Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Story No One Covers

There is a culture of government corruption in these islands, and its meme carries with it a narrative that says, "Give us money or else we'll all die." We've seen this meme at work when it comes to phony environmental "protection." It also seems to be at play with some of our police, safety, and fire departments on occasion. They're willing to save us, as long as they get lots of cash up front.

While attention has been focused on the San Juan Christmas hayride, some strange incidents also are being talked about on Orcas, where the nephew of Randy Gaylord, Kevin O'Brien, is Chief of the Orcas Fire Department. Orcasites approved a controversial levy several years ago that was advertised as necessary for capital infrastructure (another new firehouse and new fire-fighting equipment), only to have Chief O'Brien recently reallocate those funds to payroll, including creating new paid positions, including a new, highly-paid deputy. Now the "temporary" levy is up for renewal, and the Chief is claiming that if it is not renewed, services will have to be cut. These events have occurred against a backdrop of many rumors of bad behavior by the Orcas Fire Department ... everything from having dinner flown in from Bellingham ... to staff using the Fire Department washing machines as their personal publicly funded laundromat.

New questions have arisen about the Orcas Fire Department sparked by an accident involving Jack Delisle, one of those hired by O'Brien. In short, Delisle got into a single-car accident at about 2am back in March 9, 2013. He ran a car off the road and into a ditch. The car was owned by another member of the Fire Department, Nick Kiniski. Yet another member of the Fire Department, Seth Ybarra, came to Delisle's aid after the crash, pulled the car out of the ditch, and towed it to Fire Station 21, where Kininski was on duty that night as a paramedic.

As some Orcasites tell it, the gist of the concern is this: a member of the Orcas Fire Department (Ybarra) allegedly removed evidence of a crash involving a drunken driver member of the Fire Department, did not properly notify the police, and let the injured driver disappear from the scene. Earlier that night, the driver had been attending a party at the Chief's house to celebrate his (Delisle's) hiring. The Chief had served food and alcohol at the party.

A detailed report of what happened is provided in the scanned pages shown below, and it includes some commentary and questions inserted by a concerned citizen on Orcas. This story has not been reported anywhere, so perhaps Orcasites can shed some further light on these events. With the "temporary" levy up for renewal, issues of Departmental integrity and responsibility are on the minds of many on Orcas.

In other news, the latest draft of the CAOs is undergoing public comment this week. As bad as the last Council was regarding the CAOs, the new Council has been worse. Their public participation record is awful. Their ability to think through the issues is abysmal, and their "fixes" to the CAOs have done nothing to correct its fundamental flaws. In its latest CAO version, the Council has decided to abandon the last Council's system for buffers and replace it with another one that is equally flawed. For more information, please visit the CSA website. This Council is just as much in the pocket of the Friends as the last one.

In addition, Councilman Jamie Stephens was seen in Olympia this past week. He attended hearings put on by the House Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee regarding Ecology's practice of sending out threatening letters. Stephens didn't testify, but he sat in the last row near the door next to the Sierra Club representatives ... being very Friendly.


  1. The way things are going, I doubt here in the wild West, if Ms. Buffum has to worry if her tail lights or directional blinkers are working.

    Pitiful; both the shrunken balls and heads.

  2. I am a Firefighter/FR with OIFR. I work with the people mentioned in this article frequently. I trust them with my life.

  3. That's not really the point Brian. The question a lot of we Orcasites have is if we trust them with our money? Do we trust them to tell the truth? Trusting people with our lives doesn't mean they can do whatever they want and lie to us. Does it?

  4. I have not seen any misrepresentation, lack of integrity, or fiscal ineptitude during my time with the department. It is frankly one of the better-run organizations I have been involved with, and I used to help run one of the Fortune's "Top Places to Work in America" for years.

    Based on what I have observed, I trust OIFR. And I don't think they "do whatever they want and lie to us."

  5. How can a trained firefighter/EMS person take a call, go to an accident, and not call 911 immediately? How is that not a breach of protocol?

