Saturday, September 28, 2013

9-1-1 for Cy-Fair Residents!

Action Alert for all property owners serviced by the Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department (CFVFD).


Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013 at 2:00pm the Emergency Services District (ESD) 9 Board will decide if it will continue contracting with CFVFD for emergency services or cancel their contract as of 1/1/14 and attempt to provide the services themselves.


The meeting agenda is NOT posted on the ESD9 website but it is posted on the door of their main building.

cfvfd agenga on door
History:


For many years volunteer fire departments like CFVFD paid for their own operations through local fundraising. The Texas Legislature established the ESD system  (Texas Health and Safety Code 775 ) as a practical way of providing a tax base  so volunteer departments could spend less time find raising  and more time training and providing services – thus reducing fire and medical response times to save lives and property.


ESD9 is a political subdivision of the State of Texas which consists of 5  elected board members who have the authority to set the tax rate and contract for or provide services needed. They have always contracted with CFVFD to provide emergency services in our area.

CFVFD is one of the largest volunteer fire departments in the nation covering 156 square miles with over 18,000 emergency responses per year.


CFVFD is a 501(c)(4) non-profit corporation  operating under its own by-laws and overseen by its own elected Board of Directors. It is responsible for selecting its own management and providing the day-to-day operations necessary for the community to receive emergency services.


In short - ESD9  collects the tax and then distributes the funds by contracting with CFVFD to provide direct services to the public. When you call 911, you are not calling ESD9, you are calling someone ESD9 contracted with to provide you with emergency services.


Conflict:


Major conflict between the CFVFD Board and the ESD9 Board began last year when the CFVFD Board voted 10-2 not to renew the contract of their Fire Chief. Instead, they requested funds from ESD9 to  conduct a nationwide search for a new Fire Chief.


Even though the ESD9 Code of Conduct for Commissioners states:
Commissioners must not attempt to influence (the Fire) Department on the making of appointments, awarding of contracts, or selecting of consultants…
the ESD9 Board did not agree with the non-renewal of the Chief’s contract and discussions have gone back and forth, with no solution.  The  CFVFD Board  extended the Chief’s contract awaiting a solution, but none was found. When the contract extensions expired, the CFVFD Board appointed an interim Chief until a new Fire Chief could be hired.


The ESD9 Board responded by hiring the Fire Chief released by CFVFD  as an “ESD9 Consultant” and named him to the “Go Forward Task Force” to design a new “organizational structure” to deliver emergency services to the Cy-Fair community.


That “Task Force” then recommended that CFVFD  change its corporation by-laws to relinquish all control over its own 501(c)(4) non-profit corporation by allowing the ESD9 Board to appoint a “Transition Team” who would then appoint a new CFVFD Board of Directors. All future CFVFD Board members would then be appointed by this new Board.

Threat:

At the ESD9 Board meeting 9/19/13, Commissioner Kevin Kyle made the motion to delay approval of the 2013 tax rate and the 2014 district budget until CFVFD Board agrees to do what the “Task Force” recommends. If CFVFD disagrees, the ESD will NOT FUND CFVFD after 12/31/13 and ESD9 will become the Cy-Fair “service provider” on 1/1/14 in place of CFVFD.

In other words, it appears that the ESD Board wants to take over all control of CFVFD and threatens to “fire” them all if they don’t submit. (Is this really what we elected them to do?)

The ESD9 Board has called a special meeting for Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013 at 2:00pm to hear from the CFVFD Board and make their final decision. The tax rate deadline is Sept. 30 so they cannot  delay again.

My Questions:

As a taxpayer to ESD9, I had some questions I had to answer before I could decide which side to support. So I did some of my own research.

1. Is the CFVFD Board structure truly so unorthodox that the ESD Board is justified in forcing takeover of the CFVFD Board?

I dug up the current Operating Guide for ESDs published by the Texas Department of Agriculture. It is so detailed that it even includes a sample of Texas volunteer fire department by-laws. Page 65 of the sample by-laws reads:
Section 1: The business of the (fire) department shall be performed and governed by the (fire department) Board of Directors 
b. Board members must be active members of the (fire)department.
c. Board members will be elected during the (fire department)Annual Business meeting 
Section 3: The (fire department)Board shall have the following powers: 
a. select, employ and discharge in the name of the (fire)department such persons as may be required to fulfill objectives and purposes of said organization. Supervision shall be the responsibility of officers designated by the (fire department) Board…
So, the answer to my question is,”No.” The sample given by the State of Texas shows that CFVFD’s practice of electing their own Board of Directors to oversee their fire department by employing and discharging their own personnel is normal practice.

Even further support for CFVFD’s current structure in which the Board President is a representative and spokesperson for the fire department is found on page 10 when describing persons the ESD Board should include in needs assessments:
Such meetings should always include a representative of the governing body of the proposed emergency services providers, such as the president of the volunteer fire department board of directors or the appropriate representative of a municipality.
2.  As a political subdivision of the State of Texas, does an ESD Board have the authority to control the day-to-day operations of a private non-profit corporation with which it contracts for services?

