Fire Code Policy Spurs Questions

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What’s that old saying? Oh yeah: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. That must be why the Payson Town Council’s adoption of an administrative policy to interject more flexibility into the fire code requirements left us a little short of breath.

On the face of it, we support the idea behind the move to clarify the ground rules for negotiating exceptions to the fire code requirements. The overhaul of the rules apparently stems from discussions with a developer who wants to revive a bankrupt project to build apartments. The layout of the lot would apparently make it difficult to provide the 26-foot fire lane required by the code.

So town officials want to allow the property owner to provide a narrower fire lane while adding a $50,000 fire hydrant and sprinkler system. The narrower road might make for a more complicated maneuver to get at a fire with a ladder truck, but will undoubtedly increase the safety of the residents as a result of the sprinklers.

However, we got a little spooked when several firefighters and the town’s own fire marshal raised questions about the policy. They each expressed uncertainty about the language in the new policy, suggesting it could end up eroding standards and spawning confusion.

Councilors Fred Carpenter and Ed Blair both voted against the administrative policy change. They urged the council to table the issue, change the language to win the support of the fire department and include language making it clear that fire department officials will have to sign off on any such negotiated exception to the fire code. These seemed like reasonable suggestions.

Now, we do not doubt the good intentions of the council majority that supported the revised policy. Any code must remain flexible enough to adapt to realities on the ground, while still protecting the public. Ideally, the revised policy will ultimately make the negotiating process more clear-cut and organized than the current system.

Still, we hope the council won’t shut and lock the door on this issue. We hope another round of discussions between fire officials and council members with qualms will result in one more round of changes in the policy.

We believe the supporters of the policy when they say want to keep the public safe and ensure the fire department plays the leading role in any exceptions or enhancements in the code. But pushing the policy through in the face of those equally principled objections can’t help but leave a cloud of smoke hanging over a critical issue.

It is all about board control

Gila Community College Board President Bob Ashford’s reign of error is endangering the reputation of the school and Gila County. Last week’s bizarre board meeting offers the latest example.

A Valley attorney has told board member Tom Loeffler the board’s lack of policies appear to violate several state laws. Moreover, because the board revoked all of its policies apparently as a ploy to allow Ashford to serve a sixth term as chairman, the board cannot even legally hold a regular meeting, according to one legal opinion. All its meetings must be “special meetings” because it has no policy calling for regular meetings or for that matter anything else.

State law apparently requires the board to have at least a tuition policy, a hazing prevention policy, classification policies, and policies on how to elect its board president. In fact, the board has no policies at all except the ones that Ashford makes up as he goes along.

All this is because Ashford wants to keep control of the college and the office of the college presidency in the southern part of Gila County. Ashford and his southern county cohorts revoked a policy limiting the number of terms Ashford could serve as board president. He was not satisfied with five previous terms, he wants to be president of the board for a sixth, seventh and who knows how many more terms — maybe a lifetime. He apparently thinks he is the only one who has the knowledge to be board president. If the board’s previous policy were in effect today, the GCC board would have a new president.

Loeffler has asked the county attorney’s office for a full investigation into the actions of the board president and the lack of policies. We endorse this investigation. How can an elected board operate without policies?

How can an elected board president just laugh at the northern part of the county and get himself elected time and time again without regard to rules? How can the board president just ignore request after request for workshops, financial information and discussions of board issues?

You can when you control the board and this allows you to ignore the elected representatives from the northern part of Gila County and the protests of residents.

Ashford needs to be held accountable for his actions and we have to wonder why he wants to hold on so tightly to his title as board president.

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