If it isn't broke, don't fix it.
Many people would like to apply that old saying to the Cathlamet Fire Department and Mayor George Wehrfritz's efforts to bring its management under his control.
The department operates under an arrangement created in 1932. It put supervision of the department under the Cathlamet Commercial Club, which now operates as the Chamber of Commerce, with that supervision subject to approval by the town council. Over the years, the department grew to be a strong organization that operated largely on its own, with its own internal checks and balances.
That model, however, isn't found in the Washington State Constitution. Under the town's mayor-council form of government, the mayor is in charge of the various departments, including the fire department.
That's a situation that needs to change.
The Washington State Auditor's Office this week released its report on the town for 2008-09. It had two findings, which are faults that require action. One criticized the town's lack of oversight over fire department accounts. The other focused on policies for department gas cards. Officials have already taken steps to prevent future improper use of gas cards.
Town officials can remedy the arrangement between with the fire department. It might take a while to work out details like policies and procedures, but it can be done.
And it has to be done, whether we like it or not, so that the town operates under the law.
The department, however, is far from broken.
People like the way it works. The Cathlamet department has been a leader in providing initial response to fires inside and outside of town (because it traditionally has had the most volunteers closest to equipment), and it has spearheaded the development of a fine emergency medical response system.
The leadership is dedicated to community service. Most of the higher officers have been volunteering since the 1970's, and I'm sure Chief Jerry DeBriae started in the 1960's.
People respect that leadership, and they don't want to see it dismantled. The audit findings address organizational structure, not misfeasance or malfeasance by individuals.
There are many other issues at play, more than we can cover in one week's edition. The audit report is long; I suggest you read it online on the SAO website.