The Sunsites-Pearce Fire District Board made two unanimous decisions in a row during its special meeting Monday night, voting 4-0 to post the position of Interim Fire Chief for seven days, and the other to obtain cost estimates on hiring someone to update the District’s website.

The fifth member of the board, Robert Fino, arrived to the meeting about 15 minutes late, so was not present for the two votes.

These decisions follow closely on the heels of the Board’s 3-2 vote to terminate Chief Paul Petersen’s contract “without cause,” during an emotionally charged meeting lasting about two hours last Tuesday evening at the Richland Fire Station.

Petersen declined comment.

About 40 people spoke during two call-to-the-public sessions held at the beginning and toward the end of the Feb. 5 meeting.

Some expressed concerns that Petersen’s loss would result in inadequate fire and medic service, or complete closure of the Fire Department, while others said that the Department would close due to alleged financial issues, and that those issues needed to be addressed.

When it came time for the meeting’s third agenda item, Treasurer Cletus Frei moved to terminate Petersen’s contract without cause, which was seconded by Clerk Rebel Jones.

During the resulting discussion, Board Member Candace Roll said she felt that the only board members who should be allowed to vote on this item were Jones, Fino, and herself.

She pointed out that the other two board members – Frei and Chairman Roger Lance – “have only been working with the Fire Chief for two months.”

Since the agenda item was “review, discuss, and possibly vote: Review or terminate with or without cause Chief Petersen’s contract,” Fino said that the review should have come first.

Fino said that a review doesn’t merely involve discussion, “but provides the proper paperwork for each board member to evaluate how the Chief is doing.”

He said that he felt terminating Petersen’s contract without cause was “totally wrong,” as the Board had not completed his review.

“I will vote against it,” said Fino, adding that he knew he would be out-voted that night.

He said he felt the current board had not put forth the effort to work with Petersen.

Fino then asked for the original motion be redacted, and a new motion made that would “allow this to go the proper route” to show respect for the person under review.

Jones began to read some concerns he had with Petersen’s current contract.

Fino interrupted Jones, saying that since this was not a review, Jones should not be allowed to read his reasons.

He explained that doing so would be a violation of open meeting law.

Frei asked Lance to control the meeting, and Lance instructed Jones to proceed.

Jones said that the Board had voted on an initial salary of $48,000 per year; but that in the current contract, the salary had been changed to $55,000 without a vote by the Board.

“This means that a $7,000 increase was made without official Board approval,” he said.

Jones pointed out that the word “alcohol” had been removed from a paragraph regarding termination.

He said that this is in conflict with the drug and alcohol testing section under “Conditions of Employment” in the SPFD Policy, Procedures, and Guidelines, “which apply to all prospective and current” Fire Department employees.

Jones quoted the policy, and then added that omission of the word “alcohol” is in conflict with State statute, “which applies to any employee working in an occupation under ARS Title 32.”

He said that in the section on “Employee Terms and Conditions,” actual working hours are not clearly defined as to a set time during the day.

Instead, the contract reads, “the employee agrees that at least 40 hours a week must be devoted to district business,” said Jones.

Regarding that same section, Jones described the spending authority given to the Fire Chief as “too vague.”

“No numerical amount has been set,” he added.

In the section on “Compensation,” on paid time off (three weeks paid vacation), does not define a “working day.”

“This could mean the difference between having the Fire Chief take 21 days off or 15,” said Jones, adding that the current contract does not state how paid-time off is to be accrued.

In the same section, the cost of living adjustment/salary increase is based on the other employee’s increases.

“Since the Fire Chief sets the pay raises given other employees, he is in essence setting his own salary increase,” Jones said.

He also said that an attorney should review the indemnification clause at the end contract, “as it is too broad and could have the potential to involve the SPFD in a lawsuit unnecessarily.”

Fino said that the errors should be corrected instead of terminating it.

“As a Board, we correct the Chief’s contract. There is no need to terminate the Chief’s contract,” he said.

Fino went onto say that he didn’t understand why Jones was blaming the Board, which he was on at the time, for not liking the contract drawn up by the Cochise County Attorney.

“It is up to the Board to correct that,” Fino said. “You are partly responsible for this ill-written contract.”

Jones replied that when the contract was brought before the Board, he had requested that changes be made, but they never were.

“I did not vote for the contract because the changes had not been made,” he explained.

Lance said he recalled attending that meeting, and that at the time Jones had made those recommendations to (former Chairman) Fino, but was ignored.

“We were voting on the whole contract, and not pieces,” Fino replied.

