News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Fire district battles to pick up pieces

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

The Idanha-Detroit Rural Fire Protection District is moving quickly to move beyond a governing challenge that has left its board short four members.

Don Tesdal of Detroit, a volunteer with the fire district, is the lone current board member as Lyn Schultz, Jeff Skeeters, Linda Tice and Charene Ziebert as well as interim chief Chad LaVallee all have resigned.

The key issue that led to the resignations was a possible move to eliminate the position of Laura Harris of Idanha, the lieutenant/office administrator for the district. Although final action on the change never was taken, the proposal roiled the communities of Detroit and Idanha. There was a packed house for the Feb. 23 meeting at which the topic was discussed and social media was awash in discussions of the issue.

“Our community greatly respects her,” Tesdal told The Canyon Weekly.

Harris serves as a district volunteer in addition to her part-time work for the district, and Tesdal said she would no longer have been able to afford to live in the Canyon without the salary from the district position. 

“And she responds to virtually every call we get,” Tesdal said.

It’s an extraordinary occurrence for a fire district board to be reduced to one member, but in a style reminiscent of how the Santiam Canyon has battled back from the Labor Day 2020 wildfires, the Canyon and the wider community have gotten to work to tackle the challenge.

Tesdal has received multiple applications from the community, and consultations have taken place with the Special District Association of Oregon, local elected officials, district general counsel Ross Williamson of the Local Government Law Group and the Marion County Board of Commissioners.

The three-person commission will gather and review applications and appoint four new members, said Chad Ball, a policy analyst in the commissioners’ office. State statutes and the district bylaws both call for the county involvement in this situation, said Commissioner Danielle Bethell.

Applications that Tesdal has gathered will be forwarded to the commissioners, and Ball said an email will go out to a Canyon message list advising community members how to get involved. Those with questions should email [email protected]. 

Although no dates have been set, both Ball and Tesdal said things will happen quite quickly, with application reviews, public interviews and appointments all taking place within the next couple of weeks.

Then, the new board must set a date to meet and select a new interim chief.

“It is an unusual situation,” Bethell told The Canyon Weekly. “It’s pretty rare for virtually an entire board to resign.”

Budget-wise the district is in solid shape, said Tesdal, noting that losses in the property tax revenue the district depends on from fire damage will be offset by the rise in property values that is expected from rebuilding. Also, the district has a $2.4 million grant arranged by state Sen. Fred Girod that will pay for a new station.

“We have a lot of helping hands in Detroit and Idanha waiting for the new board to be installed so we can turn this into a success story,” Tesdal said. “Folks here are excited about the future.”

Bethell said that the fire district experiencing challenges is not a surprise given the chaos and trauma of the wildfires.

“And recovery is hard with all that has been going on,” she said. “It can be difficult to get a good, solid foundation. It’s going to take a really, solid board willing to work with its partners to be successful.”

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