The Ely Times
The White Pine County Fire Commission meeting that was held earlier this week held several agenda items, one of which included the acceptance of a donation from Nye County Commission of a 2005 Kenworth Fire Water Tender via the Lund Volunteer Fire Department. Motion was made and approved unanimously to approve the donation.
An agenda item that was a bit perplexing was an agenda item for a discussion from the new Fire Chief/Director of Emergency Services Keith Westengard.
Westerngard stood before the commission, “I don’t know if this is an appropriate time or not to bring this up, things have come up in my personal life that are going to affect this position for me. I’ve had a lot of discussions with Chief Ward.
“This is something that I’ve really wanted and I feel you as a commission and myself have worked hard to get for however it’s a legal issue, concerning a family trust in California. It’s a substantial amount of money and going to take a lot of my time. It could take as little as two weeks, it could take up to a year.
“My concern is that I can’t come to this county and give what I feel is needed. I want to come here and hit the ground running and get it back to what I think where it needs to be. I don’t feel I can give it 100 percent right now. “
Westengard went on to explain to the commission how he has pursued this position several times noting that this is the third time he has applied for the job.
Chairman Commissioner Richard Howe said, “Maybe you’ve made your mind up, we can’t be in the dark. We can’t have you say in two weeks that you got to go anyway. The fact of the matter is, is your decision to withdraw and not accept this position or is it your intent to work out a negotiated agreement to satisfy some of your time off? We got to have you want to be here. The question from me to you is do you think you can put the time and effort into being the fire chief in White Pine County?”
Commissioner Gary Perea asked Westengard if he had given notice to his current employer.
Westengard said, “I have not because I do not have a firm job offer in place.”
Perea said, “So if we do go ahead and we do approve the compensation package are you going to give notice?”
Westengard replied, “Well, yeah. I haven’t made my mind up completely on what I want to do. I don’t know where I’m at. I want to give the district a 100 percent. I have not made up my mind. I’m here to tell you where I am at in my life. I have not given notice, I do not have a solid job offer.”
Perea told Westengard that he understood where he was coming from, and appreciated that he was being up front with them.
“I want to be as transparent as I can,” Westengard said. “What I’d like to look at doing is asking for a 60-day start date. I”m not asking for compensation in the 60-day period. I would like to work with Chief Ward to getting things in line.”
District Attorney Mike Wheable commented during the meeting, “If there’s a possibility that he might have to withdraw from this position because of whatever is going on, it would almost seem more fair to the community to withdraw your application allowing to solicit new proposals and then resubmit your proposal because that would push out a new start date. You’re obviously the top candidate that the commission wants and then if things go sideways we have people lined up where we can fill that position. I just want to throw that out there.”
Perea questioned whether the commission should stop right now and table all of these items for the next meeting, in two weeks.
Howe said he understood what all the commissioners’ were saying. “Commitment to the county is big for me, commitment to say yeah once these items are cleared up,” he said. “I’m going to be here, I’m not hearing that. I’m hearing once these items if they go one way or the other I may change my mind I’m not getting a total commitment.”
Westengard replied, “Let me clarify for you…once these items are cleared up, I’m a 100 percent committed to this county, but I also have to take care of things in my personal life as well.”
The commission will give him two more weeks to determine that before the next commission meeting.
In a news article from July 2010, the Elko Daily Free Press reported that Westengard, Elko County’s battalion chief for the Nevada Division of Forestry at that time, had filed a civil complaint in U.S. District court against seven of his coworkers alleging that they created a hostile work environment.
Although all seven employees denied the allegations, the case went to trial in 2014 and was settled according to a Elko Daily Free press news report. The report indicated that Westengard agreed to a settlement of $74,999.
In another news article from the Elko Daily Free Press, it was reported that Westengard was arrested in August of 2011 for a DUI and speeding. In November of 2012, Westengard was sentenced to serve 10 days in Elko County jail, but it was suspended one year on condition of serving two days in Elko County Jail with credit for four hours served.
He attended a victim-impact panel, completed the DUI School, abstained from drinking and driving, and paid a $582 fine.
Bill Ward will continue to serve as interim fire chief.