“Instead of speculation, check the facts, check the minutes,” he said.

“If I am wrong, I will admit it. We cannot terminate the Chief for our mistakes.”

In the end, Frei called for the question, reminding Lance that there was a motion and second on the table.

Fino made a point of order, saying he hoped the Board understood that it had to give Petersen 60 days written notice of termination, adding, “I hope the Board will do that.”

Fino and Candace Roll cast the two dissenting votes, with Lance, Frei, and Jones voting in favor.

Immediately after the vote, Fino asked to be excused from the meeting, and Lance granted his permission.

There were outbursts by some members of the audience saying, “Recall the Board,” before Lance banged down the gavel, calling for order.

In a Feb. 5 letter to Petersen, Lance gave him the 60 days notice.

Petersen was placed on administrative leave, effective immediately, until Saturday, April 6, the date on which his contract will end.

“This means that you must not report to work on Wednesday, Feb. 6, nor any day thereafter for the 60 day period,” said Lance.

The Feb. 5 letter also instructed Petersen, “you must return any and all District property, including but not limited to: keys, electronic devices, phones, computers, vehicles, documents, records, credit cards, uniforms, and equipment,” by noon on Feb. 6.

“You must immediately give to the Chairman of the Board the passwords to any and all computers and computer programs that relate to the District,” Lance said.

“The Board draws to your attention” State statutes that “make it a criminal offense to obstruct governmental operations and tamper with public records, or to assist or command anyone else to do so…” the letter said.

The next regular meeting of the SPFD Board is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 12, at the Sunsites Community Center.

(Other issues discussed at the Feb. 5 and Feb. 11 SPFD meetings will be covered at a later date in the Range News.)

(2) comments

zippy da do

If readers would like to view this meeting and others they are posted on Utube under Sunsites Pearce Fire Board Meetings. I am appalled that the 3 board members, Cletus Frei, Roger Lance, and Rebel Jones appear to be trying to take over complete control of the Fire Dept and wrest any influence away from other board members and fire dept personnel. They are unwilling to work together with the existing fire personnel and instead will fire or harass them until they quit. Frei has a restraining order issued by Judge Michael Stiles so he now must call ahead and make an appointment to meet with fire dept personnel he has harassed. This unprofessional behavior hurts the community, and makes him a laughingstock. These 3 men violated the Fire Chief's contract when they fired him and now he's not even working yet the fire dept will be paying his wages for 2 months. This, when Frei says the budget is so bad, no money? We also may be paying for a lawsuit. These 3 board members also could not get along with the free County Attorney who works for the fire dept. They fired him also. Now the fire district will be paying hourly for an attorney to try to get the district out of all the trouble these 3 board members are causing. This when Frei says the budget is running out of money? Well, as for the budget problems, there really are none. Payroll for all employees was made on Tuesday, the fire dept is on target for the expenditures for the fiscal year, doing just fine. They did just fine last year also. There was a past issue dating to 2010 when IRS payments were entered into the books but did not get to the IRS. At that time there was a different board and they were the check signers. Chief Petersen straightened all that out with the IRS and the bill is paid now. He was not Chief in 2010. Frei said at the Feb 5 board meeting that the fire dept is 1 year behind in finances. Read what I wrote above, everything is fine. Payments are all being made and at the end of the fiscal year will come out as it should. Frei wants to ignore the income from wildfires, ambulance calls and other income. It is a fire dept, this is a source of income. It's a fact of life. I do believe this: if these 3 board members, Frei, Lance, and Jones are allowed to continue, the fire dept finances will be destroyed as they are trying to spend money foolishly. Firing the free attorney to pay another; firing the fire chief without any cause, yet still paying him; paying for the fire chief's lawsuit if that comes next; Frei wants to hire a company to dig into the past records and try to prove who done it, cost approximately $7500.00. And on and on. Yet the board will not address the issue of fixing the pumper truck, not running since Dec. thus endangering lives in the district. Frei stated in the Feb 5 meeting that that he wants an all volunteer fire dept, and to fire all paid firefighters. He said those in the audience could come to the station, volunteer. This community of Sunsites is mainly retired people who are not in physical shape to fight fires, that's why we hired the fire fighters. We can afford them now, but if Frei, Jones, and Lance have their way we'll soon be out there ourselves with our garden hoses and shovels. Keep em handy folks.