Again, the answer can be found in the Operating Guide for ESDs. Pages 14-19 state:
ESDs generally have no jurisdiction or general authority over contracted volunteer fire/EMS departments or their investments, as they are separate legal entities, usually non-profit corporations…  
But with that said, ESDs have full authority over the funds that are provided to the contracted entities. A contract mutually agreed to by both parties that defines the responsibilities of both parties is necessary to establish the services to be provided, the compensation to be received, and the authority to act or interact between the contracted parties…
Once the rules are established, (ESD)board members should avoid the temptation to get involved in personnel matters, particularly of the contracted emergency services providers… 
Always stick to policy and avoid personal involvement in day-to-day operations…
So again I find the answer to my question is, “No.” The ESD Board should not be involved in CFVFD’s selection of a Fire Chief, except for approving the funds involved. As a matter of fact, the State of Texas recommends the ESD Board stay out of personnel matters altogether, a policy the ESD9 Board is not following.

3. Is the ESD Board taking the right stand  in threatening to cancel their contract with CFVFD on 1/1/14 and attempt to provide the service to the community on their own?

I think the Operating Guide of ESDs covers this too on pages 10 &19 when it reads:
Determine which entity or entities will be in the best position to provide emergency services to the ESD…
…Remember that volunteers to the emergency service entities are very valuable and provide a great savings to the district. They should be recognized as such and efforts made to work together for the good of the tax payers as emergency services are provided…
Furthermore,  the “Task Force” stated in its final report:
      • The Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department was first organized about 50 years ago when the community population was approximately 10,000 people.
      • Today, more than 500,000 people reside in the community and the population is forecasted to grow to between 1 million to 1.5 million in the next 5 to 10 years.
      • CFVFD provides fire and emergency services in such a way that it is recognized as a “model” for the delivery of those services to volunteer fire departments across the United States.
So again, my answer is, “No.” CFVFD has been successfully providing emergency services to our area for over 50 years. It is in the “best position” to continue providing these services. If CFVFD is a “model” for other volunteer providers across the US, why would any ESD Board member threaten to cancel their contract?

Something Fishy?

Not knowing all the people involved in this mess, it is easy to take a step back and look at the big picture from a non-emotional perspective. But what we all learned as children usually holds true – if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it usually is a duck.

Step 1 – CFVFD Board did not renew Fire Chief’s contract

Step 2 – ESD9 Board hired ex-Fire Chief as “consultant”

Step 3 – ESD9 Board formed “Task Force” with ex-Fire Chief

Step 4 – Task Force recommended CFVFD Board dissolved

Step 5 – Task Force recommended ESD9 appoint new board

Step 6 – Task Force recommends new Board hire new Chief

That puts the following illustration in my mind:

image
Something seems fishy to me – does it to you?

Consequences

We all remember Nancy Pelosi’s famous line concerning ObamaCare –“We must pass the bill to find out what is in it.”

The same holds true here.

If  ESD9 follows through on its threat to “unfund” CFVFD 1/1/14, we will then find out exactly what will happen.

Anyone who has ever attended an ESD9 Board Meeting and seen first hand their definition of “government efficiency” will start praying now for the first Cy-Fair resident who has to call 911 at 12:01 am News Years Day if ESD9 becomes our direct service provider.

Does anyone really think that ESD9 – a Board which can’t even get their own meeting agenda posted on their own website 24 hours before their meeting to vote to unfund CFVFD, will be able to bid out service contracts to cover over 500,000 people, and have everything up and running smoothly with all new employees under all new management in less than 13 weeks – with Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years in between?

Does anyone really think that other fire departments are going  bid for service with ESD9 after they just fired one of the largest volunteer fire department in the US which was considered a “model” for the rest - because they wouldn’t submit to a takeover?

Does anyone want to bet on how fast our insurance premiums rise when the insurance companies find out CFVFD has been fired by ESD9?

The Vote

The 5 member ESD9 Board votes tomorrow (9/29/13) on whether or not they will:
  • allow CFVFD to continue to operate its own 501(c)(4) and provide emergency services to Cy-Fair area funded by ESD9 – as it has done for over 50 years
  • force an ESD9 Board takeover of CFVFD before they will fund operations in 2014, or
  • cancel all CFVFD contracts as of 1/1/14
The battle begins at 2:00pm (yes, smack in the middle of the Texans game) with a “workshop” then the official meeting with Public Comments allowed beginning at 3:00pm.

Location: 9639 Telge Road
                Houston  77095
                Map

If you can’t attend, you could normally email your elected ESD9 Commissioners to let them know how you’d like them to vote. Sorry to inform you that this board does not list any contact information in their webpage.

Special Note: If the ESD9 Commissioners do the unthinkable and cancel our contract with CFVFD, the community uproar will be enormous. If so, check this site weekly for updates on exactly what you can do to fight their decision. 

Note: 3 of the 5 ESD9 Board members are up for re-election May 2014.

Colleen Vera








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