Fire district race pits candidate vs. incumbents |

Fire district race pits candidate vs. incumbents

Adam Jensen

Among the decisions facing some Lake Tahoe residents in next week’s elections is whom to select for three seats on the Lake Valley Fire Protection District board of directors.

Two board members facing re-election, the president of the Lake Valley Firefighters Association and District Fire Chief Jeff Michael, all have questioned the motivation of Vern Parker, the lone challenger in the race.

The incumbents are Bob Bettencourt, Ryan Wagoner and Greg Herback.

At issue is how much Parker’s campaign has been motivated by the resignation of a family member who previously worked as a firefighter at the department.

Parker said he is running for a seat on the board at least partially because he believes the family member was wrongly put in a position where he had to resign.

Another reason he’s running: Parker said he believes the board has not provided enough oversight of the fire district’s approximately $5 million annual budget.

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“It’s a little like people are patting each other on the back too much instead of asking questions,” Parker said.

The property manager and 12-year Lake Tahoe south shore resident said he can provide a more thorough examination of the department’s budget than the current board members.

His status as an outsider to the firefighting world also could provide needed perspective to the board, Parker said.

“I really don’t have fire department experience, but I think that is an advantage, not a disadvantage,” Parker said. “I think there needs to be a change.”

Parker’s neighbor, Ross Feliciano, supports his candidacy. “He’s very well-versed and well-read in all the problems that have been coming up in the district and in the county,” Feliciano said of Parker. “He pays attention to what is going on in the fire district. I trust him and will vote for him.”

Although each incumbent up for election said they are limited in the extent to which they can comment regarding the personnel issue involving Parker’s relative, two of the incumbents, who are trying to protect their seats, question Parker’s motives.

Bob Bettencourt, a retired special agent for the Department of the Treasury and an incumbent board member since January 2004, said “it sure is a coincidence” that Parker is running after the resignation of the relative.

“It’s not clear that his intentions are good,” said incumbent Ryan Wagoner, a recently sworn officer for the South Lake Tahoe Police Department and member of the board since 2006.

The current board “is running as effectively and efficiently as it ever has,” Bettencourt added.

“I think at this particular time we have a good, effective, congenial board that gets along well,” Bettencourt said. “We all understand our department and the challenges our department faces.”

Incumbent Greg Herback, a registered investment adviser and a member of the board since 2003, declined to comment on Parker’s candidacy but echoed sentiments expressed by other board members regarding the current state of the board.

“I really look forward to working with the district to continue the path we’re on,” Herback said.

Lake Valley Firefighter Association President Ron Sitton said he was suspicious of Parker’s motives in running for the board and agreed with Bettencourt’s estimation of how the existing board is functioning.

“We’ve endorsed the incumbents,” Sitton said. “We have an unprecedented relationship with management.”

The lines of communication between management and firefighters at the department are “wide open,” something which is “very unique,” Sitton said.

“They’re doing a very good job for the community and I don’t want to see this (election) being used as a tool for interests outside of the fire district,” Sitton said.

Feliciano says the fire district not only needs change, but other political offices across the city and county need shaking up.

“There’s too much good-old-boy, pat-each-other-on-the-back kind of politics – whether it’s the city council or the school boards. Things need to be changed.”

Lake Valley’s board of directors consists of five elected members who each serve four-year terms.

– Tribune Web editor Jeff Munson contributed to this story.