Town, district make progress in relationship | Editorial

On one hand, we think we might have been too tough on Friday Harbor Mayor Carrie Lacher last week. In our editorial, “Continue to move forward — together,” we said the mayor “should have been aware of the state of her fire department and the sense of urgency regarding the need for an agreement” with Fire District 3 for fire protection services.

District 3 commissioners deserved a proportionate share of noogie. It’s clear commissioners didn’t understand how town government works, with its established processes and its multiple issues of concern. Two of three commissioners tried to force their issue — a proposed contract for fire protection services — with tough talk and threats of not responding to fires in town. They could have gone to a Town Council meeting the next day and expressed their concerns, but chose not to. Whatever happened to just picking up the phone?

As District Fire Chief Steve Marler pointed out at a Town Council meeting May 9, the biggest hurdle to consolidating the town and district fire departments has been the decision-makers, not the rank and file. District and town firefighters have been sharing gear and training. They’ve been responding to incidents together. They are focused on what they have in common — protecting people and property — rather on their differences. “They get it,” Marler said.

Here’s the sunny part: The Town Council and district officials worked together Nov. 9 to address concerns regarding language in the contract. District commissioners were expected to discuss proposed contract changes the next day, and Town Councilman Steve Hushebeck was present. Between that time and Nov. 18, town and district officials were to work on a final agreement. The council was expected to vote on, and likely approve, the agreement on Nov. 18.

The agreement will essentially hire Fire District 3 to provide “administrative, training and operational services for fire protection” within the town limits, until consolidation of the town and district fire departments is decided. It also provides for compensation for Fire District 3 for providing those services.

This process has been a great test run for the process of consolidation. We commend the Town Council and the Fire District Commission for the big steps they’ve taken together. As we stated last week, there are no territories at stake here, only the safety and well-being of town and island residents. If the decision-makers follow the lead of their rank and file and “get it,” consolidation can be successful — and amicable.

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