The Oregon Department of Forestry last week reclaimed a federally owned brush truck it had lent to Wallowa Lake Rural Fire Protection District just as the district lost another board member.
Bill Bushlen, a Joseph real estate broker, told the Chieftain he resigned from the district board in a letter because his business required more of his time. Bushlen was the only board member who actually lives in the district.
"I just don't have the time," Bushlen said. "I have lost three agents out of the office and there's too much to do."
In January, Angie Rubin of Joseph left the board, citing the adversarial nature of recent board meetings. The three remaining members face the possibility of a recall campaign being discussed by district residents.
Board president Chuck Havens said the board will discuss the vacancies at its next meeting April 16 at the fire hall.
As anticipated, ODF officials removed the truck from the lake fire hall March 15 and delivered it to Wallowa Rural Fire Protection District. ODF officials had told the board the move was necessary because the Wallowa district has firefighters who can use the truck, while Wallowa Lake has been without any firefighters for several months.
The truck, a large pickup with a water tank, pump and hose reel, can be operated by just two firefighters and had been the only lake fire truck used in the recent past.
ODF will try to find a new truck or engine for the lake when the district has a stable group of firefighters, ODF Wallowa Unit Forester Mike Shaw has told the board.
The eight-year-old district doesn't own any operable engines or trucks. It now is left with a surplus engine lent by Joseph Fire Department but which requires at least three firefighters to operate.
Doug Buska, co-owner of Wallowa Lake Resort and the district's last firefighter until he resigned in January, has been asking residents by e-mail whether they would support a recall of the remaining members. They are Havens, who lives in Clarkston, Wash., and Dale Mammen and Greg Blackman of La Grande.
Buska and other residents have protested the board's hiring of a lawyer to negotiate terms of a new fire protection contract with Joseph, their telling the lawyer to check into suing Joseph Fire Chief Tom Clevenger and their ordering Clevenger to communicate with them only through the lawyer, J. Kenneth Jones of Eugene.
In an e-mail, Buska asked residents to tell him whether they support or oppose a recall and whether they would agrees be among at least 15 signors on a recall petition.
Havens said he prefers for recall proponents to wait.
"I would like the process to go through," he said. "Our attorney has been talking with the city attorney, and I an sure a contract will be concluded very shortly."
If the board members are recalled or they resign in the face of the threat, county officials are prepared to name an interim board, the Chieftain has learned. At least six district residents reportedly have agreed to be on a new board that would reverse most of what the current board has started and simply sign a new contract with Joseph.
The Joseph contract expires at the end of June. Clevenger has recommended to his city council a one-year contract with a rate increase of 15 percent.