Pioneer Fire Protection District (PFPD) Chief Mark Matthews is accusing at least one member of the district board of directors of harassment and creating a hostile work environment.
Mathews, the current chief of the Pioneer Fire Protection District, was the first firefighter on scene to the Caldor Fire and was the first incident commander on August 14, 2021. He is currently on medical leave and is reported to now be living in Oregon. His contract at Pioneer is due to expire at the end of March if it is not renewed.
Matthews wrote a letter dated February 2, 2022 to Randy Rossi and Tony Marcaccio, the chair and vice chair of PFPD Board of Directors, respectively. The subject line of the letter reads “Hostile work environment, harassment, and violation of state statues.”
The letter, written on district letterhead, aims to inform Mr. Rossi and Mr. Marcaccio that, “Director Tina Holum has been and is currently in violation of the Brown Act, District Policy and Procedures along with state statues [sic].” Christina Holum has been the PFPD Board of Directors Secretary since early 2021. Holum has created a “hostile working environment for administration and district personnel,” Matthews writes.
Matthews goes on to state that Holum has harassed him “through accusation, contacting BOD, rumors, discussing closed session items outside of closed session, failing to follow Board Policy and Procedures and more then [sic] what is listed [sic].”
The Jericho Report reached out to Ms. Holum and asked if she would like to comment. In response, she categorically denied all accusations in Matthews’ letter. “Hostile work environment? He’s not really offering any examples here so I don’t know what to say. I’ve always done my job. I’ve asked questions. Maybe he considers that ‘hostile’?,” Holum asked rhetorically.
When asked what kind of questions she’s referring to Holum replied, “I mean, maybe that’s what he means by ‘hostile work environment.’ I ask questions. It’s my job. I ask him about fiscal spending. I ask about certifications. Maybe that’s what he means? I certainly don’t know what he means.”
Hollum went on to deny ever violating any district policy or procedure and that she has never repeated anything that has ever taken place in closed session, whether the subject matter has been about Matthews or anything else. I asked her if she knows which district policy or procedure Matthews is accusing her of violating. “I have no idea,” said Holum.
Indeed, while the letter repeats broad accusations about “harassment” and rule-breaking, Matthews does not offer specific examples. I asked Holum if she has thought about why Matthews wrote this letter and why he is targeting her. Holum told me, “I was an air traffic controller. My job was always to ask questions, especially when something didn’t look right. People’s lives depended on it. I honestly believe that’s what happened here. I started asking questions, and Chief Matthews really didn’t like that. Now, I guess he’s trying to accuse me of something. What exactly is he accusing me of? I don’t know.”
From the start of our interview it was clear Ms. Holum had already read the letter. Because it was not addressed to her, I asked how she came to view the letter herself. She told me there is much she cannot discuss because she can’t reveal anything that has occurred in a closed-door board meeting. However, she was able to share bits of information that occurred publicly.
On February 2, 2022 a closed-door special meeting was held by the PFPD Board of Directors. Immediately following the meeting Mr. Rossi, Mr. Marcaccio, and Dan Dwyer were “looking at some pieces of paper and an envelope,” according to Holum. “I asked them if the meeting was continuing, if there was more business. Randy said something like, ‘We have something to address but you can leave,'” Holum tells me.
Dan Dwyer heads the Pioneer Volunteer Firefighters association and does not sit on the Pioneer Fire Protection District Board of Directors. If Mr. Marcaccio and Mr. Rossi were discussing the letter from Matthews, it is not clear why they were sharing its content with Mr. Dwyer and not Ms. Holum. Neither men have responded to requests for comment on this story.
Ms. Holum says it was two days later when the Board of Director’s attorney, Eric Stevens, emailed her a scanned copy of Matthews letter. I asked Holum if the attorney has been helpful and she replied that she had to get her own attorney because Steven’s can’t represent her. I asked her to clarify why she would be made to get her own attorney to which she said, “I think some of that could be getting into closed session information, so I am going to stop this here.”
Matthews letter goes on to accuse Holum of being “hurtful and creating fear” which has impacted “personnel [sic] health and mental wellbeing.” He closes his letter by demanding that Mr. Rossi and Mr. Marcaccio “investigate this concern immediately and request she stop these actions and behaviors or be sanction [sic].”
Attached to the letter are lists of ‘records’ Mattews is demanding the Board of Directors turn over to him. Among other things, Matthews appears to be instructing the board to gather any of Ms. Hollum’s text messages, emails, notes, reports, or letters that make any mention of Matthews. The chief also demands “Any correspondence or communication to anyone (from Hollum) as it relates to Bryan Ransdell, David Whitt, and Fire Chief Walt White.”
Mr. Ransdell is the former fire chief of the Diamond Springs Fire District and was given a conditional offer to become Matthews’ replacement at Pioneer, pending a background check. Mr. Ransdell has since withdrawn his application.
I asked Ms. Holum if Mr. Rossi or Mr. Marcaccio has complied with Chief Matthews’ demands to examine her communications, and whether or not they have begun and an investigation into her. She declined to comment, citing board policy and the Brown Act. I asked Ms. Holum if she would comply if such a request were legally presented to her. “Yes, of course. I don’t have anything to hide here,” she said.
At the time of this writing it is unclear if any investigation by Mr. Rossi or Mr. Marcaccio has begun.
Matthews’ letter is dated February 2. Ms. Holum believes it was hand-delivered to Mr. Marcaccio and Mr. Rossi the same day. February 2 is also the date on which Chief Matthews sent messages to several individuals announcing that he is retiring and will move home to Oregon to be closer with family, according to several of Chief Matthews’ closest associates. The same sources also state Chief Matthews has been living in Oregon since at least February 11, if not prior.
February 2 is also the date in which, following the closed session, Mr. Rossi announced publicly that Matthews is “out on medical leave and will not be returning.” This is the second time Matthews has departed a position of fire chief while citing health concerns. In 2017, just prior to applying for the position of fire chief in Pioneer, Matthews resigned “due to cancer” from the Palominas Fire District in Cochise County, Arizona.
The Jericho Report has learned that during that time Matthews was the subject of an investigation by the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office prompted by at least two employees of Matthews who were concerned about is behavior around several suspicious fires there. At the same time, Matthews was also under investigation by a human resources contractor for allegedly harassing and threatening employees, as well as violating nearly a dozen district policies and guidelines.
Matthews’ contract is scheduled to expire at the end of March. He has not responded to requests for comment on this story.
I had the opportunity to then speak with Ms. Holum about her interactions with Chief Matthews, her understanding of his health concerns, and her experience with the Caldor Fire. More on this conversation in Part Two: PFPD Board Director Responds to Chief Matthews’ Accusations of Harassment, Raises New Questions