The Vanguard has a new home, please update your bookmarks to

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Grand Jury Report Cites Major Improprieties by Davis Fire Department

The 2007-2008 Yolo County Grand Jury has released its final report. One of its investigations looks into multiple allegations against the Davis Fire Department.

The Grand Jury investigated five key complaints.
First, "inconsistent promotion practices."

Second, "a hostile work environment caused by a close relationship between DFD management and the Union and its Board of Directors and unequal support of educational endeavors."

Third, "drug and alcohol use and the misuse of DFD sleeping facilities by off-duty firefighters."

Fourth, "the strained relationship between DFD and the Davis Police Department (DPD)"

And fifth, "the appearance of improper political activity."
The Grand Jury found the following after an extensive two year investigation:
"misuse of a DFD facility; inappropriate relationships between the Union's Board of Directors and DFD management; and inconsistencies in promotional opportunities."
As a result of the investigation, the Grand Jury recommends the following:
(a) the next Fire Chief be someone from outside DFD with no ties to the Union; (b) revise the current promotion testing process to include weighting of scores for each test section and posting of this information in public areas of the firehouses and in promotion announcements; (c) require all personnel read and sign-off on policies relating to discipline and alcohol and drug use and (d) enforcement of all alcohol and drug use policies."
In what follows are the key findings under the five complaints.

Promotion Practices

One of the biggest findings are unclear promotional policies that DFD firefighters generally perceive that being active in Union leadership leads to "promotion, better jobs, and better project or training assignments."

Most significantly, "Weights are assigned to various promotion test segments. The Grand Jury discovered these weights are ignored by the fire Chief when making the final selection."

One key example they cite is the recent promotion of the Union President [Bobbie Weist] to the rank of Captain. "The Union President ranked ninth out of ten on the promotion list." They also note that the Union has had the same president since its founding 22 years ago.

These preferential practices seemed to have a strong impact on morale. Those firefighters who scored well on promotion testing but were never advanced, eventually stopped testing for promotion.

Hostile Work Environment

The report notes that the Fire Chief Rose Conroy [they have omitted names in this report, but obviously we know who some of these people are] plans to retire in the next one to two years. There have been three lawsuits concerning harassment and a hostile work environment under her watch. One was dropped "due to procedural deficiency." The other two were settled out of court for upwards of a combined $600,000.
"A number of DFD firefighters are fearful of retaliation if they speak out against the Fire Chief or the Union. DFD firelighters, both past and present, indicated that those who questioned or challenged the Union in any way would bc openly shunned by union members. Retaliation could occur even for inquiring about access to Union bylaws and financial reports."
The reports also cites the close relationship between the Fire Chief and the Union and argues that the various relationships and strands "present an appearance of cronyism and undue Union influence in the administration of the DFD." They also cite cases of favoritism toward those in the Union and discrimination against those who did not join the union. There are at least five examples on page 22 of the report that present evidence towards this conclusion.

Misuse of DFP Facility

The report cites DFD for publicly drinking and then using the public facility as a location to sleep off their intoxication.
"It was discovered that some DFD firefighters come to the Station 31 firehouse (located downtown) to sleep while off-duty. It appears that the off-duty DFD firefighters, after drinking in downtown Davis, sometimes" sleep it off' at the firehouse rather than drive home, a practice actively supported by the Fire Chief. While it may be preferable for them to be sleeping in the firehouse rather than driving on the road, the city prohibits "being under the influence during work hours, at the work site, or in uniform." (Section 3.4B of the City of Davis Administrative Policy and Section 7.4 J of the City of Davis Personnel Rules and Regulations). Off-duty DFD firefighters seen intoxicated downtown and known to be sleeping at the firehouse afterward reflect poorly on the DFD and the City."
Relationship between the DPD and the DFD

The reports cites "numerous" alterations involving DFD firefighters which require police response. The report suggests that the police are hesitant to deal with incidents involving off-duty DFD firefighters due to police officers relying on the fire department for assistance in emergency situation. They cite as a concern "the expectation by the DFD of special treatment by the DPD."

They also cite the lack of cooperation between the departments relating to setting up "the new joint 911 Call Center."

The Appearance of Undue Union Influence

This strongly relates to the articles written by Davis Enterprise Columnist Rich Rifkin. The Grand Jury report fights that according to city records nearly all active firefighters (40 persons) contributed the maximum $100 donation to several City Council candidates prior to 2004's City Council Election.
"Soon after that electron, DFD's new 2005 Union contract was negotiated and approved by the City. DFD firefighters wearing elements of their on-duty DFD firefighter uniform, includimg the DFD logo, distributed political materials and walked Davis voting precincts in support of individual City Council candidates."
The report emphasizes that while political activity by the Union members itself is not improper, nevertheless:
"it appears that at least some of this local political activism stems from undue influence upon DFD firefighters by DFD management resulting in pressured political contributions to local candidates on the part of some DFD firefighters. No other city employees filed under the City ordinance requiring disclosure of City Council campaign contributions.

A similar unusual pattern of DFD firefighter political contributions to local candidates has occurred with respect to the 2008 City Council election. City Council campaign contribution filings do not reveal any other City of Davis employees contributed to any political candidate running for local office. The Union contract with DFD is again soon due for renegotiation."
Please see page 23 of the report for the summary of findings and recommendations. It will be interesting to see what comes of this report. The Grand Jury has requested a response from the Fire Chief, City Manager, and City Council. The Vanguard will be closely watching this story as it develops.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting