I’m not an angry person by nature, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen my sweet Kris angry. But here’s a little background:
When I quit the department, I turned over a list of concerns, hoping that they could be addressed quietly before the book came out. Chief among them was what I saw as a culture of intimidation and retaliation against people who speak out, up to and including threats against a person’s livelihood. In return, all I asked was that attacks against my professional and personal character stop.
When reporters called the department to get a comment on my departure (along the lines of “We appreciate Ken’s years of service, blah, blah, blah”) what they got instead were angry innuendos that I was the subject of a probe, possibly criminal in nature.
After a week of calls and visits from members of the board of directors urging me to reconsider my decision to quit, the board chairman, a retired Oregon State Police officer, called me and angrily demanded that I return all fire department equipment within an hour. He followed through on his implied threat, all the while ignoring that I was still paying to host the department website and had not been reimbursed for a recent public opinion survey that I created and paid for at the district’s request.
From there, the innuendos to the media increased, with officials doing nothing publicly to shift the focus away from me. Through it all, I defended the volunteers and refrained from counter-punching against those spreading lies about me in public forums. We received a private thank you card and a private acknowledgement that I was not the focus of any probe, but through it all not one person at the Gaston Rural Fire District had the courtesy to simply publicly thank us for years of dedicated service and large financial contributions. Far from it.
Within days there were innuendos that I had created the media controversy, and worse yet that I was doing so to sell books and make money. Soon the volunteers chimed in with a news release refuting some of my allegations. It even was signed by volunteers who hadn’t set foot in the station for many, many months, but who showed up to damage my reputation in a news release. Once again, there was not a word acknowledging any contribution that I might have made to the district or the volunteers, financially or otherwise.
Through it all I’ve been bombarded with calls from the media, suspicious about my role in all this. I’ve shared some minor concerns, but true to my word have not shared what I see as major problems at the department. Those problems were addressed, at least in theory, by a consultant from the district’s lobbying group, Special Districts Association of Oregon. By nature of the organization’s purpose I expected the investigation to be cursory, expecting only recommendations for a plan of action to address surface issues. I was not prepared for the complete whitewash it turned out to be. After a thorough investigation, the consultant couldn’t find even a nit to pick with the way the district is run.
Soon we’ll release our book to a local community that has been told that I am dishonest, unqualified to speak on the subject of the book, and possibly still under investigation for nefarious activity. With my motives and credibility publicly questioned by those who supposedly should know, instead of celebrating the launch of what Kris calls a “love letter to Gaston Fire,” I’ll be on the defensive. Their attacks were intended to be pre-emptive, but we still hold out hope that they will backfire.
Ultimately, the book will speak for itself. The community will see that I am not the person the district has portrayed me to be and that the book is the result of years of research by both me and Kris. We know that while current management of the district can’t find a nit to pick with their organization, it will find plenty to pick in our book.
The book remains a “love letter to Gaston Fire.” Current management berates the current and previous volunteers who built the department, but they deserve nothing but honor and respect. If nothing else, I hope the book will help stop the systematic destruction of their legacy.
We contributed $3,500 to the Gaston Volunteer Fire Department to retire the volunteers’ debt on a used Rescue vehicle recently purchased from a neighboring fire department. By coincidence, that figure also represented what we thought at the time was a generous estimate of the royalties we would receive from local sales of the book. In a final bout of frustration and humiliation, it took weeks to have the money allocated to the purpose we had stated in writing. Including the $3,500 donation, we contributed something close to $10,000 to the department in the five years I was there. Some of it was in cash, some in such things as webhosting, some in supplies, and some in repairs and replacements for personal camera equipment broken while covering fires.
Ironically, every penny was spent promoting the very people who have turned against us. We weathered the early innuendos and insults pretty well, but the news release from the volunteers was a body blow.
We’re not well off like the highly paid, double-dipping chief bent on destroying our reputation. He’ll be just fine no matter what happens. The future for me and Kris is far less certain. She quit her job to devote full time to this and future books. We knew when she did so that it was an enormous risk, because writing books is a precarious occupation in the best of circumstances. We didn’t anticipate having to sell a book while under attack from the people we sought to portray. Those attacks were intended to be preemptive, but we still hold out hope that they ultimately will backfire. In the meantime we’re working on a plan to cushion the blow for the local retailers who stand behind us. Both Creek With No Name and Fire in a Small Town were written and marketed to benefit the entire community, not just us. We remain committed to that goal.
I am not an angry person, and my sweet Kris is the antithesis. But there are words and phrases in this post that intentionally sound angry. Not as angry as some of the words uttered recently in the privacy of our home, but angry nonetheless.
Here’s an example: I have not received a word of public thanks for my years promoting the people of Gaston Fire. Yet here’s the counterpoint: I still want to say thanks to those people who gave me the opportunity to enjoy five of the most exciting and rewarding years of my life and, ironically, the chance to write a book of which I am immensely proud.