    How did the driver drive the damaged vehicle to the fire station if it had exploded airbags and enough damage to be totaled?

    How did the trained firefighter/EMS who first responded and then moved the crashed car manage to "lose" the driver? Did he assess the driver? Where are the incident reports about that? You all remember the poor woman who wandered away form the scene of a crash and died due to exposure?

    Why did the responding department member call dispatch and simply leave a message for the deputy? And the deputy calls back a few hours later? Does that satisfy the requirements about reporting accidents?

    Just asking. What does the law require? And how could it be that none of these people told the host chief O'Brien what was going on?

  6. well I tell you what, I can tell you one thing for certain. the OIFR was on hell of a lot more trustworthy when they had a whole lot less money to fuck you out of

  7. @Brian

    Then how do you explain the police report and the valid questions being asked? Have you seen the contradictory official statements about the levy? If not, maybe I will copy them here.

    I respect your past success, and I think you are a good public servant, but whatever you've done in your life up to now carries as much weight as anyone else who has moved here after leading a successful life in the rest of America, only to be ignored by the likes of Bob Gamble, Shireene Hale, or Patty Miller. Thought bigotry is the MO here. I do not practice it myself, but trying to establish personal credibility based on the ethos of your past experience means nothing here.

    We are trying to talk about facts and evidence, not who has the better background. You say you have not seen any evidence yourself of bad faith dealing. Maybe you can comment on the evidence at hand or review the evidence in the form of past comments about the levy.

  8. It's who you know, not what you know.


  9. Here on orcas, you have to "not just know the right people" you need to be the right people, the island click", that once ran together, runs the rest of us now, and that connected to authority when he entered government employment, created a very ugly ruthless dictatorship that serves to destroy the fabric that was made of island love.
    Discretion to benefit human respect and empathy has turned to a nasty disregard for individuals somehow different but no less of men.
    As well, all of this created of utter ignorance has served similar obstacles on rules that are brought to govern. The purposes of governance no longer is brought to serve, but to deny. To deny everything that matters especially a tradition of love, of empathy and of respect towards others. To deny this is to fail to recognize those several parties that have been so pitifully beaten bullied and harmed. We all know some of them. Please stand up for your neighbors. Don't allow your government to injure any other where there there is an absence of the concept of harm, in intent or effect. Defend human, privacy, and property rights together with ecological rights.

  10. Why can't we just vote them all out of office
    Prepare the petition, I'll sign, will you?

  11. Who would we put in office? Look at the dunces we put on the council. They ran like they were different from their opponents, but the result is no different. Screw Bob and Rick.

  12. If the chief is the nephew of the prosecuting attorney, only one word pops out:


    A normal indicator of casual cronyism. Like Norm Dicks son hired to run the Puget Sound Partnership like boogie nights.

    Of course, there may be no nepotism here at all. This is all on the up and up. But you know what the standard is? The "mere appearance of a conflict of interest." If there is a whiff, the public has a right to take a look. If there ain't nothing there, we'll move along, no problem.

    But right now, we smell a whiff. Dinner being flown in from Bellingham sounds too much like Junior Dicks doling out sweetheart contracts to daddy's golfing buddies.

    Disclosure: I volunteered for District III for a number of years. A finer team you will not find. God bless them

  13. Regarding the CAO's we can expect will be enacted/ you would think, at any stage in their preparation before implementation there would be open public discussion regarding the injury they are about to do to most of your island neighbors. And they do injury to you where they impose buffers like a net right over your existing home and yard. your rights to act at will in your yard are subject not to the harm clause, but to the limited by a table of possible activities you may pursue. without permission by the higher authority that will exist in your county government. If this doesn’t make your skin crawl, you do not understand what America you live in, nor do you deserve that citizenship

  14. @8:22am

    Sadly, the Council doesn't care. "We are forced to comply with the GMHB and the DOE" or we won't get grants. The FOSJ and the Eco-Loons have won another round in the march toward de-population of the Islands and establishment of the Wildlands project goals. Just wait until FOSJ gets serious about regulating our lives in order to "mitigate and adapt to" Climate Change. Mandatory electrical power cuts, limits on gasoline and propane consumption, abolition of meat in diets, pre approval required for off island travel, and so on...

