The voters have spoken in Black Forest and it is not good news for the incumbents.
By almost a 3-1 vote, PJ Langmaid Jayme McConnellogue and Rick Nearhoof defeated Black Forest Fire/Rescue District chairman Eddie Bracken, and board members Preston Cooper and Walt Seelye.
“I think this will help the community heal,” Langmaid said. “Hopefully we can maintain that momentum and keep moving forward.”
Langmaid, McConnellogue and Nearhoof will be sworn in at the next Board meeting, which is scheduled for May 21 at 6:30 p.m.
More than 2,500 voters cast their mail-in ballots in the May 6 election. More than 6,800 ballots were mailed out. Of those, the U.S. Postal Service returned more 400 because the ballots were undeliverable for a variety of reasons, according to Kathy Russell, spokesperson for the District.
Langmaid received 1,620 votes, followed by Nearhoof (1,595) and McConnellogue (1,579).
A fourth candidate, Mark Fitzgerald, received 708 votes.
Cooper received 656 votes, while Bracken had 613 and Seelye 394.
Langmaid, McConnellogue and Nearhoof will join existing board members Rick McMorran and Bill Marchant to round out the five-person board.
“It was a tremendous voter turnout for such a small district,” said Langmaid, a Colorado Springs fire fighter who lost his home in last June's massive Black Forest Fire that claimed nearly 500 structures and two lives. “These aren't our seats. These are the community seats. They have a say-so in what happens.”
Langmaid, McConnellogue and Nearhoof are part of the “Restore Black Forest Fire” coalition that strongly opposed the leadership of the current board.
Langmaid's group made it clear during its campaign that it intends to have a transparent board in which Black Forest citizens are better informed on critical issues, as well as everyday operations of the department. The main firehouse is located at Fire Station No. 1, 11445 Teachout Road.
“We have a steep learning curve,” Langmaid said. “It's fair to say that the community wants us to revive the leadership. There are a lot of unanswered questions. We need to know as a community how we got here, where we're at and where we're going.”
Among the questions Langmaid plans to ask is why the District leadership's gave the go-ahead on an independent investigation into last summer's fire, and why the cost has exceeded $100,000.
“I've heard that it's up to $125,000 to $134,000,” Langmaid said. “Was a blank check given on that? What was the scope of the investigation?
“I want to bring the investigator in and ask him some questions. I want to know why this report reads the way it does.”
Among the other items Langmaid and the board plan to address is the future of Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey.
“It's a board of five people and we have to make responsible decisions; not emotional decisions,” Langmaid said.
The Fire Board regularly meets the third Wednesday of each month. However, the board can have special meetings, as long as 48 hours notice is given to the public.
“I think it would be fair to say we may have several special meetings,” Langmaid said.
According to Langmaid, “two-thirds of the forest is still ripe for another fire.”
“We'd like to educate the community on fire mitigation,” Langmaid said.