Chino Valley Fire Board Mulls Third Censure For Williams

The Chino Valley Independent Fire District Board this week voted to consider censuring board member Winn Williams for a third time in less than eight months at its upcoming October 9 meeting.
Personality conflicts have plagued the relationship between Williams, a former fire captain employed by the district, and his fellow board members from very shortly after he assumed office late last year.
Williams previously served a two-year term on the board from 2004 to 2006 and was returned to the board by voters last November. After he retired from the district as a firefighter in 2002 following an extended leave following an injury on the job in 2000, Williams in 2008 initiated an effort, at the age of 59, to be rehired as a firefighter, asserting he had by that point recovered from his injury. When the district declined to rehire him, he engaged in a series of three legal actions to be reinstated as a firefighter, two in state court and one in federal court, all of which were ultimately unsuccessful.
Williams maintains the tense relations between him and other members of the board and the hostility of staff toward him that manifested almost immediately upon his swearing in in December 2018 is unnecessary and unjustified. He says the enmity he is subjected to is an outgrowth of his having unseated in last year’s election longtime board member Ed Gray, with whom he says the other members of the board had a chummy relationship.
The four other members of the board – John DeMonaco, Harvey Luth, Sarah Evinger-Ramos and Mike Kreeger – contend that Williams is obsessed with his own personal issues relating to his inability to rehire with the district, which prevents him from focusing on the district’s current challenges and demands. They say that having to work with a board member who has thrice sued the district puts them in an awkward position. His constant negativism with regard to the department’s personnel, in particular Fire Chief Tim Shackelford, prevents them from having even the semblance of productive discussions with him, they contend.
The declension in the working relationship between Williams and his colleagues and key district staff was so immediate that by February, little more than two months after Williams had assumed office, he was censured by a vote of his colleagues. That censure was based on the contention that Williams was unduly harassing district employees and making use of district assets for his personal use. Williams denied the allegations.
Censures of elected officials are exceedingly rare, and usually are a move of last or near-last resort by members of a governing board against a colleague with whom they do not get along. The February censure of Williams appears to be the most rapid application of the censure process against an elected official in San Bernardino County history.  It carried with it the imposition of what can only be described as extraordinary conditions that place extensive limitations on how and under what circumstances Williams can interact with, monitor and come in contact with district employees. It also restricts Williams’ access to district facilities.
Williams’ contention has been that the restrictions that had been placed upon him interfered, unnecessarily and illegally, with his ability to function as an elected representative of the voters in his capacity as a board member overseeing the district’s operations.
Four months after his initial censure, in June, the board censured Williams a second time, on that occasion for his having disregarded the expectations of his comportment set out in the February censure.
There seemed to be little improvement in the relationship between Williams and the other members of the board thereafter. Indeed, from week-to-week and month-to-month, it seemed, the other four members of the board were in a competition with one another to establish which one of them had the most pointed differences with Williams.
In August, DeMonaco sought a third censure against Williams, based on an incident that occurred after the conclusion of the fire board’s July 10 meeting, which he said consisted of Williams having had physical contact with him on his back and neck as they were engaged in an intense argument. Williams insisted that DeMonaco was mischaracterizing and exaggerating a gesture that was made as he voiced a sincere appeal to see if the contretemps between him and the rest of the board could be resolved. The remainder of the board declined to join with DeMonaco in having Williams reproved publicly and officially a third time, what some interpreted as a signal that a more civil accommodation among all five board members was in the offing.
Little more than a month later, however, Williams’ contempt for Chief Shackleford was again on display with several of his comments from the board dais at the September 11 meeting.
According to Williams, Shackleford has continued to evince a level of “incompetence” which he said “has put this entire community in danger.”
That proved to be too much for DeMonaco, Luth, Evinger-Ramos and Kreeger, who voted 4-to-0, with Williams abstaining, to consider the third censure of Williams at the first board meeting in October. That censure motion was not based upon Williams’ comments aimed at Shackleford but rather his previous criticism of the district’s clerk of the board, Sandra Heney.

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