accusations of bad faith, labored lectures on civic duty, meanderings into
the minutiae of parliamentary procedure, hoots of disbelief and low
mutterings from the public, and a general loggerheadedness: Tuesday night’s
meeting of the Pine Township Board came perilously close at times to
sidestepping into the fields previously--and more entertainingly--plowed by
Parks and Recreation.
At issue: Pine
Township Trustee Tammy Watkins’ cancellation earlier this year of the
open-ended contract under which the Beverly Shores Volunteer Fire Department
Inc. has been providing fire protection service to unincorporated Pine
Township following the dissolution of the Pine Township Fire Department in
Watkins instead is
seeking to replace the BSVFD with Pines FD Inc.--established in 2017 to
provide fire protection service exclusively to the Town of Pines--and under
a proposed new contract to extend the Pines FD’s fire protection
responsibilities to the entirety of unincorporated Pine Township.
For the record,
Watkins is listed on Pines FD Inc. documents as its Secretary/Treasurer. Her
husband, Robert Watkins, serves as its Chief; and her son, Michael Watkins,
as its Assistant Chief.
The BSVFD, for its
part, has filed an injunction against Watkins’ cancellation of its contract.
Pending a hearing on the matter, scheduled for Aug. 14, Beverly Shores is
still providing fire protection service to unincorporated Pine Township.
In the meantime,
the Pine Township Board made its own feelings clear on Tuesday, when members
Matthew Smith, Margaret Richardson, and Joe Wagner first refused to approve
the new contract with the Pines FD, then read into the record their findings
in support of BSVFD’s application to continue providing fire protection
service for unincorporated Pine Township.
At Smith’s request,
Pine Township Attorney John Espar opened the discussion on Tuesday night by
summarizing his opinion, namely, that Watkins “first and foremost made the
determination that the best qualified applicant is the Pines Fire Department
Inc.” Espar noted that he himself joins Watkins in that determination, as
there was “a number of legal issues I saw with respect to the (BSVFD’s)
application itself,” namely, its failure to include documentation in support
of a tax exempt status, which would make the BSVFD more likely to be awarded
probably it was operating as a for-profit, which would require it to file
tax returns,” Espar said. Then, Espar added, when he requested tax returns
from the BSVFD, he received no response from that department’s legal
counsel, prompting him to conclude that the BSVFD is actually failing to pay
its taxes. “That goes to the heart of my assessment: the ability of an
organization to maintain its legal status,” Espar said. “It speaks to its
value of its legal relationships. It speaks to a big part of its
organization and ability to carry out its government function. Not to take
these deficiencies into consideration does a disservice to your community.”
It is clear,
however, from the BSVFD’s application that its Board of Directors did in
fact resolve in November 2018 to authorize Director John Hennessey to apply
for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service and
further that the board amended its bylaws specifically to “aid in gaining
approval of 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.”
Also discussed was
the cost of the two fire protection service plans.
The BSVFD quoted a
prorated price of $10,000 for the final five months of 2019, and a full-year
price in 2020 of $36,000. Under a five-year plan, the BSVFD quoted a price
of $40,518 in the fifth and final year, 2024.
Township’s proposed new contract with the Pines FD comes in two versions,
copies of which the Chesterton Tribune has obtained. The earlier
version of the contract cites a price of $3,000 per month for the remaining
five months of the year, for a total contract price in 2019 of $15,000. On
Jan. 1, 2020, the contract would automatically renew, for a total contract
price next year of $36,000, the same figure quoted by the BSVFD.
In the later
version of the proposed new contract, however, the $3,000 figure is crossed
out by hand and replaced--also by hand--with a price of $2,750, bringing the
Pines FD’s 2019 contract price down to $13,700 and its 2020 contract price
down to $33,000.
though, at approving the proposed new contract with the Pines FD. Instead,
Wagner made a motion to table that contract until members were provided with
a copy of the old BSVFD contract and given a chance to review it.
