County is hands-off when it comes to internal fire department questions

·2 min read

Jul. 20—Two former board members of the Junaluska Volunteer Fire Department spoke at the Monday county commissioner meeting raising concerns about the district operations.

Vicky Rogers, the treasurer who resigned after the concerns about way the annual meeting was run, questioned whether business owners within the district boundaries could vote and cited the organization's bylaws saying any person who owned property within the district was a member and could vote.

When questions arose on whether some of those attending a June annual meeting lived in the district, she said no action was taken.

Jim Francis, who served on the board for nine years but was voted out in June, warned that there could be problems after the long-time fire chief resigned once he realized what was going on.

"You've lost good people in the fire department, and it's not headed the right way," he warned. "The county gives the money to the fire department to run, so I challenge you to look at it."

Later in the meeting, County Attorney Frank Queen said the issue falls under nonprofit corporation law.

"County involvement with the management of the fire department is entirely just a matter of seeing they comply with two sentences in our agreement," Queen said. "Give notice of the annual meeting, which they did, and provide the opportunity for people in the community to participate in the operation of the corporation. It says nothing more."

That includes offering no guidance on how meetings are conducted or the internal operations of the nonprofit are handled, he said.

Queen said the districts have bylaws they need to comply with, and if there is a dispute among members about what property ownership means or whether the voting process was handled appropriately, that is an internal governance matter.

"I wrote the bylaws 15 — 20 years ago," Queen said of the Junaluska fire district. "They are generic and silent on lot of issues. As long as they respond to dispatched calls, carry out their contract with the county to provide services to folks in the district, they are complying with the terms of our agreement. They provide copies of the audit every year, and Junaluska is one of those that is very well-managed from the county's point of view."

Board Chairman Kevin Ensley asked whether citizens in a fire district would have any recourse if they were unhappy with fire department operations. Queen responded they could hire a lawyer to advise them about the validity of the election process and how that applied to the bylaws.