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Fire board should reconsider most important hire

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Posted: Thursday, August 30, 2012 11:16 am | Updated: 1:03 pm, Fri Mar 1, 2013.

Here’s the thing about good-old-boy networks. They are generally not clutches of evil-doers bent on dictatorship, but rather well-meaning people who simply think they know best. So it is with the emerging cabal that is determined to return Coastside fire services to “local control.”

The dissolution of the Coastside Fire Protection District’s CalFire contract is sad for many reasons. By most guesses, the stand-alone department that emerges will be more expensive at a time when money is so scarce for other public projects and infrastructure. It marks the return of acrimony surrounding the local fire department. And it has sparked an unfortunate effort to recall elected members of the board of directors.

But if you are looking for the most obvious reason to be concerned about the future, look no further than this: The board majority that caused this mess has decided on its next fire chief without so much as posting the job. Forget vetting candidates in public. Three men on the coast don’t even plan on interviewing anyone at all.

Board President Doug Mackintosh told the Review last week that he had no intention of advertising the job. Like-minded board member Mike Alifano told us something similar on Monday, adding that the board was not required to notice the job. They already know who they want to be chief.

We don’t know whether the fire board is technically required to advertise the chief’s position, but why in the world wouldn’t it choose to do so? If you were on a public board and contemplating paying your top employee something like $200,000 a year, wouldn’t you want to entertain outside candidates for the position?

The board has hired a good man, former San Mateo Fire Chief Dan Belville, to study the next steps toward forming a stand-alone department. His most important task is to find some way to attract qualified firefighters to what would be a fledgling department —without breaking the bank. That means navigating the morass that is the state’s retirement system for public employees. The Coastside’s new department would likely incur as-yet-unknown health care and retirement expenses that could easily run into the millions of dollars.

When he’s done decoding CalPERS indecipherable rules and expenses, Belville should tackle another all-but-impossible task. He should ask board members to change their minds. Cronyism is among the most damning charge made against any public board. By announcing the new chief without a single interview, the current board majority would be acknowledging they are good old boys indeed.

Welcome to the discussion.

9 comments:

  • Tyler Durden posted at 9:55 am on Tue, Sep 4, 2012.

    Tyler Durden Posts: 410

    So then, given all the waste of taxpayer funds for no good reason, why pray tell, is the Review not supporting the recall?

    Recall is the only option left to protect the taxpayer's interests---something that the elected board is supposed to do. But in the case of Alifano & Co, they have decided instead to protect the interests of their local union cronies.

     
  • August West posted at 12:23 pm on Sat, Sep 1, 2012.

    August West Posts: 320

    "slander of the CalPers system."

    Oh, you mean the one that is at least $100 billion underfunded and run by union thugs for union thugs? We would never say anything bad about them.

     
  • BigPumpkin posted at 8:40 am on Sat, Sep 1, 2012.

    BigPumpkin Posts: 145

    I wasn't speaking at all about what Clay Lambert had to say about local politics. I was speaking specifically to his deliberate misinformation and slander of the CalPers system.

    He is trashing the system, along with those who benefit from it. Just because the bunch of goons that run stuff around here mismanaged their CalPers accounts doesn't give you the right to assault the retirement system of public employees.

     
  • John Charles Ullom posted at 1:37 pm on Fri, Aug 31, 2012.

    John Charles Ullom Posts: 1022

    A bunch of CalPers disinformation.

    And that folks is one of the best arguments that any proponent the Dump Cal Fire contingent has put forth.

    They don't talk about cost savings because there are none.

    They don't talk about the transition costs because they don't know or care what they are.

    They don't talk about any performance metric other than business inspections and community outreach because Cal Fire's performance has been so competent there is nothing else to complain about.

    They won't talk about San Carlos being the failing model they instructed their consultants to base their standalone department on.

    Board President Doug Mackintosh told the Review last week that he had no intention of advertising the job. Like-minded board member Mike Alifano told us something similar on Monday, adding that the board was not required to notice the job. They already know who they want to be chief.

    Unbelievable and disgusting.

    Yes, it is.


    Considering what BP has to work with, well said.

     
  • BigPumpkin posted at 11:08 am on Fri, Aug 31, 2012.

