Cannon Beach fire chief’s firing ‘business, not personal’

Mike Balzer

CANNON BEACH — Meeting minutes from the Cannon Beach Rural Fire Protection District Board shed little light on the firing of Mike Balzer as fire chief.

“This is strictly business, not personal,” Director Garry Smith said at the board’s October meeting.

After reasons for the chief’s dismissal were not immediately released and the board minutes were withheld, the firing resulted in outrage from those who felt the announcement was “in poor taste.”

After the Cannon Beach Gazette submitted a state public records request, all 2015 meeting minutes were delivered last week.

According to the Oct. 12 meeting minutes, in announcing the dismissal of the chief, Smith said, “There was an expectation that (Balzer) would learn the job and improve and follow through in working with the board as a partner, not a manager.”

Members voted 4-1 to terminate Balzer’s employment as of that night, based on his “lack of improved performance for his job over the last three years.”

President Sharon Clyde said there “has been friction” between Balzer and firefighters.

Board members Linda Beck-Sweeney, Mark Mekenas, Smith and Clyde voted for the dismissal.

In voting to maintain Balzer, board member Bob Cerelli said “he has not seen” any problems with Balzer and the other firefighters.

Board members asked Balzer to return his keys and the fire district’s phone once he retrieved information he needed from it.

The next morning, Balzer was locked out of his office. At the board’s November meeting, members of the public took the board to task for Balzer’s firing.

Community member Erik Meyer said the board should have placed Balzer on administrative leave for transparency and given him a chance “to save face.”

“He has been a respected member of this fire department for more years than any of us can remember,” community member Alaina Giguiere said. “And, truly, for you guys to terminate him in the manner that you did is disgusting and disrespectful and reprehensible. And I think you owe him and all of us a complete apology.”

Smith said Balzer was given the chance to resign or retire. The board gave Balzer multiple opportunities and presented him with a time frame in June, “so he wasn’t just suddenly ousted out of the fire department,” Smith said.

Assistant Chief Frank Swedenborg was initially appointed interim chief, but Swedenborg, who is ready to retire, stepped aside for an outside interim appointee, Jim Stearns.

Stearns, of Hermiston, spent 31 years — 20 as chief — with Hermiston Fire and Emergency Services.

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