East Jefferson fire board picks new member

Posted 9/25/20

Fire commissioners for East Jefferson Fire Rescue have chosen a new commissioner to fill a vacancy on the board, but uncertainty over how the fire department’s district lines will be redrawn …

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East Jefferson fire board picks new member

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Fire commissioners for East Jefferson Fire Rescue have chosen a new commissioner to fill a vacancy on the board, but uncertainty over how the fire department’s district lines will be redrawn has cast doubt on whether the new commissioner will be able to run for the same seat in next year’s election.

The fire board met last week to review four candidates for the District 3 post; Deborah Stinson, Tom Pendley, Frank Benskin, and Ken Przygocki.

The position on the East Jefferson Fire Rescue Board of Commissioners became vacant following the recent resignation of longtime commissioner Richard Stapf Jr.

Stapf stepped down Aug. 19.

After an extended discussion at their Sept. 16 meeting, fire commissioners appointed Stinson to fill the vacant seat.

The appointment was unanimous, and made on a 4-0 vote.

Stinson will serve out the remainder of Stapf’s term, which  ends in December 2021.

Stinson may not be able to run for the position in next year’s election, however.

That’s because the boundaries for each of the fire department’s five commissioner districts are being redrawn, and the process to set new lines has bogged down in talks between the fire department and Jefferson County.

Voters approved new districts last November for the fire department, but the Jefferson County Auditor’s Office later raised concerns with the district’s proposed fire commissioner districts.

Officials with East Jefferson Fire Rescue have since suggested using the county’s district boundaries that are used for county commissioners instead, but talks have stalled as the auditor’s office is currently consumed by the upcoming election.

At last week’s meeting, fire commissioners expressed frustration over not being able to tell the candidates for the board whether or not they were actual residents of the fire commissioner’s district that they would represent, and be eligible to run for election next year.

Some on the board said it was unfair to ask someone to serve in the seat without a reasonable assurance that they could eventually run for the position next November. Still, officials noted residency in a particular fire commissioner district is not required for an appointment.

In the end, fire commissioners decided to appoint Stinson to the seat.

She replaces Stapf, a local fire commissioner for nearly 20 years.

Stapf was first elected as a fire commissioner of Fire District 6 before joining Fire District 1 when the two departments merged in 2005. Officials with East Jefferson Fire Rescue said Stapf was instrumental in the consolidation of the two districts, as well as with the annexation of the city of Port Townsend into Fire District 1.

In his resignation letter, Stapf said he had previously planned to step down before his term ended so his replacement would be ready to run for the seat next year.

“Leaving prior to the end of my term is a decision I made over four years ago,” Stapf wrote in his resignation letter.

“Retiring now allows the board to choose my successor a year in advance of the regular election process, and for that person to gain experience prior to making a decision to run for his position in 2021,” Stapf added.

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