  15. It is amazing. Bob and Rick had an easy excuse to park the CAO's on the sideline simply because it made good sense to wait until the lawsuits were decided. And, because they should have immediately started serous work on the failing economics of our islands.

    Instead these two went off and running with wild abandon to try and resolve a huge issue that they know little about.


    (I don't think even Buffum has that much juice, but staff does.)

  16. "Blank the GMHB and the DOE" will they show up to defend you or your land, or you work to strengthen the grounds you cherish, to tend the trails to clear the litter thrown from the autos and trucks, to pull the thistle and remove the numerous noxious plants brought by the ducks and geese and other fowl that we also protect. no benefit for our good will to keep everything as clean as we can, no incentive given to oust nasty chemicals or to join our neighbors in forging new and better ways to improve our environment. "BUFFERS" the idiots means to secure blight in your nearest neighborhood.

  17. John Evans in Doe Bay on Orcas Island says

    I served as a volunteer fire fighter on Orcas for 15 years. During that time we had 3 or 4 different fire chiefs. The current fire chief, Kevin Obrian is by far the best we have had in this position.

    I agree with comments by Brian Ehrmantraut regarding our Orcas Fire Department. The folks who are the staff and volunteers in the Fire Department are first class citizens with the community's interest at heart.

    If the biggest complaint that "anonymous" has about the fire department is Chinese food and helping a fellow firefighter get a car out of the ditch we are in pretty good shape.

    As for "anonymous" it is time to get a new hobby and move on. Most of us on Orcas are very happy with the Chief, his staff and volunteers. The department is in the best shape it has ever been in. Please support the levy request.

    Thank you for your service.

  18. Instead of reacting defensively, it might be better for the levy if John Evans and Brian Ehrmantraut acknowledged the concerns and responded to them. Right now, you are helping the levy to lose.

    At a meeting a week or two ago with Under-Sheriff Distler about a suspected local meth house, he was asked. "Why can't you put a drug snuffing dog at the ferry when you know this guy is making a meth-buying run to the mainland" a homeowner asked. "Because the dog would gave to be properly trained" said the Under-Sheriff. "Well we assume you would use a trained dog". "Well he has to have the right papers too. This has to stand up in court." "Any other questions?" Oh ok. Sure. I get why you can't do it. (?)

    I think the public is tired of being stiffed like this. The Under-Sheriff's report about the Fire Department seems like the same thing.

  19. The questions that come to my mind reading this police report and comments are:

    When the prior levy was sought it was supposed to be a one-time thing for capital expense, like the Deer Harbor firehouse and new smaller trucks. I just saw a story from a year ago in which the Fire Dept said it would be reducing the levy before its expiration because the capital expenses were done. Now, we need it all to pay personnel costs?

    I don't think the piece is an attack on the whole department but rather on management. And it has two components. 1, where are the balloning personnel costs coming from and 2, why won't the commissioners or chief answer questions about the use of public property for private purposes (car repairs, boat repairs, laundromat) and the really big one Was there unprofessional or illegal behavior in response to the crash after the cheif's party. Questions of special privileges--like no record of the on scene eval by the dept member who got the call about the car crash and the fact that the driver was allowed to disappear for a day rather than have a breath test.

    We can like and support our fire and EMS team a lot but questions have been asked and no one has given a straight answer.

    Is there a rule that staff cannot use public property for their own purposes? Is it followed, or winked at? Just for one.

  20. Dear Brian and John,
    I appreciate and admire your service to the community. However, as I understand it, neither of you have been attending Fire Commissioner meetings. You have a chief that apparently lied to the commissioners in a public meeting about this accident . The chief said that this was a "minor" accident when in fact the truck was a total loss. The chief said that there were "no injuries" when in fact the driver, under oath, complained of "ear pain" the day of the accident! The chief said that the accident was "reported promptly" when in fact the personnel that responded to the accident scene did not report it.
    Chief O'Brien told the volunteers last fall that "If you lie you cannot be a part of Orcas Fire"... now it is time for the chief to man up. Anyone involved in this should resign and save the good name of Orcas Fire and Rescue...

