Jackson Hole Fire/EMS workers are calling for the removal of the town’s fire chief.
Stephen Jellie took the reins of the department a little more than a year ago.
But, on Monday, employees filled the Teton County Board of Commissioners chambers in person and online to bring attention to Jellie’s leadership style.
Bernhard Sieber, a fire volunteer in Hoback, was one of many who spoke.
“We stand before you as members of Jackson fire EMS and citizens of Teton County. We come to you today with our own 911 emergency,” Sieber said. “Steven Jellie has brought a new view and a very experienced financial background to the department. Steven Jelle has also brought erosion of trust. Degradation of moral and safety concerns including mental health throughout the department.”
Sieber and others like Jack Krill, another Hoback volunteer firefighter, said Jellie has often been threatening and demeaning to employees.
“An unqualified, inexperienced and tyrannical chief is heading us toward a catastrophe,’ Krill said. “A change is needed to provide for the safety of the firefighters and the public.”
The Jackson Hole News&Guide reports Jellie had been the subject of private board conversations and intensifying concerns from staff, who have said they fear retribution for speaking up about safety and morale in the department.
Jellie was at Monday’s meeting, though he did not talk. But 17-year fire department veteran and captain Tyler Dunn did speak in his defense.
“Chief Jellie has significant institutional knowledge, a great understanding and application of the chain of command. and a decisive and proactive approach to our mission,” Dunn said. “Simultaneously, he’s extremely fiscally intelligent and responsible. I can personally say that I have learned more about 360-degree leadership from Chief Jellie in the past year than I have learned in my previous 16 years.”
The Board of Commissioners broke for several hours to discuss the personnel matter, but when they returned didn’t take any action to remove Jellie. They did, however, vote to send a letter to the Fire and EMS department.
“We recognize the inherent challenges within the Chief’s role, where tough decisions must be made for the future of the department. It is the Chief’s prerogative and obligation to navigate change so that it creates an opportunity for growth,” the letter reads. “Our confidence in the capabilities of JH Fire/EMS remains steadfast. The board is providing the Chief an opportunity to change his approach to leadership and, in particular, his approach to interpersonal communications and relations with staff and others, and to build trust throughout the ranks of JH Fire/EMS.”
The letter states that “safeguards” will be in place for all personnel disciplinary proposals, and the commissioners will review them before any action is taken.
In addition, the letter states the chief will have more listening sessions with volunteers and establish a task force to weigh in on strategic changes. Jellie will also present a summary of changes made over the last year to commissioners and town councilors.