Chino Fire Board Member Williams Officially Rebuked For The Third Time

Having endured two previous censures and constant repudiation by his elected colleagues, Chino Valley Fire Board Member Winn Williams was once again reprimanded last month for his conduct considered unbecoming to the district.
The third censure in eight months was approved by a 3-to-1 vote of the board on October 9, with Williams dissenting and board members John DeMonaco, Sarah Evinger-Ramos and Mike Kreeger voting in favor of placing yet another black check next to Williams’ name. Board member Harvey Luth was absent from the meeting.
The case against Williams, and Williams’ case against the district is a long one, with an origin that involves past administrators, previous board members, and charges by Williams that the district has been incompetently run and tainted by nepotism. District officials counter that Williams has sought, gained and is now using his public office not to benefit those who put their faith in him by electing him but to carry out a personal vendetta.
Williams’ early experience with the district was positive. In 1969, at the age of 21, Williams was hired as a firefighter with the district. At the age of 26, in 1974, he became the youngest fire captain in the 124-year history of the district and its forerunners.
Things moved off course, however, in 2000, when Williams suffered a back injury while on the job. Following an extended leave as a consequence of that injury, he retired in 2002.
In 2004, he was elected to serve a two-year term on the fire board. In 2008, at the age of 59, Williams initiated an effort 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. During that time, Williams consistently sought reelection to the fire board, not achieving success until last year, when he displaced longtime board member Ed Gray.
Williams maintains tense relations between him and other members of the board and the hostility of staff toward him manifested almost immediately upon his swearing in in December 2018, enmity he says is a partially an outgrowth of his having unseated Gray, with whom he says the other members of the board had a chummy relationship.
The four other members of the board – DeMonaco, Luth, Evinger-Ramos and Kreeger – contend that Williams is obsessed with his own personal issues relating to his inability to rehire with the district, which they say has kept him from focusing on the district’s current challenges and demands. Williams having thrice sued the district puts them in an awkward position, they say. 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.
Williams makes note of the fact that Shackelford’s father, Ray Shackelford, was previously the district’s fire chief, and he contends that the district was and is poorly run by both. He says the district is not a meritocracy in which the most capable are promoted, but rather one in which favoritism in the form of cronyism and nepotism dominates.
District officials have made much of an incident that occurred very early in Williams’ most recent tenure as a board member in which he had gone to the district’s headquarters and asked the district’s board secretary, Sandra Heney, to photocopy documents relating to two of his lawsuits, including the original complaints, to provide them to the district’s “conflict resolution” consultant, Mike Messina, whom Williams had been asked to meet with and who, apparently, expressed interest in learning about the basis of Williams’ animus toward the district. District officials maintain that asking Heney to use district equipment to make the photocopies was an inappropriate personal use of the district’s assets. Williams’ interaction with Heney has formed the basis of much of the board’s dispute with Williams. Williams contends his requests of, attitude toward and comportment with Heney has been proper.
In February, the board censured Williams for violations of what the board said were district policy. 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. In June, the board censured Williams once more.
This summer, the board declined DeMonaco’s request that Williams be censured again. At the board’s September 11 meeting, however, Williams openly stated Fire Chief Tim Shackelford was inadequate for the assignment he had been given, and he accused him of indolence in ensuring the firefighters under his command are trained and prepared to fight fires. Citing the so-called Star Fire in Chino Hills that burned 156-acres and a high-priced home on July 28, Williams irascibly intoned, “Our leadership are all paramedics first and firefighting a distant second.” He then leveled this invective toward Shackelford: “You’re a disgrace to this department, and a disgrace to this community, and every day you remain as chief, your incompetent leadership puts the residents of this community at risk.”
In approving the third censure, the board held that such public criticism of district staff is unacceptable, damaging to district employee morale and counter to the efficient operation of the district. The board also relied on a report from Shackelford that said Williams had unscheduled contact with district personnel, and that Williams had gone into non-public areas of the district’s administration building at 14011 City Center Drive on October 2.
Williams was accused of violating rules previously imposed on him limiting his privilege of speaking with or contacting employees of the district, despite his status as an elected board member overseeing the district.
Additionally, DeMonaco objected to what he said was Williams’ gratuitous physical contact with district personnel when he has spoken with them.“If they don’t want to shake your hand,” DeMonaco said, “you are not to touch them.”
Williams said his rivals on the board and Shackelford are “manufacturing” evidence against him. He said the censure carries no legal weight and that the district does not have the authority to limit his right to seek out information he needs to function in his role as a board member.
-Mark Gutglueck

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