  21. Was thinking of relocating but with people like you I think I'll look elsewhere. Sounds to me like there is some bad blood between you and the fire department and you are reacting like a child who didn't get their way.

  22. Was thinking you won't be missed. We already have enough people who dodge the issues and call people names.

  23. I have huge respect and huge gratitude for Orcas Fire--including all the great volunteers and the unquestionably wonderful work they do. This is not even remotely related to or in any way questioning their work or integrity.

    The issue here is that the Chief in a written public statement characterized the 3/8/2013 vehicle accident involving a fire department employee as "minor" when he knew the vehicle was totaled and there was a substantial insurance payout, and that it followed a party at his house with alcohol where one guest in his statement to the police said he fell asleep on the couch around 8pm and slept for hours! (Not normal behavior at a party at your boss' house!) It appears did the FD not follow their own normal protocol for such an incident, and the Sheriff did not interview anyone until about 12 hours after the accident, Here is the Chief's statement as printed in Orcas Issues (10-11-2013). The Commissioners backed him up and said the public needed to "respect" the department. Their statement follows the Chief's:

    "On Tuesday, Oct. 8, Orcas Fire and Rescue Chief Kevin O’Brien made a statement addressing rumors that have been circulating anonymously about recent incidents involving Fire and Rescue personnel and expenses.

    Chief O’Brien read the following statement at the regular meeting of the Orcas Island Fire and Rescue District (OIFRD) Board of Commissioners. His statement read:

    Certain malicious rumors regarding Orcas Island Fire and Rescue have been circulating in the island gossip mill. These rumors contain profound misinformation. The following are the actual facts regarding each of the events in question.

    Vehicle Accident
    Over six months ago, I hosted a private barbeque dinner for my family and friends. After I had turned in for the night, I learned that one person had a minor accident after the individual had left my home. Fortunately, no one was hurt and no public property was damaged. The San Juan County Sheriff’s Department was promptly notified of this incident, and I determined that no official action was needed by the Fire Department."

    (Note: Chief O'Brien's full statement in Orcas Issues does not end here, but continues about other issues.). Here us the Commissioners supporting statement:

    "Following O’Brien’s statement, Barbara Bedell, Chair of the Orcas Island Fire and Rescue Board of Commissioners, then read the following statement:

    I believe that it is important to note that the key word in the new Strategic Plan for Orcas Island Fire and Rescue is “respect,” and I believe that this Commission and Chief O’Brien have acted respectfully and with good faith and have tried very hard to engender the public trust.

    Both the Commission and Chief O’Brien deserve to be treated in the same manner instead of in an adversarial environment that accomplishes nothing. The negative public comment, the rumors that have been spread with no attempt at determining their accuracy, and the interference that the Commission and the Staff have had to contend with are unwarranted, undeserved, and do little to improve the Commissioners’ governance or help the Staff fulfill the mission of Orcas Island Fire and Rescue in a beneficial and constructive way. With the issues that Chief O’Brien has just clarified, I hope that we can go forward from this point on in a spirit of cooperaton with more positive dialogue and reasonable civil discourse."

    The Orcas Fire volunteers deserve better leadership and Commissioners' oversight/analysis than this. And certainly all are capable of doing better than this.

  24. To me this is more about poor police work than a fire department cover up! Not to say there wasn't cover up. The sheriffs department is paid to find the facts without good ole boy benefits. If the officer did his job, there would have been no hiding the truth. This goes to the top once again NAU. Unfortunatly no one in power is willing to stir the pot, fearing that their shit will surface in the corruption soup.

  25. It is truly fascinating how often people that have done things wrong or want to protect people that have done things wrong attack the messenger. No wonder citizens are afraid to attach their names.
    The truth is that Orcas Fire has some major issues to explain.

