Fire board fires Waldron

| September 11, 2008
Scott Waldron says the Frenchtown Fire Board of Trustees offered him an ultimatum: show up to work at 8 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 8, or find a new job. Later that afternoon, the 18-year fire chief told the Independent that the agency board had officially given him permanent leave.

Waldron served as Frenchtown chief over a period that saw the department grow from a small operation to a premier—and, critics say, unnecessarily large—rural firefighting agency.

In late July, Waldron took an effective leave of absence, chewing away at nearly three months of accumulated vacation time, while a complaint against various board members filtered through proper channels. The grievance is not yet a formal lawsuit, lawyers say, but involves an incident where trustee Glenn Green allegedly removed district personnel files to investigate Waldron.

The former chief contends that the voting majority of the board breached his contract by creating hostile working conditions. The grievance further accuses Green of holding a vendetta against Waldron, which is linked to a signage dispute some years back.

Details get a little foggy on the cause of Green’s alleged investigation. Neither Waldron nor the board wishes to comment on a situation that could sprout into litigation down the road.

“I can’t comment. Would love to—but can’t,” Green says.

Yet, in an interview two days before the reported dismissal, board members Green and Ray Winn said other district employees had been disciplined or even let go for taking vacation during “high fire danger,” as Waldron did.

Confronted at Monday’s board meeting with questions of why the chief had been let go, Carey Schmidt, a private attorney for the district, explained the public body can’t offer any details without Waldron’s permission.

“When you violate somebody’s right to privacy, you open yourself up to additional litigation,” he said.

Partly, the public wanted to know why the board hired Schmidt rather than using the Missoula County Attorney’s Office. The board did not answer the question, but Deputy County Attorney Mike Sehestedt is signed as counsel on Waldron’s contract—a possible conflict of interest barrier.

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