Lawsuit targets posse changes

April 05, 2002 12:00 am
The Baker County Sheriffs Posse has been a fixture in community parades in the past. Now some members of the group are suing to try to prevent the groups reorganization into a search and rescue team. (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).
The Baker County Sheriffs Posse has been a fixture in community parades in the past. Now some members of the group are suing to try to prevent the groups reorganization into a search and rescue team. (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).

By CHRIS COLLINS

Of the Baker City Herald

Some members of the Baker County Sheriffs Posse believe Troy Hale overstepped his authority when he announced plans to reorganize the group in February and they have taken action to stop him.

A petition for judicial relief was filed March 27 in Baker County Circuit Court by Dennis Hanby and Charles and Janice Foland, all of Baker City, and Robert Smith of Haines.

The petition asks the court to require the posse board of directors to call a general membership meeting within 30 days for a vote on the reorganization issue.

Members would be asked to answer two questions:

A. Should the Baker County Sheriffs Mounted Posse be disbanded, the corporation dissolved, and its assets distributed, as provided in the Articles of Incorporation; and

B. If the answer to Question A is No, shall the Baker County Sheriffs Mounted Posse restate its Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws to change its name to Baker County Mounted Posse, and amend or restate its purpose away from assisting the sheriffs department and toward an emphasis on horsemanship, marksmanship, youth activities and community involvement and betterment?

In Sheriff Troy Hales view, the four are suing their own organization. That would have been unnecessary had the petitioners met with him to discuss their concerns, he says.

The petition has nothing to do with me or my office, he said in an interview this week.

The posse board already has planned to call a meeting to vote on the issue because of the misunderstanding among group members, according to Cindi Nichols, posse captain. She declined to comment further on the dispute.

As soon as they vote, this thing should be put to rest, Hale said.

And if members decide to rename the group and focus on activities other than search and rescue, Hale said he will organize a team that will comply with his plans for changing the organization.

Whoever wanted to apply would be more than welcome, he said.

The sheriff had been listed as a member of the posses board of directors, but that is not accurate, he said. He is not a member of the posse and has no voting privileges.

Thats the issue, according to the petitioners.

The sheriff has really no rights to tell the posse what to do, Hanby said.

All we want is what we wanted in the February meeting that is to have a membership vote, he added.

Hanby and Janice Foland said in an interview Wednesday that through their attorney, Stephen B. Fonda of Nyssa, they wrote a letter to Nichols dated March 7 asking for the issue to be brought to a general membership vote.

Nichols did not respond to the letter. The posse board also has not complied with requests made in a March 19 letter drafted by Fonda for information such as the articles of incorporation, the organizations bylaws and a list of the names and addresses of the board of directors and officers.

It seems to me like Sheriff Hale thought maybe because of the name of the organization that he controlled it, Fonda said in telephone interview from his office Wednesday. He seems to think he owns it and can direct it. The petitioners object to that.

In a letter dated March 25 that was sent to every Baker County resident, Hale explained his position on the issue.

He said he recently learned that the sheriffs posse is a separate entity from the sheriffs department and has been since it was organized in 1949. As such, most of the the posses activities are not covered by county liability insurance, according to Sarah Hilderbrand, county counsel, Hale said.

For that reason, the sheriff said he is concerned about the safety of our search and rescue operations and the liability to our county government and to the taxpayers of this county.

That is what led him to announce plans for reorganization, he said. The posse board of directors agreed with Hales plan during the February meeting.

But the petitioners say liability is not an issue.

According to Janice Foland and Hanby, posse members are covered by personal liability insurance and purchased liability for activities unrelated to search and rescue. When members are called by the sheriff for search and rescue missions, they are covered by state statute, they said.

Hale also proposed removing the word posse from the groups title and renaming it the Baker County Sheriffs Search and Rescue Team. The new organization would emphasize search and rescue training and operations and be under the supervision of the sheriff.

Reorganization isnt necessary to accomplish the sheriffs goals, according to Foland and Hanby.

We can still do everything Troy wants to do, Hanby said. We have the ability, we have the knowledge. We can do this without being split up. What were trying to do is get a vote.

Hale said he also believes the new organization should apply for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status to allow it to qualify for grant funding.

According to Fonda, the nonprofit group already qualifies for grants. Under its current structure, however, donations are not tax-deductible.

Also at issue are the organizations assets, which include bank accounts totaling about $13,000, a chuck wagon and trailer, climbing and other rescue equipment and generators. Hale had planned to absorb the assets as part of the reorganization.

The people I represent intend for the assets to stay with the organization, Fonda said.

In addition to Nichols, the board includes Rod Wickam, past captain; Becky Hansen, secretary; Dee Hansen, training officer; Sandra Rounsville, treasurer; and directors, Perry Jacobs, Phil Wilson, Earlinda Crider and Brent Kerns.

Under Hales plan, members have been asked to reapply to the organization. They would be required to follow a new, more detailed application process and to turn in their old uniform shirts.

The petitioners also believe that is unnecessary.

I wasnt going to pay another $35 to join his group when theres no reason to disband the posse in the first place, Hanby said. Theres no need to join a new group.

Hanby and Foland also did not turn in their uniform shirts as requested.They paid for the shirts and there was no provision to reimburse them for the expense, they said.

At the February meeting, Janice Foland said she became upset after learning of the plan to reorganize and asked that her membership fee be returned. The board refunded her money, but she later reconsidered her action and returned the money. The board refused to reinstate her membership, she said. She maintains that she did not resign from the posse and considers her membership valid.

Charles Folands membership also was terminated earlier after the board considered charges of misconduct against him, Nichols said.

According to Fonda, Charles Foland considers his membership still valid, because he believes he was improperly terminated.

If you dont do it right, its not done, Fonda said. Hes still a member.

Hanby, Janice Foland and Fonda all emphasize that they simply want all members to have the opportunity to vote on the issue.

It seems to me that everybodys rights are being violated, Fonda said. If Sheriff Hale doesnt like the way things are going, he just pulls the plug.

In hindsight, Hale regrets that the board did not seek a vote from members attending the February meeting.

I dont want it to look like Im trying to grab any power away from them, he said. They are mad and feeling hurt and that was never the intention.

I want to see whats best for this organization and for this county with the least amount of liability, he said. I view that as my job.