A meeting of the Herald Fire Protection District board was halted in disarray Wednesday night after a crowd approached the directors' table demanding the reinstatement of an elected officer who was ousted last month.
Confrontation has plagued Herald, a community of roughly 1,200 in southeast Sacramento County, since the fire district board ousted Lance Newhall on May 15 for publicly chiding a Fire Department employee.
Dozens of Herald residents and a Sacramento County supervisor say the board acted illegally because only a recall vote or prosecution for misconduct found by a grand jury can unseat elected officials.
Newhall, 53, took a seat at the directors' table before Wednesday's meeting began at 5:30 p.m.
Board Chairman Stephen Stigelmayer addressed Newhall publicly: "The board voted you off. You're no longer a board member."
"I don't recognize that," Newhall said.
Newhall put on his glasses and read a statement he had prepared in advance. He vowed to sue each member of the board individually if he did not regain his seat. He turned to Stigelmayer and said, "This is a civil rights issue, my friend. You're denying me, and I'm not going to tolerate it."
Earlier, Newhall told The Bee that he set his course of action after consulting legal counsel as well as Peter Detwiler, considered by many to be the Capitol's expert on local government before he retired two years ago. Detwiler helped craft California's Fire Protection District Law of 1987 as a Senate aide.
According to Detwiler, the law didn't permit the five-member board to pass a disciplinary code in 2011, which board members say gave them the right to fire Newhall.
"They're preventing him from discharging his lawful office," Detwiler said.
He added that Newhall should take back his seat or sue, since the board infringed on his rights and the rights of Herald residents, who re-elected Newhall in 2012 with more votes than any other board member.
At Wednesday's meeting, Stigelmayer told Newhall he could sit with the board "as a member of the audience," but could not vote as a director.
Alan Silva shouted from the crowd of 50 or so residents who attended the meeting, "Let's all sit up here with Lance. Come on, let's go!"
Eleven people walked to the front of the room and stood behind Newhall and the directors' table. Two others scooted up their chairs until they sat a foot from Director Kevin Austin and Newhall, staring each in the eye.
"We're supporting him!" Silva, 52, shouted.
Stigelmayer slammed his gavel onto the table. He said the board needed to address several issues from last week's meeting, which only focused on Newhall.
After he considered asking the protesters to leave the hall, Stigelmayer called a brief recess.
Five minutes later, after the residents returned to their seats, Stigelmayer began a discussion of the budget.
Fire Department administrators had printed copies of 11 handouts detailing the department's expenditures in a show of transparency, they said. Audience member Darlene Westphal, however, said, "We had no time to review that information until (the) recess."
Each time Stigelmayer moved the board to vote on a budget item, Newhall chimed in from the directors' table, "Aye!"
Stigelmayer conducted the final vote by roll call so Newhall couldn't be counted. After the audience dispersed, the board's vice chairman, Dennis Johnson, said, "I'm hoping there will be other ways of doing it so we don't have to go to court."
He said the board was reviewing the situation with an attorney. "We're still doing some research," he said.
The board reported in its agenda it will address the vacancy formally July 17.
Stigelmayer said the meeting concluded better than he expected. "We gave a little, and they took off a little," he said. "And I liked that."
Call The Bee's Jeffrey Dastin, (916) 321-1037.
Editor's Note: This story has been changed to correct the age of Alan Silva, 52. Corrected on June 20, 2013.