BUCKEYE LAKE – Mired in controversy following an in-depth study by The Beacon revealing large gaps in the department’s staffing schedule that affect response times, Buckeye Lake Mayor Rick Baker announced during Monday night’s council meeting that he would appoint an independent committee to monitor and advise the department’s operations.
He also issued several administrative directives to Buckeye Lake Fire Chief Pete Leindecker. “(The committee) will look into problems or perceived problems with the fire department,” said Baker. Still, some who attended Monday night’s meeting are concerned that the department remains broken and solutions aren’t happening quickly enough.
Baker said that currently the committee includes Columbus firefighter John Julian, Hebron Mayor Clifford Mason, resident Paul Clark, Lancaster Safety and Service Director Mike Courtney and Baker said Newark Mayor Jeff Hall would suggest someone from Newark, possibly Safety Director Bill Spurgeon.
Baker said Tuesday he wasn’t sure how soon the committee will be active, but said he intends for it to begin work as soon as possible.
In his directives, Baker said the department must communicate more with the village administration and council. He said Leindecker should:
• Notify the administration immediately when personnel problems exist,
• Attend all staff lunch meetings (or a representative) and if unavailable update Baker weekly on current happenings,
• Take meetings seriously,
• Advise of serious events as they happen and,
• Respond to emails and phone calls within the same day.
Baker said Leindecker should have more visibility within the department:
• Be at the station more often, and
• Attend and be involved with all training given and available.
Baker said he’ll interview all fire department employees prior to hire:
• The mayor must make the appointment, and
• All new employees are to be sworn in before council.
Baker said all staffing levels are to be maintained at all times:
• Actively recruit to increase personnel numbers.
Baker said Leindecker must sent a letter to Licking County to call for mutual aid three minutes after the original call, all training records are to be kept at the Village Hall, and the chief must give the advisory committee his utmost attention and cooperation.
West Bank resident Victoria Wolfe asked why a committee is necessary when she believes Baker has known about department problems for a long time. “Is it being passed along to someone else,” she asked. “Meanwhile, you’re putting the entire world in harm’s way.”
Tuesday, Baker said, “I’ve been around local government my entire life, but I’m hardly an expert on a fire department.” He said the committee members are experts and he values their advice and judgment.
Monday, council member Clay Carroll said he’s spent time at the Buckeye Lake Fire Department and has plenty of ideas for improvements, but he believes it’s a better approach to “fix what you already have because you know what’s wrong,” than to replace personnel with unfamiliar people. Carroll said he understands that the depart- ment is having trouble recruiting volunteers. He said he would continue his involvement in the department.
Council President Charlene Hayden said the fire department is a public place and urged residents to visit it for themselves and observe how it’s operated.
In other village news:
• And the new council member is…not sure yet. Council members couldn’t decide on who should replace former council member Patrick Brighton, leaving the decision to Baker. Only five council members were present Monday night with council member Arletta Ruton absent. Former mayoral candidate Barry Herron and resident Kitty Zwissler both applied to replace Brighton. Council members concluded that according to the village charter, four votes are required for a candidate to be appointed to an open position.
Following a secret ballot, Herron received three votes and Zwissler two, meaning neither candidate had enough votes to be appointed. Council members said they could either hold a special meeting with all remaining members present to fill the position or hand the decision to Baker to make at a later time. They opted for the latter.
• Baker said the village offered Lake Drive Thru owner/ operator Andrew Haddad a threeyear lease with three percent annual increases.“I think that’s very liberal,” said Baker. As of Tuesday, Baker said Haddad had yet to reply to the offer. The village owns the drive thru building as well as the building housing Lee’s Fried Chicken, and those businesses pay rent to the village. The drive thru pays $991 per month and Lee’s pays $500 per month. Baker said previously that the village is revisiting the contract for the Lake Drive Thru, which hasn’t been updated since 2009.
Haddad said previously that he’s concerned any significant increase in rent would force him to relocate, which he doesn’t want to do.
• Hayden said Buckeye Lake Planning Commission member Pam Reed organized a community meeting with Fairfield Medical Center President and CEO Mina Ubbing to discuss Buckeye Lake Village residents’ medical needs and how the Fairfield Medical Center could assist the village in meeting those needs. The meeting was to take place Sept. 12.
• Hayden said Licking County Water and Wastewater will relocate its offices Sept. 17 and 18 to Buckeye Lake Village, 4455 Walnut Road, which is next door to the new Buckeye Lake Library.
• Buckeye Lake Youth Association
Director Jackie French said the association is sponsoring a Community Appreciation Day Oct. 6, 5 to 8 p.m. at 140 3rd Street. The free event features live music, food, and games for children. “Thanks for supporting us,” she said.