Randy Allen / Special to The Bee

Lance Newhall, center, talks to Herald fire board Chairman Stephen Stigelmayer at the meeting June 19.

Herald fire district board member reinstated after May removal

Published: Thursday, Jun. 27, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Jun. 27, 2013 - 8:03 am

The Herald Fire Protection District board voted 3-1 Wednesday to reinstate an elected officer it had ousted, following a community uproar that lasted more than a month.

The vote ends a struggle that began May 15 when board member Lance Newhall, 53, was removed for publicly disciplining a Fire Department employee in April.

Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli and dozens of residents from Herald, a community of roughly 1,200 northeast of Galt, said the removal was illegal because only a recall vote or prosecution after a grand jury finds misconduct can deprive officials of their elected office. Newhall had won a second term in 2012 with more votes than any other candidate.

The board, which normally convenes monthly, met for the third time in June to address New-hall's position. An extra seat between two members of the board, along with an unopened bottle of water and a board packet, suggested how the directors would vote.

"I worked kind of hard to get this meeting tonight," said Vice Chairman Dennis Johnson. "Nobody's totally faultless in this thing, and hopefully we can get this put to bed. … I'd like to reinstate Mr. Lance Newhall to the board."

Chairman Stephen Stigelmayer disagreed.

"I believe we acted within our rights," he said. "What kind of precedent are we setting for our staff … our volunteers?"

Another director and members of the 45-member audience spoke. Earlier, Stigelmayer said the meeting was "very different from last week," when 13 residents approached the board table demanding that Newhall regain his seat.

At that meeting, Newhall sat next to his former colleagues on the advice of a Senate aide who helped draft the Fire Protection District Law in 1987. Stigelmayer said Newhall only had the rights of an audience member, and Newhall vowed to sue each board member individually.

Wednesday night, New-hall waited quietly in the back of the audience.

Herald resident Darlene Westphal asked the board before its vote to apologize to Newhall.

Another audience member, Blyth Deam, said, "Doesn't Director Newhall owe an apology for his outburst, which essentially caused his removal?"

Newhall's wife, Brenda, interrupted: "Outburst? What do you mean, outburst?" The minutes showed that Newhall spoke calmly, she said.

"Oh, I'm sorry – attack," Deam responded.

Stigelmayer closed the comment period and asked the board to vote on New-hall's reinstatement. His three colleagues voted in favor.

"I vote no," Stigelmayer said. "It passes. Lance is back on the board."

The audience clapped, and Johnson motioned Newhall to retake his seat. Newhall thanked the Herald community and said, "I hope that we can move on and take care of the business of this department."

After the meeting, Johnson said issues remained, but "hopefully it will get better." Newhall said he no longer intends to sue the directors.

Herald resident Laura Keister said she's considering arranging a vote to recall Stigelmayer, Johnson and Director Kevin Austin, for using taxpayer dollars to pay legal counsel dealing with Newhall's dismissal.

"I want them to pay for what they put him through," she said.

Call The Bee's Jeffrey Dastin, (916) 321-1037.

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