Former Trustee Wayne Davidson files lawsuit against village

Gwen Chamberlain

He’s been out of office for just a couple of weeks, but former Penn Yan village trustee Wayne Davidson is still having a major impact on village business.

Davidson has filed a lawsuit against the village board and Mayor Robert Church in response to a resolution the board passed Dec. 20.

The resolution, passed by a vote of  five yeas (Bart Winslow, Willie Allison, Robert Church, Christine Christensen and Michael Christensen), one no (Rich Stewart) and one abstention (David Reeve), was a retroactive ratification and approval of a point system for the fire department length of service award program (LOSAP).

This is a step the village is taking to bring the management of the system into compliance with state guidelines, explains Church.

In 1999, the village board asked village residents to vote on providing the Length of Service Award Program to members of the volunteer fire department. The referendum was approved by voters, and a points system was established so Penn Yan volunteers could earn credit toward a benefit up to $600 per month for up to 10 years.

After the voters approved the program, the fire department established a points system for volunteers to qualify for benefits, and each year the fire chief submitted a list of volunteers who had qualified by accumulating enough points to the village clerk, who in turn sent the list to the program administrator, a Pennsylvania company.

A volunteer can earn points for training, drills, holding leadership positions, attending meetings, responding to emergencies and miscellaneous activities or sustaining a fire-related disability. But state laws say the fire department must use the points system established by the state, and the village board must certify the list of names before it is sent to the administrator.

By adopting the resolution on Dec. 20, the village board approved the point system used through 2011, which Church says is stricter than the state points system, and certified the lists of volunteers who qualified with enough points for each year since 2000.

Before voting for the resolution, Allison commented, “I think our attorney at the time (in 1999) didn’t direct us.  I’ll be darned if I’ll penalize the people who thought they were doing the right things. The list was sent to the clerk, but not brought to board. It was certified by chief.”

Church added, “I can’t, in good faith, vote against something that people thought they were doing correctly.”

In a second resolution Dec. 20, the board adopted a new points system to be used in 2012 and future years. The new points system follows the state points system.

“The issue was brought up and was bantered around in public safety. (Village Attorney) Ed (Brockman) had to spend a lot of time researching where we dropped the ball and how we could fix the system. The resolutions deal with the matter in a way that makes sense,” said Trustee Michael Christensen before the vote.

But Davidson, who has been critical of the Penn Yan Fire Department and village’s management of the LOSAP program for several months, and has alleged that some volunteers who should not have earned points toward a qualifying year did, while volunteers who should have received points did not, is calling for the end of the program and for funds spent on the program to be returned to the village taxpayers.

The village board met on Dec. 22, spending most of the meeting in executive session, to discuss the pending lawsuit.

Following the session, Church said, “We are very aware that this was not done properly in the past. This board did not create it, but this board will have to fix it.

“The Penn Yan fire fighters, in good faith, thought they were doing the right thing,” he added, explaining if any other points system had been in place since 2000, fire volunteers would have managed their participation accordingly.

Bart Winslow, a fire volunteer who is collecting benefits from the program, says the fire department leadership made its point system stricter to increase the average number of people responding to fire calls from 6.5 to 14.

Davidson’s lawsuit includes several other complaints against financial management issues within and related to the fire department.

“They are all connected,” he explained.

Davidson says he filed the lawsuit because he’s already talked to the board.

“I talked until I was blue in the face. I gave them a chance. I gave the mayor a chance. At this point in time, I’m no longer interested in talking to them,” he said after the board’s Dec. 22 meeting.

Davidson said court officials have told him a hearing will be set for 1:30 p.m. Jan. 24.

Davidson, who was elected to the board in 2010, resigned Dec.14, citing family medical issues.