“He gave us notice, but it was fairly sudden,” explains Steve Roy, the new acting chief in the wake of Scott Waldron’s extended leave of absence from the Frenchtown Rural Fire Department.
At a public meeting Aug. 18—the first since news broke of Waldron’s July 25 departure from Frenchtown Fire over personal issues with the agency’s board—district residents sounded off on the politics behind the fire chief’s sudden absence. Some criticized board members for antagonizing the department leader, while others slammed Waldron for exercising his vacation rights during the height of fire season.
Petty Creek resident Wayne Ellingham goes a step further, arguing the whole outfit has serious problems.
“There are people within this department who would like to make policy…who would like to do as they please,” Ellingham says. He suggests many of Frenchtown Fire’s tribulations over the recent months come from Waldron’s purported interest in rebelling against the newly elected board. “This begins to look like somebody’s making moves.”
In a pair of memos that surfaced last week, Waldron mentions a claim filed against certain board members for creating a hostile work environment and alleging breach of contract. “This is the last thing I wanted to do, but the work conditions have deteriorated to such a degree it has made it impossible for me to function as fire chief,” he writes in one letter dug up by the local community paper, The Clark Fork Chronicle.
Waldron was unavailable for further comment, but has reportedly retained counsel.
Deputy County Attorney Mike Sehestedt says he is not representing the board, which means the mysterious retainer fee that appeared in the district expense report last week could have been to oppose Waldron’s claim. Mitchell Hicks, chair of the board, did not respond to requests to verify case details.
The partly ideological, partly geographic political division within the district largely revolves around differing opinions of Waldron’s performance as chief. Residents on the fringe of the district, like Ellingham, often complain of shoddy service and allege inaction by Waldron in correcting the shortfall. They also assert the problem is spreading. “Now this is not just a Petty Creek issue,” Ellingham says.