Morse challenges Carman in Fire District 2

Bruce Carman and Larry Morse agree that the community has little interest or understanding in what Island County Fire District 2 commissioners do, which they both say is very unfortunate.

After all, the three-person board sets policies and makes decisions affecting the lives of 15,000 people who lived in the 55 square miles the district serves. The commissioners are responsible for overseeing over $1 million in taxpayer money and protecting $1 billion of assessed value in the North Whidbey area.

As experienced volunteer firefighters and taxpayers, both men have a deep interest in seeing that the district is run well, which is why they are vying for the fire commission position. Carman is the 13-year incumbent who has stressed fiscal responsibility. Morse is the critic who has been attending commissioner meetings for nearly a decade.

Morse said his main concern with the way the board is being run is the lack of public input. He said the board has been “a little lax” in following the Open Public Meetings Act. “The ear of the commission for the taxpayers is not there,” he said.

Morse said the board has formed committees to gather input in the past, but then ignored the recommendations.

“It’s real disheartening for volunteers to spend hours doing the best they can,” he said, “then to be totally disregarded.”

Also, Morse said he’s very concerned about the lack of what he sees as long-range planning in the district. He said the commissioners need 20-year fiscal plans that take into account issues like the district’s tax base shrinking as the city of Oak Harbor annexes land. The district covers the area from Libbey Road to Deception Pass, but does not include the city.

“For years and years I have been hounding the commissioners,” he said, “about the need to have a one-year, a five-year, a 10-year and a 20-year plan.”

Carman disagrees with Morse’s assessment. First of all, he said he’s very familiar with state laws, the state administrative code, federal regulations and other rules governing fire districts and commissions. He said the commission follows there laws closely, including the Open Meetings Act.

In addition, he said the board is “making progress” in long-range planning and communication within the department. He said the commissioners currently have, “in writing,” a five-year budget, a five-year facility plan and a 10-year plan for equipment and apparatus.

He said the plans were created with input from officers within the district.

Carman points out that the district has long been financially responsible, which has been his focus as commissioner. “We’ve always passed state audits,” he said. “We’ve always operated in the black and always stayed fiscally within our means.”

Carman said one of his greatest accomplishments was to get the district’s rating lowered through the Washington State Ratings Bureau, which allows taxpayers to save money on homeowner’s insurance.

Yet Carman admits that his choices as commissioner may not always please everyone. “I am able to make some of the tough decisions I think are best for the district as a whole,” he said. “There has been some hurt feelings.”

One decision that caused some heat was the commissioners’ decision to go from two chiefs to one chief. The commissioners hired long-time chief Marc Koorn last year and did away with the chief position held by Mick Lamar.

Morse is one of the volunteers who was unhappy about the way the commissioners went about giving Koorn the job. They didn’t advertise for the position, as is the policy in hiring other district personnel. He said the commissioners also refused to listen to public comments during a public meeting.

Carman explained that the commissioners asked Lamar about the position, but he wasn’t interested. He believes the district runs better now with only one chief who has the time to handle administration. He said the commissioners were guilty of micromanaging the district in the past because much of the administration fell to them, but that’s changed.

In addition, Carman said there is “far better communication between the commissioners and the officers” with a single chief. With two chiefs, he said the district was more divided and separated.

But another thing the candidates agree on is that the district’s 85 volunteer firefighters are amazingly dedicated and are vital to the district. The volunteers save the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. While other districts are turning to paid staffs, District 2 is still run by volunteers who handle over 1,000 calls a year.

The volunteers have to go through extensive training to become firefighters and emergency medical technicians.On top of that, many folks go through additional training to be part of water rescue or the high-angle rescue teams.

“The volunteers we have are great,” Morse said. “They like to get out and do things.”

“I couldn’t speak any more highly of the volunteers and they time they put in,” Carman said. “The hours that these people put in is just phenomenal.”

Larry Morse

Age: 59

Family: Wife, Kathy, four children and five grandchildren

Experience: Volunteer firefighter in district for 26 years; currently a battalion chief; president of homeowners’ association in Polnell Shores.

Education: BA in business administration from Central Washington University; postgraduate classes in appraisal.

Employment: 28 years in administration with Pacific Northwest Bank; worked for Washington Mutual before that; plans to be self-employed.

Familiarity with area: Moved to island in 1975.

Bruce Carman

Age: 64

Family: Wife, Irene, two children and four grandchildren

Experience: 25 years as a volunteer with fire district, 15 years as assistant chief, commissioner for 13 years; attended numerous fire command training and fire commissioners conferences.

Employment: Retired from civil service at Navy base; retired chief petty officer.

Familiarity with area: Moved to island in 1974.

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