. If we can’t all work together, we have nothing here. Our first responsibility is to the citizens here.”
After she left, Carpenter apologized for Richter, although he said he was home Saturday “eating breakfast” when the incident happened.
An issue yet to be resolved is that neither the city nor the fire department can find a copy of the department’s lease agreement with the city.
Carpenter said he recalled an informal offer to use the office, and a written lease approved by an earlier council to rent an office in the city hall for $1 a year to the volunteer fire department. Neither copy can be found, though, he said.
“Why would somebody take something like that?” Carpenter asked the room at large.
“I’ve stood behind everyone here,” Carpenter said. There were seven members of the department at the meeting. There are 24 members of the department.
“As far as that office in there, that’s yours,” Carpenter added, nodding towards the fire department’s office door.
Although none of the volunteer firefighters would answer direct questions, firefighter Wes Smith said the department is still responding to fires and emergencies.
“We just want to reassure the citizens that the Mildred Fire Department is here and ready to respond anytime, day or night,” Smith said.
Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org