In recent months most people have heard about the controversy surrounding the Rockland Fire Protection District/Knollwood Fire Department. What’s below the surface is a game of politics that is impacting the survival of the Fire Department that Knollwood and Sanctuary residents rely on.
The typical fire protection district board in Lake County consists of three members appointed by the County Board President – not elected by the residents. More than a year ago, County Board President Aaron Lawlor publicly revealed his intent to dissolve the Rockland Fire Protection District, appointing trustees who would carry out his agenda.
Residents of Knollwood and The Sanctuary rose up against this plan. They were able to put a referendum on the April 2017 ballot to change the Fire Protection District to an elected board, allowing residents to have a say in who controls this vital service. The referendum passed with 81% of the vote. Clearly, the people had spoken.
However, this change can’t take place until the next local election – in April 2019. Until then, the County Board President has to continue appointing trustees as their terms expire. Mr. Lawlor knew he had a problem on his hands, because the term of one of the trustees he had appointed to carry out his plan, Dan Rogers, was expiring. Residents spoke out loud and clear about their wish to have a different trustee appointed. They organized public meetings, circulated petitions, put up signs, and encouraged friends and neighbors to contact Mr. Lawlor and our County Board rep, Mike Rummel.
On May 30, 2017, Mr. Lawlor issued an open letter to Rockland Fire Protection District voters, saying “I recognize the will of a vast majority of Knollwood voters who elected to make the Rockland Fire Protection District an elected unit of local government” and asking for community input on choosing between two candidates to fill the current opening.
We know, from documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, that more than 300 residents requested Mr. Lawlor NOT to reappoint the incumbent trustee, whereas only about 30 asked to retain the incumbent.
Despite having asked for this input, Mr. Lawlor chose to ignore it and reappoint the trustee who he originally selected to promote his agenda of consolidating and dissolving local districts.
We can only guess at the political forces at play here. Rumors are flying about pressure from top Lake County political bosses. It seems our public safety is just a pawn in a political game that ordinary citizens have no knowledge of or control over.
We, residents of Knollwood and The Sanctuary, are disappointed that this decision was made by someone we didn’t even elect – Mr. Lawlor is from a different part of Lake County and has no personal stake in our fire protection. Since the will of the people was ignored, we can only hope that the current Rockland Fire Protection District trustees will recognize themselves as a “placeholder board” and not make any decisions that will permanently affect the future of the fire department we trust and rely on.
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