Banks Fire District Chief Rodney Linz speaks to families of the fire science class held at the Banks Fire District offices October 15, 2016. Photo: Banks Fire District
Following accusations of sexual harassment of a minor and a number of other allegations against Banks Fire District Chief Rodney Linz, the district’s board of directors pushed back Tuesday with a statement authorized by the board at a special meeting held Monday evening.
“The Banks Fire District takes all allegations and complaints of harassment seriously and creating and ensuring a safe and respectful workplace for our employees and volunteers remains a primary focus for the department,” the statement began.
The board said that an independent investigation was launched to address new allegations of racist and sexist remarks by Chief Rodney Linz levied during a Nov. 10 meeting by current and former volunteers with the Banks Fire District.
In an email to the Banks Post, Banks Fire District spokesperson Scott Adams said that the board’s policies say both the chief and the board chair can call for an investigation.
“Both are and have been united in calling for and cooperating with the investigation by an outside 3rd party investigator,” Adams said.
The details and scope of the new investigation were not disclosed in the statement.
Through a public records request with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, the Banks Post also identified the existence of a complaint involving the Banks Fire District. Who the complaint was made against, whether Linz, a board member, or someone else, and other details were not disclosed.
A spokesperson for the ethics commission said that the commission could confirm that there was an active complaint, noting that it was in preliminary review, but could make no other statement. The case will go to the commission’s January 14 meeting, after which more information may be disclosed.
The Oregon Government Ethics Commission is a nine-member citizen board supported by nine staff members charged with enforcing government ethics laws in the state.
The Banks Fire District’s statement was passed with two board members, Rae Weaver and Ed Ewing, voting to approve it, one board member, John Wren, opposing the statement’s authorization, and an abstention from board member Kevin Henning. Board Chair Mark Schmidlin also did not vote.
Prior to the board’s adoption of the statement, Schmidlin noted that it was reviewed by the board during an executive session that had concluded just moments before. Executive sessions are closed to most members of the public, per state law. Members of the media are permitted to attend, but cannot report what was discussed during the meetings.
During the last regular board meeting, held November 10, Chief Rodney Linz was publicly accused by a woman who was a minor at the time the incident is alleged to have taken place. The Banks Post does not, as a rule, name minors involved in sexual harassment cases and other like situations.
Original sexual harassment allegation
As first reported by Pamplin Media, at the November 10 board meeting, the former Banks High School student said that, during a fire science class in the 2017-2018 school year when she was a senior, she served as a teacher’s assistant under Chief Linz after having completed the school’s Fire Science 1 and 2 classes in her sophomore and junior years in 2016 and 2017. The district claimed in their statement that the former student had exaggerated her role in the classroom.
“I witnessed [Linz] singling out students and belittling them, commenting on females’ attire,” the former student said. Shortly before her 18th birthday, the former student said that, while in the apparatus bay during her teacher’s assistant period at the Banks Fire District, the chief approached her while she was showing homecoming pictures to a family member.
Leaning over her shoulder, she said, Linz “saw the picture of me in my homecoming dress and told me that I looked like I was asking to be bent over.”
“I stormed out, I came back the next day, and I told him that that comment made me uncomfortable, and that it wasn’t ok, and that all I wanted from him was an apology and that this wouldn’t happen again.
“And he told me that he was sorry, but that I was gonna have to get used to it, being a young attractive female,” she said.
She said that Linz’ comments led to years of being self conscious about her body, and that she was disappointed that Linz remained in his position.
According to Banks School District documents, two fire science classes, which can be used for college credit through a partnership with Portland Community College, are currently taught. In the 2018 and 2019 school year, they included facility tours at the Banks Fire District, an interview with Linz, and were taught by “fire department personnel.”
The district considers this matter closed, saying a prior investigation by the Northwest
Regional Education Service District “determined that there was no evidence to substantiate a policy violation or the student’s claimed exaggerated role in classroom activities.”
Information on that investigation has not been made public by the fire district.
That incident was one of several noted in a recent lawsuit brought against Linz and the Banks Fire District.
The Banks Fire District and Chief Rodney Linz agreed to pay a $250,000 sum after a former employee of Banks Fire District #13 sued the district last year, alleging that Banks Fire District Chief Rodney Linz and the district retaliated against her after she raised concerns over nepotism and violations of district policy with the elected officials on the board of directors that govern the district. The funds were paid by the Special Districts Association of Oregon.
New allegations made at November 10 meeting
During the Nov. 10 meeting, current and former volunteers made several new allegations concerning Linz.
Reading from prepared remarks, Banks Fire District volunteer Chelsea Morton said a district volunteer complained that a male firefighter touched her arms and legs inappropriately and made comments to her about a recent weight gain. After bringing the issue up with Linz, the volunteer said, “[Linz] had talked her down from filing an official complaint and explained that this firefighter was just joking around and didn’t mean anything by it.”
The allegations also include that Linz described a Black district volunteer saying, “she is Black as Black can be. I mean, she is from the deep jungle.”
Another incident from what the volunteers and former volunteers compiled from a community member who was not named alleged that Linz said “Looks like you should be working the pole,” to a woman dancing with friends at a private birthday party.
“Although these allegations are not in line with the facts that have been raised or looked into previously, the District has initiated an outside investigation to ensure all possible concerns have been addressed appropriately,” the board’s statement read. “Chief Linz denies the allegations.”
The board statement described the allegations raised at the Nov. 10 meeting as “inflammatory, misleading, and false” in nature.
“Notably, a select few citizens have admitted having a personnel [sic] vendetta against Chief Linz; publicizing a false and misleading narrative facilitates that vendetta,” the statement read later. One person who was in the group of volunteer personnel reading allegations against Linz at the November 10 meeting was Joe Wren. Wren’s brother, John Wren, sits on the fire district’s board of directors.
John Wren was the sole vote against authorizing the statement.
The fire board meets Wednesday, December 8 beginning at 6 p.m. at the Banks Fire District offices in Banks (13430 NW Main Street). An agenda for the meeting can be found online.
Current and former fire district staff and employees who may have information regarding this story can contact the Banks Post by email at [email protected], or leave a voicemail at 503-395-8131.
The names of two board members were switched in the vote count and have been corrected.