Opinion

Expand the fire board/Parks: Robinson

Expand the fire board

There’s a quip in here somewhere about “the fire

department that runs itself.”

But general disinterest by the lay public in vacant fire board positions in recent years nags a bit at this newspaper’s “good government” reflex, as candidates within close proximity of the Bainbridge Island Fire Department’s ranks step forward to lead it almost by default.

Candidates this time around are longtime Seattle firefighter and Bainbridge fire volunteer David Coatsworth, and marine services consultant and former fire volunteer Michael Adams. As profiled in this newspaper previously, both are steeped in the fire service and have the enthusiastic backing of fire commissioner Glen Tyrrell, whose position one of them will fill as Tyrrell steps down. Each boasts such expertise that an endorsement of one over the other would almost be superfluous; Adams would tend to be our preference because he maintains some professional remove from the organization, although Coatsworth would be a fine choice as well.

Still... Islanders should give at least some thought to their representation on this board for the long term. This page has suggested in the past that the fire board be expanded from the present three members, to five. With just three commissioners serving six-year terms, there is no meaningful turnover on the board; those elected enjoy terms only slightly shorter than the papacy or the Supreme Court.

Whereas board members used to be disinterested parties from outside the organization – a triumverate of lawyer, city planner and electrician held the department’s reins for years – failure by the public to step up when seats actually do come vacant has led to a narrow range of choices. This isn’t necessarily bad; as noted, there is a level of expertise offered by those who’ve served in the fire service. But the purpose of having a fire board is nonetheless to have some independent voices oversee the organization’s affairs. If everyone who runs for the board is affiliated with the fire service in some way, the risk of institutional bias is obvious. And what a department thinks is good for itself isn’t necessarily what’s best for the taxpayers or the community.

Whoever prevails in Tuesday’s fire board contest will serve both the department and the public honorably, no doubt. But the new board should make its first order of business a discussion of adding two members, and shortening terms to four years. You can have good representation or poor representation with any system. But it’s hard to go wrong with more representation, and that’s why a five-person fire board still makes sense.

Someone from outside the fire service might even be moved to run again.

Parks: Robinson

Owing to a fluke in the election cycle, 2005 marks the

third time in three years that park board incumbent Kirk Robinson has had to stand for re-election. Currently serving as the board’s chair, Robinson remains a studied and capable voice on park district affairs, and has earned (finally) a full four-year term.

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Endorsements

A recap of the Review’s endorsements for Bainbridge Island races on the Nov. 8 general election:

Mayor: Darlene Kordonowy

City Council, north ward: Debbie Vancil

City Council, central ward, position 5: Kjell Stoknes

City Council, central ward, position 4: John Doerschuk

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