By CALVIN ADKINS
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
PRINCEVILLE – Not abiding by the official bylaws may have been the final straw that led to the demotion of Billy Boddie, chief of the Princeville Volunteer Fire Department (PVFD).
Perhaps the final straw that brought immediate attention to the shaky bylaws interpretation was the board of directors terminating firefighter James Powell, who served as the secretary. According to the PVFD bylaws, the board of directors cannot terminate firefighters. Its only mission is to govern the department's finances.
Powell was suspended and then illegally terminated for insubordination after he inquired about financial records. During PVFD business meeting on Wednesday, Powell read the bylaw that stipulates the board cannot terminate firefighters.
Powell strongly urged the fire department to place him back on the roster within 48 hours or he would carry out court action against it. With the termination of Boddie, it is likely that the department met those demands.
In a bizarre twist, in that Powell was not on the fire department’s roster, he was allowed to vote. Powell again used the bylaws for his reasons for being able to participate in the political process. He also took the lead in addressing major issues including seconding motions and voting.
“The board cannot terminate me therefore I can be a part of the political process,” Powell said. “They did not comply with the state law and the department’s bylaws. You have no other choice but to reinstate me. If it had been done the right way I would have no other choice but to leave.”
The confusion may have occurred when the board amended the bylaws but failed to officially document the action. Minutes for that particular meeting were destroyed in 1999 by Hurricane Floyd’s flood waters.
Don Pollard, the president of PVFD, supports Boddie. Pollard stood strongly behind his chief, calling him “the best chief” that the department ever had. He believes the turmoil that has divided the department was due in part to leaders not abiding by the official bylaws. He said the bylaws are outdated and they in dire need of getting into compliance.
Although some of PVFD firefighters have been calling for Boddie’s dismissal for several months, his termination came as a surprise Wednesday night when firefighters voted 8-6 to terminate him. The 31-year veteran firefighter was the department’s leader for 10 years. During the latter part of the chief's reign, his fire department was filled with division and turmoil including firefighters alleging that he mismanaged funds. Boddie strongly denied those claims. He said he was cleared of the allegations when the fire department lawyer told him that the Department Of Insurance investigation did not find any negligence. The findings were reported one day after Boddie was terminated.
Even if the findings were reported before Wednesday’s meeting, the rift of the widespread rumor had damaged Boddie’s reputation among the firefighters, and he still could have been terminated. The stipulation of the termination allows Boddie to remain a firefighter. Boddie said he needs time to evaluate whether or not he would remain in the department. Firefighters siding with Boddie verbally said they are going to resign. The resignations will place the department under the 18 manned roster limitations. Before Wednesday’s meeting the department had exactly 18 volunteers.
“It’s not going to be a problem,” Powell said about losing firefighters. “There’s been some inquires already and others who have inquired but were not able to get in (the department) that we are going to depend on.”
Bobby Armfield Jr. was promoted to interim chief. PVFD is expected to permanently fill the vacancy soon. The department may also select new members of its board of directors.