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For CRF&R, we like Kreutzer, Marks, Schlumpberger

It’s hard not to be leery when individual candidates campaign in unison for multiple positions on a public agency’s governing board. The temptation to scrutinize is even greater when the band of candidates would constitute a majority of the board for which they are competing.

One possible effect of even well-meaning candidates is that a successful takeover of a small agency could result in a complete disruption to administrative operations, which could trigger all manner of unanticipated fallout.

That is one of the main concerns in the race for open positions on the Columbia River Fire & Rescue board of directors, in which three of the board’s five positions are up for consideration in the May 19 special election.

In this case, three candidates — Ronda Melton, Joshua Marks and Ron Schlumpberger — are campaigning together on the issue of “change” for Positions 1, 2 and 3, respectively.

The incumbents in the race are Mark Kreutzer for Position 1, Kim Walker for Position 2 and Bob Braud for Position 3.

The question is, what do the challengers really want to change? Last week, we reported on an internal investigation into shift-trading among some CRF&R firefighters. We learned, in the course of our reporting, that one of the firefighters who was a subject of the investigation was Melton’s son. In previous correspondence with the Spotlight regarding Melton’s concerns over the hiring of Division Chief Eric Smythe, who we later learned was selected for the position over Melton’s neighbor — she later clarified that he lives half a mile away — and son’s supervisor, Melton was quick to go on the offensive against CRF&R Chief Jay Tappan and Smythe.

There is a pattern of Melton inserting herself into CRF&R affairs, or other community affairs, when those have affected the lives of people close to her, and that’s a major concern. Indeed, one of her campaign assertions is that she would like to “calm some of the inner turmoil that has cost CRF&R tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees already in 2015.” Those legal fees, however, may very well be legitimate, and may involve her son’s involvement in questionable shift-trading practices. On that, the jury is still out.

When asked about the investigation in a questionnaire provided to her, Melton said she was “not at liberty to comment on it at the time,” though, as a candidate and not a restricted board member, we can think of no reason why she would not explain her position vis-á-vis the investigation.

Even more troubling, however, has been Melton’s hasty allegations that she has been defamed or slandered when the people she is attempting to disparage attempt, often rightly so, to defend their actions. She has been quick to throw stones at her political adversaries, but has called foul when any of those ricochet in her direction. Often, she has withheld significant details, such as personal connections to issues, when dealing with us, and only after we have gone deeper in our research and interviews that we have discovered such conflicted interests. She is quick to use the word “transparency,” but it’s unclear she understands that it is expected of her, also.

It’s not that Melton isn’t qualified to be a policymaker on a fire board — she is — but, in this case, she is too conflicted to be effective on the CRF&R board.

Admittedly, we are less familiar with Joshua Marks, a Scappoose Fire District contract firefighter, and Ron Schlumpberger, who works for Pieper Ramsdell Agency as a partner and insurance broker in St. Helens. Both appear well qualified for the position of board member. In discussing their motivations to run for the CRF&R board, each comes off as earnest in a desire to improve administrative operations. Indeed, Schlumpberger was able to cite the effect of homeowners’ insurance premiums increasing due to the administration not supporting the Deer Island station and, though his son is also a firefighter, he is less combative about what that entails and seems more reasonable in accepting that the relationship creates a conflict as a board member.

In Marks’ case, he has years of experience both with CRF&R as a volunteer and a contract firefighter in Scappoose. He says he barely knows Schlumpberger — which raises its own set of questions for why he would align with Schlumpberger, or vice versa, in a political campaign.

Marks points to infighting among CRF&R administrators and its union members, and the damaging effect on morale, as a core issue drawing his attention.

It’s not too difficult to conclude that, should the trio be elected as a group, the union firefighters would effectively have a majority voice on the fire board — in fact, we don’t believe it’s entirely wrong to think of the three candidates’ campaign as an attempted union takeover of the board. Though it is our belief Melton and Schumpberger would have to recuse themselves from decisions affecting their sons, both would be compromised in their ability to effectively weigh in on all CRF&R decisions. That’s a problem. Already, in fact, the challengers have attempted to mislead voters via social media regarding a budgeted line item for Tappan’s salary, offering incomplete information on their Facebook page in an attempt to sway voters to their cause.

Which brings us to the incumbents.

We, too, believe a board change is necessary at CRF&R. We have been dismayed to watch poor financial and operational decisions originate from the administrators and gain the backing of the board members. Former boondoggles, such as the expensive and malfunctioning Lee Broadbent Training Center, as well as gaffes among the administration chiefs, have for too long earned a pass by the incumbent board. We have to wonder what, if anything, would draw scrutiny of administrative operations.

We firmly believe that, as Tappan has indicated his interest in retiring, it is indeed time for him to move on.

A central problem with the fire board and its relationship to the administrators is that it comes off as too cozy, more like a clubhouse than a serious governing board. In this regard, we agree with the challengers that, yes, a “change” is needed for the CRF&R board.

For our picks, we would like to see Mark Kreutzer retained in Position 1 over Ronda Melton, for the reasons discussed, and are going with Marks and Schlumpberger for Positions 2 and 3, respectively. Such a configuration ensures the needed change to the board and could salve wounds between the administration and firefighters’ union, while at the same time not allowing union interests to hold dominion over the board.