  26. Per the Commissioners Meeting last night 2/11/2014, the fire dept is planning to buy all new appliances-- 2 clothes washers, 2 clothes dryers, 2 dishwashers, a 30 inch wall oven, along with a $1600 extended warranty....all totaling over $9300. Do you think all their existing appliances just all went kaput at once?

  27. I guess that explains what happened to this from last year's news:

    Orcas Fire's current levy runs through 2014. Because the district doesn't have to make bond payments now, it doesn't require as much money from the levy. This means it could put a reduced levy before voters prior to 2014.

    “Now we can reduce taxes that go to the fire department by 10 percent,” Anda said. “(Paying off the bonds) really gives us some flexibility.”

    Never happened. And Anda departed. Hhhmm.

  28. "the rumors that have been spread with no attempt at determining their accuracy"?

    That's kind of funny, when you consider that all the people asking questions want is the facts.

    The chief's statement is belied by the police report. When he made it he was clearly trying to avoid the truth. Promptly reported? No, the call to dispatch was not a report; it was a message for a particular deputy to call back. That happened hours later. When all traces of the "facts" were gone. How are we supposed to react to that? engendering trust and respect? Don't think so.

    And then there's the damage-control dodge of choice here in the islands:

    With the issues that Chief O’Brien has just clarified, I hope that we can go forward from this point on in a spirit of cooperaton with more positive dialogue and reasonable civil discourse."

    It's civil when they tell you what they want; it's uncivil when you ask questions. And the fairly obvious discrepancies are treated as if they do not exist.

    Looking forward to the town hall meeting on the levy. When is that?

  29. "It appears to me that we are focused on transforming (the fire department)into a fully paid program…... "

    -- Hilary Canty from her letter to editor 2009

  30. This letter was written 6 years ago concerning the previous OIFR administration. I was vocal about my concerns then and equally vocal about my respect of our current leadership. Chief O'Brien has made significant staffing changes and reorganized the administrative structure to handle the ever increasing demands on the department. If anyone would like to discuss the department with me, I welcome the conversation. I do request, however, that it be done openly and honestly without the cloak of anonyminity. Give me a call and we can schedule a talk.

  31. It should be noted that Hilary Canty is part of the Fire Department and is VERY tight with the Obrien clan. She also wields more political power on Orcas than any other person. I'm sure if she made the above statement, she meant it and will support it come hell or high water.

    On Orcas she holds the purse strings, so everyone will fall in line behind her and do as they are instructed.

    The sad part here is not that drinking and driving happened, it's the institutional inability to step forward and say "We screwed up. We're gonna make sure the truth comes out and then we're gonna fix it".

    This mentality exists in EVERY public institution in the county and it is odd. If any of these leadership concerns were present in a private business, they would be solved VERY quickly.

  32. Former Fire District Commissioner Duff Andrews expressed concern that the different budgets for capital improvements and operations were getting mixed up.

    "Administrative costs have gone up $250,000 per year; the scale has really gotten out of balance.

    "In 2014, when we all go to the polls, it will be a different ball game. It's as simple as that," Andrews said.

    Bob Phalan, department volunteer and former commissioner said, "If the levy isn't approved – and it looks like we can't wait until 2014 – the service we're building will be very difficult to maintain. The $90,000 [Battalion Chief salary] is a torpedo in this community.

    "I'm glad people are here... and hope that you do listen."

    Andrews added "Listen and act."

  33. Why does Orcas suddenly need a whole new level of admin at an extra $90,000 a year? Insights from not one but two former commissioners, Phalan and Andrews.

    Next we'll hear that the department wants to hire a public relations person. Come to think of it, that might make sense.

    No on the levy.

  34. Interesting.

  35. @11:55

    Great compilation of reports about The Great Sandwich Caper, but I'm not really sure what it has to do with drunken driving and criminal coverup by the fire department.

  36. Desperate people desperately trying to hold on to their six figure salaries and overblown benefits packages paid for by actual working people will apparently stoop to anything to distract voters from the truth.
    A truly sad commentary revealing the underbelly of Orcas Island.

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