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2015-03-26

Turmoil continues at Lakeshore VFD

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Recently, it's been "now you see us, now you don't" for firefighters with the Lakeshore Volunteer Fire Department. As of this writing, they're all back on the job, but as the saying goes, "It ain't over till it's over."
According to Michael "Mike" Hoskins, president of the Lakeshore VFD Executive Board of Directors, the brouhaha began after a regular board meeting on Friday, March 13. "We had a really good meeting and all the reports went well," he said during an interview on Monday, March 23. He indicated that a lot of flotsam and jetsam from a "previous administration" was well on its way to being corrected.
"Financially, the department is doing well and our taxes have been filed and are now up to date. A CPA reported on the 501(c)(3) [nonprofit status] we've been working to get reinstated retroactively to the date of loss," Hoskins said. "We have also secured a grant and new truck. We thought everything was going well."
As Hoskins noted, the good will generated during the board meeting took a rapid downward spiral the next day, during a Saturday, Sept. 14, membership meeting.
At that meeting, the chairman of an investigative committee asked the members to change the order of the agenda, enabling her to speak first, Hoskins said. Her request was approved. However, rather than present her report as was noted on the original agenda, the woman instead offered 44 proposed amendments to the department's by-laws.
At the time the previous administration was replaced, the VFD membership had approved forming an investigative committee, Hoskins explained. "The committee was supposed to look into alleged improprieties," he noted. That report, however, has never been presented.
Hoskins characterized the woman's recent presentation as "very confusing" because she purportedly skipped randomly from proposed by-law to by-law. Her main arguments seemed to be that background checks had not been completed on the firefighters and few are certified.
"Certification as a firefighter is recommended, but it certainly is not mandated," Hoskins said. "The Texas Commission on Fire Protection does not require certification of firefighters and only oversees 'voluntary' certification as per Texas Government Code Title 4, Subtitle D, Section 419.071. He added, "Since the members approved allowing her to speak, I could only preside over the meeting."
As the woman's protracted report continued, members dwindled from 20 to 12 or 13 as Hoskins recalled. "At the end of the meeting, 11 people voted to terminate all of the volunteer firefighters from the chief on down," he said. "Since I serve as the department's engineer, I was also terminated."
In response, Hoskins assembled information for an emergency board meeting. "I wrote a nine-page letter of dissent to the terminations and gave 48 hours notice as required for the emergency board meeting." The meeting took place on Thursday, March 19.
Concerns in Hoskins' letter of dissent included:
• Proposed standards are inappropriate and violate the LSVFD corporate charter
• Proposed standards are more prescriptive than authorized by law
• Proposed standards would be a safety burden to the district
• Process used to create them was flawed
The listed concerns also referenced appropriate articles of the department's corporate charter that had been filed with the Office of the Texas Secretary of State in December 1979.
During the March 19 board meeting, all directors signed Hoskins' letter, as well as a resolution challenging what they consider to be illegal terminations of the firefighters. The resolution rescinded the firefighters' terminations and requested that they return to duty.
"If the board's decision is not upheld by the membership, we will all resign as a cohesive unit," Hoskins said. "The membership cannot force us to enforce an illegal action, which the terminations on March 14 were."
Another membership meeting has been scheduled for 10:30 am, Saturday, March 28, at the Lakeshore VFD station house, 9019 Wharton's Dock Road.
"Usually, these meetings are open to members only, but since this fire department serves the entire community, I'm asking everyone to attend this very important meeting," Hoskins said. He expects the board's resolution to be ratified at the Saturday meeting.
To make perfectly clear where he stands on the previous kerfuffle, Hoskins said, "I don't like politics. I don't want to be in politics. I just want my fire department to be allowed to function."