The Northwest Fire and Rescue District's budget committee chairman, whose company sold more than a quarter of million dollars ofequipment to the district during the last two years, resigned Aug. 28.
Daniel Matlick, United Fire Equipment president, announced he was stepping down from both the Emergency Services Commission and the Budget Committee to end speculation about whether his company's business relationship with NWFD influences his recommendations to the board.
United Fire is Northwest Fire's main provider of fire equipment, receiving about $280,000 in purchases during the past two years. Other fire equipment sellers did less than $40,000 in business during the same time period, according to document's obtained from the district.
Matlick said he decided to resign after reading the opinion of NWFD's outside legal counsel that he should not continue on the budget committees.
"I always thought the work I have done has been beneficial. My position at United Fire has always been presented at the time," Matlick said. "But it's in my best interest to resign my position."
Thomas Benavidez, NWFD's legal counsel, said Matlick should not continue as a member of the committees because it could be perceived as a conflict.
"My opinion was that there was a potential for a conflict of interest and it wasn't in the district's best interest," Benavidez said.
The budget committee and ESC are appointed bodies that take direction from the board and work on the budget's details with staff. They also give recommendations to the board on whether to approve the district's expenditures.
Matlick has served on the committees four years and this year chaired both. Matlick, a proponent of NWFD growth, argued in favor of this year's $13.8 million budget, a $4 million increase from the previous year's budget.
NWFD Chief Jeff Piechura confirmed the district's increased spending next year would include more purchases from United Fire.
"You've never influenced us one way or another," Board Chairman Patrick Quinn said after Matlick spoke. "Personally, I'm going to miss your candor and volunteerism. I take it as an affront you've been accused of this. I'm not speaking as a board member, I'm speaking as a citizen."
The Northwest EXPLORER detailed Matlick's involvement with Northwest Fire's advisory boards and the district's purchases from United Fire in a story Aug. 8.
Though Quinn said boardmembers haven't been influenced by Matlick in his role as a member of the advisory boards, Matlick has been a regular at board meetings, answering budget questions from them and the audience. At the May 22 meeting he gave an impromptu presentation about why he thought a property tax increase was good for the district.
After the presentation, Quinn said he agreed with Matlick's argument.
NWFD's property tax was raised 23 cents per $100 of assessed value this year to buy three fire trucks, nine fire fighters and pay off a $2.7 million debt during the next three years.
Quinn said he thought legally the board had no choice except to let Matlick resign but that he was disappointed and surprised.
"It's frustrating to me that an issue was being made when there was none," he said. "I had no idea he was planning on resigning."
An ESC meeting is scheduled for Sept. 6 when another chair will be selected. The budget committee has been disbanded until January.
As Matlick was announcing his resignation from his NWFD post, Boardmember James Kisner returned after a two-month absence. If Kisner had missed that meeting, the other boardmembers could have voted him out of the seat he won a year ago.
During his absence, Kisner missed four board meetings, one of which was the budget hearing July 2. Before attending the Aug. 28 meeting, Kisner had not been involved in running NWFD since May 22. In that time, the district debt was restructured, the annexation of Canyon Pass began and the budget for fiscal year 2001-2002 was approved increasing the property tax more than 20 percent.
Without Kisner, there are only four boardmembers making it more difficult to break a tie vote. While only Quinn and Boardmember Jane Madden have missed fewer than two meetings since January, the number of Kisner's absences is more than double all the other member's.
Once a boardmember has missed three regularly scheduled meetings, the board can remove that member. Kisner had missed two regular meetings.
At a special meeting June 28, Boardmembers Quinn, Madden and Jim Doyle said they were concerned about his absences and questioned whether they were required to do anything.
None of the boardmembers said they thought Kisner should be removed.
Kisner was the Flowing Wells Fire District Chief until that district's merger with Northwest Fire in 1996. After working as a fire fighter for 25 years, Kisner started a business selling and repairing golf carts in Oro Valley. Two years ago Kisner began an ambulance service in Showlow where he lives three weeks out of every month, he said. His wife lives in their residence near the southern end of the Northwest Fire District.
One week of every month he lives in the district where he sits on three boards, including NWFD's.
Kisner said he doesn't try to involve himself in the details of Northwest Fire's management.
"Not really, I try to talk to the chief two or three times a month," he said. "I haven't done that much this year because I've been up (in Showlow). I get all the meeting materials, go through all of them, read all the stuff."
Kisner said his frequent absences from NWFD board meetings is caused by his commitment to the ambulance service. But Kisner said his relationship with the district's administrators and other boardmembers isn't always good.
"I'm pretty honest and up front, but I don't get that from other people (at NWFD)," he said. "They're honest, just not up front."
As for whether he'll run for the board again after his term ends, Kisner said he is still undecided. "It's a little ways down the road," he said.
But Kisner said if he had to make that decision now, "I'd say no."