“What does the old
contract have to do with signing a new contract?” Watkins wanted to know.
the injunction filed by the BSVFD, which specifically names the Pine
Township Board--expressed her unwillingness to approve any new contract
until she’d had a chance to review the old contract. “We did not vote to
terminate that contract,” she said.
At this point Espar
interceded. “On the table is the contract which the Trustee has determined
to be most qualified,” he said. “You legal duty is to consider this proposed
motion to table the new contract stymied, Smith announced instead his
intention of introducing a resolution.
a resolution without me?” Watkins objected. “You can’t do that. You’re the
fiscal board. I’m the executive.”
“A resolution to
address whether or not to approve the contract?” Espar asked.
that, yes, as events proved. Members voted unanimously to approve Smith’s
reading of the resolution into the record--not specifically to adopt the
resolution itself--which he then did. Resolved: that the Pine Township Board
“does not approve of the termination of the township’s fire protection
contract” with the BSVFD, and that it “does not approve of the execution of
any proposed contract with the Pines Fire Department Inc.”
In support of that
resolution, Smith cited, among other things, the following:
--That the BSVFD
offered a “more competitive price” for the remaining five months of 2019.
--That the BSVFD
provides liability and property damage insurance on Pine Township equipment
“at its expense instead of requiring the township to pay, as provided in the
proposed contract with the Pines Fire Department Inc.”
-- That the BSVFD
maintains all Pine Township equipment and the Pine Township fire station.
-- That the BSVFD
“is more experienced and more capable of providing better fire service with
better equipment than the Pines Fire Department Inc.”
-- That the BSVFD
“has better mutual aid relationships.”
-- That the areas
serviced by the BSVFD have a better Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating
than the Pines FD: 5, compared to the latter’s 9, “only one step above the
lowest rating of 10.”
-- And that the
BSVFD’s not-for-profit status “is not a relevant criteria as far as the
ability of a provider to provide needed firefighting service to the
unincorporated areas of Pine Township.” In any case, the BSVFD is a
not-for-profit and has applied for 501(c)(3) status.
response: a dire warning that “the IRS could come and take all of Beverly
Shores’ equipment because they didn’t pay their taxes,” if, that is,
Attorney Espar is actually correct and the BSVFD is a for-profit and tax
delinquent to boot.
response: that the BSVFD’s price will go up to $36,000 in 2020 and the Pines
FD’s price “will stay the same.” By that she presumably meant that the
monthly price under the later version of the proposed new contract with the
Pines FD would remain $2,750 in 2020, for a full-year contract price of
Watkins also stated
that the Pines FD “has all sorts of mutual aid relationships”; that the “ISO
rating doesn’t affect Pine Township”; and that the reason she included
501(c)(3) status in her original request for proposals was because, already
having it, the Pines FD “can go out for grants.”
Smith then made a
motion formally to adopt the resolution and Richardson seconded it.
Espar informed the
board that Watkins “objects to the board making a resolution without her
approval” and that he personally wants to review the document.
Or, Espar ventured,
perhaps at issue “was a matter of semantics.” Is it the board’s intention
less to adopt the resolution than it is to oppose the the proposed new
contract with the Pines FD? “Is that essentially what your motion is?” he
that “yes,” that was the thrust of the motion. The three members then voted
to adopt the resolution as read.
Watkins did take
the opportunity to say that, should the court on Aug. 14 rule against the
BSVFD, then its current, extended, contract with Pine Township is “done,”
adding, “If they find in my favor, right then the contract is null and
The board then
opened the floor to public comment. Of note, Pines Assistant Fire Chief
Michael Watkins wanted to know who actually wrote the resolution read by
Smith. One by one, Smith, Richardson, and Wagner each said that they had not
written it. But they declined to identify the resolution’s author.
At that point the
Chesterton Tribune reporter walked out of the meeting.