    BigPumpkin Posts: 145

    A bunch of CalPers disinformation. This isn't a newspaper, it's a way to slander public servants and assault their retirements.

    Unbelievable and disgusting.

    Shame on you Clay Lambert.

     
  • John Charles Ullom posted at 11:57 pm on Thu, Aug 30, 2012.

    John Charles Ullom Posts: 1022

    Director Mackintosh said that we had to have an affordable transition plan before we hired a standalone chief.

    Directors Mackintosh and Alifano both said that the contract administrator could also serve as the standalone chief unless the transition costs were too beyond our means.

    They said it: -- http://skygizmo.com/b.htm

     
  • pae posted at 4:41 pm on Thu, Aug 30, 2012.

    pae Posts: 138

    It is true that recalls are unfortunate, but so is the intent of this Board majority to deliberately ignore their constituents, their fellow Board members, three Grand Juries and their own hired consultants to get rid of the best and by far the most cost effective fire service we have ever had. The trend is away from small standalone fire departments for good reason, no small community can afford their own standalone department. 

    We're no different in that regard; as soon as these three Board members finish spending the reserves we currently have, thanks to CAL FIRE's much lower cost and liability, we will likely be in the same position. The transition costs are hidden by design, but are likely to be up to many millions by some estimates, especially including the huge unfunded liability for health and benefit costs. The salaries will be far higher than we have now, the benefits far higher, the number of personnel to run the same number of engine companies far higher, etc. And we will be back to incurring liability costs for personnel actions, paying legal costs for personnel lawsuits, and dealing with grievances,  just like before. The additional costs per year will likely be around 1.5-2 million dollars additional, possibly more, we still don't know. And there's no guarantee of an ongoing ability to recruit and retain firefighters over time, unless we taxpayers agree to pay higher property assessments to fund the much higher salary and benefit levels like those over the hill. They have no intention to open a fair and honest bid for either consultants or future personnel; they have already decided who they want. They learned from the past not to hire consultants who will take an objective look at our needs; their TriData contract provided them with a report that agreed with the Grand Jury...Don't let CAL FIRE go, and don't resurrect another standalone department here. 

    So yes, recalls are unfortunate, but allowing the runaway wasteful spending these Board members are intent on continuing to do, is worse. Especially given the very uncertain outcome, with lives and property at stake. These people came into office with one intent, to remove CAL FIRE and set up a standalone department they can meddle with and control. We had that before; we don't need that again. Now we have had the experience in the last 5 years that shows us that we don't have to settle for the standalone fiasco again. They have outside support for their agenda, so they don't have to care about what their community wants.  Elected officials have the responsibility to be responsive to their constituents, and Mackintosh, Alifano and Riddell are clearly not. They are like a freight train headed at full speed down a short track with no brakes. No one is going to change their minds. And they are the majority, they always vote as a bloc, so they can do anything they want.

     
  • George posted at 12:43 pm on Thu, Aug 30, 2012.

    George Posts: 586

    Very good piece, Clay. Thanks.

    You've certainly hit some of the nails that I have troubles with. I just wish the Board would listen.

    I particularly like the way you started off. It's true, but most of us get so wrapped around the axle that we tend to forget about it - that would include the Board members too.

     
  • J C Cervantes posted at 12:38 pm on Thu, Aug 30, 2012.

    J C Cervantes Posts: 172

    A very sensible, well reasoned editorial Mr.Lambert.

    The chink in your reasoning is that you seem to believe that the 3 Directors have any concern for appropriate or logical actions. To think that these three would make any exception when it comes to hiring a new chief is unrealistic,

    Two months ago the President of the Board and the Vice President of the Board said that unless the transitions costs were "acceptable" the stand alone project would be stopped. To date they have not even attempted to put together a transition budget. Any honest assessment of these costs including the approximately $300,000 that the most recent consultant will cost us would be in the range of 1,3 to 1.5 million dollars,

    What they claim to be local control is in reality their control that they demand. Nowhere in the history of bad governance that haunts Half Moon Bay has any more blatant power grab taken place. To expect Chief Belville to reccomend Cal Fire to this group is to totally misunderstand the role the Chief has expressed and lobbied for in the past..


     

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