‘Marooned’ commissioner all alone in Fire District 17 after other officials quit

Just days after he was appointed commissioner in Fire District 17, Dennis Day is now the tiny district’s last remaining official – as well as its only volunteer.

The district’s other two commissioners, Phil Farcy and Charles Mitchell, resigned abruptly after Day was appointed. Day notified the county in December that commissioner Mike Leach had been appointed illegally, and county commissioners appointed Day last month to take his place – following Day’s concerns that the district’s officials were not adequately doing their jobs.

“The two other commissioners submitted their letters of resignation, simply because they didn’t want to help Mr. Day, the newly appointed commissioner, figure out how the job works,” said civil deputy prosecutor Cullen Gatten.

During a district meeting on Feb. 27, Farcy and Mitchell submitted their resignations, along with the district’s secretary. Day described the exchange as “respectful,” and thanked Farcy for his service.

“Once we started explaining what all the jobs were, maybe it was a little too hard for them,” Day said. “It was like, ‘if you’re so smart, you do it then.’”

Day, who had been the district’s only volunteer, has been trying to learn the role of commissioner, noting that District 17 is behind on audits and needs to broker a long-term renewal of its interlocal agreement with Pierce County’s Fire District 23, which provides almost all emergency response in neighboring District 17.

Despite the resignations and the work that needs to be done, Day said he’s not discouraged. He already has people he’s confident will apply for the vacant commission seats, and he’s committed to finding three volunteers to train as responders by the end of the year.

“I’m knocking on doors,” he said. “I’m asking for opinions. Most people are so fed up with meetings around here, so we’re taking meetings to them.”

Fire District 17 is situated just outside of Mount Rainier National Park near Ashford, and has 137 registered voters.

The departures of the other two commissioners leave Day in a bind. Now that he’s alone, he’s powerless to take votes until he has another commissioner to serve alongside him. Civil deputy prosecutor Eric Eisenberg said Day approached him after a recent county commission meeting.

“He asked me a lot of really smart questions, mostly related to the fact that he now has to try to piece together what to do, mostly on his own, with no institutional knowledge,” Eisenberg said. “He doesn’t have a lot of resources, he doesn’t have a lot of records, anything. He’s just trying to do the best he can in a tough spot.”

It now falls to Lewis County to appoint a replacement, and once that official is confirmed, the new commissioner and Day can choose their third counterpart.

County commissioners will begin seeking applicants, and Eisenberg said he had encouraged Day to recruit people to apply. Day can do practical things like compiling records and reaching out with questions, but he can’t take actions that would require a vote on his own.

“It’s important for us to try to get someone appointed so they can have a quorum of people so they can appoint someone else and get moving,” Eisenberg said. “Because of the legal question of what the extent of his power is as a marooned commissioner, that’s why it’s pressing to get applications in and get someone to join him.”

Day said he’s received enthusiastic feedback in his search to get people involved in the district. Public service, even at a tiny local level, remains important to people, he said.

“It’s a little hole in a dot in the woods, but it is the government, it’s everything that started this country,” he said. “Volunteerism is not just for the big cities. It’s everywhere.”