Vashon, and Fire Chief Vinci, deserved a better process

This was a time for the board to do things methodically, by the book.

The July 20 meeting of Vashon Island Fire & Rescue’s (VIFR) board of commissioners started off like a breath of fresh air, with then-Interim Fire Chief Matt Vinci presenting a detailed, PowerPoint chief’s report.

Vinci — for those who have been out of town on vacation and might have missed the last few issues of The Beachcomber — was hired in late June as the district’s assistant chief but was quickly asked to step up to lead VIFR in the past few weeks, in the wake of a complaint by the district’s four fire captains that prompted the two-week investigation and subsequent termination of Chief Charles Krimmert’s contract on July 14.

But Vinci’s report to commissioners on July 20 reflected none of that drama.

Rather, it detailed the district’s accomplishments in the past few weeks, including such things as Vinci’s swift hires of key personnel in the district, his plans to launch a strategic planning process with community involvement, and his praise for VIFR’s water rescue team in responding to an islander in serious trouble in Quartermaster Harbor.

In this editorial space, The Beachcomber has repeatedly lamented the way that some VIFR commissioners and staff members, including former Chief Krimmert, have comported themselves in public meetings, too often using anger, sarcasm and lecturing as toxic tools of communication.

There was none of that at the July 20 meeting, as Vinci spoke — only a display of professional acumen and sharp focus on team building to center VIFR’s mission to protect the community.

Then, all hell broke loose, when Vinci’s report was followed by commissioner John Simonds’ motion to immediately promote him from the position of interim chief to chief — less than a week after the board had terminated Krimmert’s employment.

After an awkward discussion — during which commissioners asked Vinci, as if bringing it up for the first time, what he thought of the idea, and board chair Candy McCullough, Brigitte Schran Brown and Camille Staczek expressed rare agreement that salary and other negotiations with Vinci should be conducted prior to his hire — a lopsided vote took place, with McCullough as the only no vote, Schran Brown and Staczek abstaining, and Pam King and Simonds voting yes.

As the motion passed, a member of the public in attendance at the Zoom meeting who had accidentally unmuted himself could be heard calling the commissioners a name not suitable for publication in The Beachcomber — a scatological term, questioning their intelligence.

Welcome to Vashon, Chief Vinci.

Frankly, Vinci deserved better, after parachuting into his role during a truly tough time in the district. So did the hero crews who now do their life-saving work under Vinci’s direction, and depend on taxpayers’ trust and support of the district.

The board’s rush to appoint Vinci, McCullough rightly pointed out in a discussion prior to the vote, could have the appearance of seeming pre-planned, and it was financially risky.

This was a time for the board to do things methodically, by the book, and prove to the public that their decision to fire Krimmert had also not been rushed.

Instead, the commissioners did something sure to evoke controversy in the community that will not be at all helpful — especially if they also soon ask for a renewal of the tax levy that supports the district.

It is extremely likely that Vinci would have eventually been hired as chief, given his strong support by members of VIFR, obvious leadership skills and his stated willingness to take on the role.

And as Simonds pointed out, a larger search might not have even been necessary, given the process by which Vinci was so recently vetted to be hired in early June, after a professionally-led national search to serve as assistant chief.

But now we’ll never know. We’re left with Vinci’s appointment as chief by a vote of two commissioners, with the rest abstaining or voting no, after a too-hasty motion.

It’s so disappointing.

We’re left at this point with only two hopes.

In the short term, we hope that Vinci’s example of focused and methodical leadership will somehow rub off on the commissioners.

And in the long term, we hope that other civic-minded islanders will someday step up to fill some of the commissioner seats and prove that this can all be done in a much better way.