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Where there’s fire, there’s politics

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Politics can get nasty on the simplest levels.

Corvallis Volunteer Fire Chief Jay Gasvoda was voted out of order by the general firefighting membership this spring and he fought back by appealing to his board of trustees. They in turn changed the department by-laws to permit themselves to select the fire chief (as allowed by state law) and reinstated Gasvoda.

In the past few weeks, Gasvoda and the trustees of the volunteer fire department have had to answer many questions about their use of department funds and credit cards. The Ravalli County Commissioners have asked the Montana Department of Commerce to conduct an audit to satisfy concerns voiced by some fire department members and other local taxpayers.

The registered voters of the fire district elect trustees of the Corvallis Fire Department. Dirk Wolff, one of the volunteer members who oppose Gasvoda, filed for the seat held now by Allen Dukelow Jr., a Gasvoda supporter.

To complicate matters, another trustee, Rich Hardy, forgot to file for the position he now holds and was registered as a declared write-in candidate instead. His name will not be on the ballot. Any number of other firemen may also file as write-in candidates until two weeks before the May 2 election. Only declared write-in candidates have votes counted.

Last week, the Ravalli County Commissioners, the county attorney, local media and all candidates for county commissioner received an anonymous mailing that accused Wolff of having delinquent business taxes for the second half of 1999 and of being in a property partnership with Hamilton City Building Inspector Dale Fowler. The mailing intimated that Fowler inspected in-city jobs done by Wolff’s construction business—a possible conflict of interest for both men—but offered no documentation to prove the allegation.

The anonymous mailing carried the typewritten signature, “Concerned Citizens of Corvallis.” No one has come forward to claim responsibility for the mailing and no one on the fire department admits to knowing about it. Ironically, Gasvoda has been listed as one of the largest delinquent taxpayers in both Montana and Ravalli County. Allegations against Gasvoda include that his personal business has profited by doing work for the fire department and that he has been allowed to use the department’s credit card to pay for vacations, meals, groceries and gas for his personal use.

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