While I firmly believe in the First Amendment, I also believe that privilege comes with the responsibility to be truthful and straightforward. With that being said, it appears that Zippy doesn't share my values. Zippy needs to get their facts straight. I will address each inaccurate and untruthful point.
1. The 3 Board Members you speak of were elected by the voters within the boundaries of the SPFD (Sunsites Pearce Fire District). I suggest to Zippy that if they don't like the way things are going, Zippy should run in the next election for a seat on the Board or write to their legislator to change the laws that allows each individual board member to vote their conscious.
2. Jill Schultz, SPFD Bookkeeper, has dismissed her Restraining Order against Mr. Frei.
3. The 3 Board Members did not "violate" anything especially the Former Chief's contract. The Former Chief upon signing the contract for his employment specifically agreed to be "Terminated without cause." Nice try...
4. The Cochise County Attorney did not, has not ever provided "free" legal advice to the SPFD. They charged the SPFD for their services. It's a matter of Public Record.
5. The SPFD is out of money. Between Former Chief's Martinez and Petersen’s reckless spending in hiring 25 full time and part time employees and having to hit the "loan button" 11 times so far this fiscal year has left Mr. Frei no choice than to present to the taxpayers the critical nature of our District finances. Please contact Mr. Frei personally; he will walk you through the numbers. He inherited a broken system that did not pay attention to a budget or the will of the taxpayers. I will be writing more about this later.
6. I'm so glad you brought up the IRS debacle. Here are the facts:
a. The former Board was Fino, Roll, McCarter, Jones and Heine. Since 2008 with Mr. Fino as Chairman, set up the By Laws and Ratified them. The Arizona Revised Statutes state that it is the Board, not the Employees of the Board who are totally responsible for any and all financial obligations of the District, including Federal Taxes. Did you know that every single expense over $500.00 is to be approved by the Board prior to even a commitment being made? Not payment, commitment. It has been reported to me that Mr. Fino signed two checks within the same day that in total exceeded $90,000.00. Why would Mr. Fino do that? It was his Board; he was Chairman that Ratified the District’s By Laws restricting any payment over $500.00 without Board approval. More on this later also. Hey Zippy, why don’t you tackle this one.?
So where were Roll and Fino during the time they should have been paying attention to the Districts Federal Taxes.? Due to their irresponsible behavior, they cost the taxpayers of the District thousands of dollars in interest and penalties, plus the fees to an out of state company in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Petersen did not straighten out anything. He panicked..
7. I don't know or really even care how Zippy runs their family finances. One thing I do know and that I care about is when it comes to someone else spending my tax dollars, I want someone at the helm who has the fiscal discipline to tell the truth whether or not it's politically correct. Frei is right. I double checked the Cochise County Assessment for our Fire District for this year. We dropped substantially in the amount of money we can hope to receive in tax revenues. So now Frei has to clean up the mess left over and then find a way to keep the District afloat on less money from the County. Any ideas, Zippy? You very eager to criticize, how about a constructive suggestion?
8. I didn't hear Mr. Frei say that he wanted to disallow income from Wild land’s and ambulance services. What I heard him correctly say was that income from those sources is not a definite and should not be calculated in the budget until the SPFD can run at a surplus. Pretty smart.
9. You are right. Frei does want to hire a forensic auditor to go through the books and records. If I were him, there's no way on earth that I would Certify to the State of Arizona, which he is required to do as Treasurer, that the books and records of the SPFD are complete and accurate. According to Petersen's own report, he claimed that there is over $220,000.00 in errors still not accounted for. It's been reported very conveniently that, "it's all been fixed". If I were Frei, there's no way, with my butt on the line that I would even entertain Certifying those records knowing full well they have been contaminated.
10. In all fairness, what has all of the bickering been about? Access to Public Records. The ARS states that any and all records, papers and digital media of any type (even if it's a Post Note) are the Property of the State of Arizona. I find it very odd that Mr. Fino, Ms. Roll and Mr. Heine all have had or still have (it hasn't been changed) the Administrative Password for the SPFD's accounting software. What the heck is Mr. Fino and Ms. Roll doing signing checks on the District's accounts (plural) two months after the new Board Officers were installed? Why does Mr. Fino and Ms. Roll continue to argue that Mr. Frei as current Treasurer should not have complete access to the financial records? By State Law, he is the one person that is responsible to the State to Certify the books. Why do Mr. Fino, Ms. Roll and Former Chief Petersen still possess the Administrative Password? Seems very hypocritical to me. The taxpayers need to rise up and tell the Board not to tolerate any more of this outrageous behavior. It has now become crystal clear that whatever they are hiding from the taxpayers will eventually come out and there will be any outcry from this community for their heads.

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