UPTFC, township continue feud
Chief expelled; commissioner removed from committee
UPPER POTTSGROVE » The increasing friction between the Upper Pottsgrove Board of Commissioners and the Upper Pottsgrove Township Fire Company is taking its toll.
The fire chief has been “expelled,” membership is down by 70 percent since January and on Aug. 20, the board voted 3-2 to remove Commissioner Martin Schreiber from the fire committee.
Schreiber and Commissioner Elwood Taylor voted no, with Commissioners’ President Trace Slinkerd, Vice President France Krazalkovich and Commissioner Renee Spaide voting yes.
The fire committee, which has members of the fire company and the board of commissioners, acts as a communications link between the two groups.
Slinkerd made the motion to remove Schreiber with no more warning than, as Taylor described it, “four words on the agenda — consider fire commit-
“I have no document in front of me. If there is an issue, I’d like to see it flushed out. I would like to see some data in front of me,” Taylor said.
Taylor said the board had not discussed the matter in advance — as is Slinkerd’s stated preference before voting.
But Krazalkovich and Slinkerd both said the matter was discussed at the May 21 meeting.
The minutes of that meeting indicate that Krazalkovich made a motion, seconded by Spaide, “to draft a letter of no confidence in the current operational leadership of the fire company.”
That motion was ultimately withdrawn, but at the same meeting, Slinkerd said Schreiber “has various roles and (Slinkerd) believes he cannot be objective when it comes to making decisions regarding the fire company,” according to the minutes.
The May 21 meeting was also where the commissioners voted unanimously to ask the state to undertake a study of the township’s fire services at no cost to the township.
After Slinkerd made his motion, Schreiber asked him why he was “in a rush” to remove him and did not wait for the fire study. He did not get a public answer.
Later, after the meeting, Slinkerd told Digital First Media he did not wait for the fire study to weight in because “that study is about operations and equipment. This is about the board of commissioners.”
According to the “letter of intent” filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, which will oversee the study conducted by a consultant, areas examined in the study will include:
• The fire company’s “ability to satisfactorily respond
to and extinguish fires as these tasks relate to generally accepted fire-fighting standards.”
• The scope of the assessment will include, “administrative and operational leadership, personnel management, training, facilities and equipment.”
• It will also review “supporting governance documents and organizational structure as well.”
• The study will also assess “future township fire protection needs.”
On Aug. 20, Slinkerd told the audience the board of commissioners gets to appoint two members of the fire committee, one commissioner and one “member of the public at large.”
Until last night, those two members were Krazalkovich and Schreiber.
Township Solicitor Charles D. Garner Jr. said the memorandum of understanding between the township and the fire company sets no terms for the commissioners’ appointments to the fire company and thus, “the power to appoint is also the power to remove.”
Slinkerd said Schreiber’s
replacement will be selected at the September meeting.
Asked by firefighter John DeMichael why he wanted Schreiber removed, Slinkerd said Schreiber has a “conflict of interest.”
Asked why he thought that, Slinkerd replied “because I think it is.”
However, after the meeting, he clarified he does not mean anything involving money, as the phrase can often suggest.
Rather, Slinkerd said, the fact that Schreiber is the vice president of the fire company this year, and was president of the fire company last year, and has been a member of the fire company and the fire committee from the first day he came on as a commissioner, creates a conflict for Schreiber as a commissioner in terms of which set of interests he represents.
Schreiber is “wearing so many different hats, I’m not sure his responsibilities as a commissioner are clear,” Slinkerd said.
For his part, Schrieber told Digital First Media he believes the issue is about “personalities.”
Having asked after Slinkerd made his motion why he was “in a rush” and did not wait for the fire study, Schreiber said at the end of the meeting that he was “extremely disappointed with the vote.”
“This is all related to that notorious meeting in January where buying the new fire truck was voted down,” Schreiber told the commissioners.
At that meeting, the commissioners voted 3-2 against spending $300,000 that was in the budget to buy a new truck that would have replaced a 1983 pumper purchased from the North End Fire Company in Pottstown and now so old that replacement parts are nearly impossible to find.
At the time, Slinkerd said he had not been provided with adequate information in advance of the vote.
Outside, after the meeting Thomas Mattingly confirmed that he has been “expelled” as fire chief by the
fire company board “because of the letter.” Mattingly said will appeal the expulsion and said T.J. Wojton is now acting chief.
As Digital First Media reported last month, “the letter” to which Mattingly refers was one he wrote in May and sent to all commissioners, Pottstown Borough Manager Justin Keller and former Pottstown fire chief Michael Lessar, who has since resigned for unrelated reasons.
In it, Mattingly complained about Lessar, Krazalkovich, state Sen. Robert Mensch, R-24th Dist., and a captain in the West End Fire Company discussing Upper Pottsgrove Fire Company operations, response times and mutual aid, without getting input from Mattingly or other Upper Pottsgrove firefighters.
In the letter, Mattingly called it “disheartening” that Krazalkovich, who is a member of the township’s fire committee, would seek
answers regarding incidents he had already asked Upper Pottsgrove’s firefighters about.
“Those questions have been answered and discussed at length,” Mattingly wrote.
As the conflict has dragged on, there are more losses than Mattingly’s position as chief.
Schreiber told Digital First Media that at the beginning of the year, the fire company had between 30 to 35 volunteers.
Since the friction has begun and become more public “we’re down to about 10, said Schreiber. “This could have a real impact on fire safety in the township.”
“The lack of support from some of the commissioners is draining our volunteer base and keeping people from wanting to join our company,” DeMichael said.
This story first appeared as a post in The Digital Notebook blog.
Upper Pottsgrove Fire Company and the township’s administrative offices share the same building at 1409 Farmington Ave.