Thank you for giving me the opportunity to respond to the inaccuracies reported by LA City Firefighter Mr. Meiche:
•LA City Firefighter Steve Meiche says: The documents related to fire department disciplinary records provide evidence that the Fire Chief attempted to engage in a cover up over the accusations of misconduct within the department...
Encinitas Fire Chief: Since 2006 (public information requested for last 5 years), the City has engaged in disciplinary proceedings with five of the Fire Department’s sixty-three employees, with actions ranging from a written reprimand to a “last chance” agreement. Acts of misconduct occur in any organization and the number of occurrences during this time span is considered low in public safety organizations of similar size. The actions the City has specifically taken during this time period in response to misconduct or violations of policies within the Fire Department have been made available to the requesting party. I do not know of any other city that has allowed this type of information to go public (including the City of LAFD).
There was no intent to hide information concerning misconduct within the Department. While the City of Encinitas respects the confidential nature of disciplinary proceedings with its employees and acknowledges that it must comply with specific legal requirements when administering disciplinary actions (such as the Firefighters Bill of Rights), it is nonetheless committed to openness and transparency with the public in regards to the outcome of these proceedings. The process that led to the release of this information was very deliberate, since it involved personnel matters. The city consulted with the City Manager, City Attorney, Personnel Director and other individuals as to the extent of the information that could legally be released. The City could not officially comment on these cases of misconduct until it was determined that doing so would not violate individuals’ rights. Care was taken with the release of this information—which Mr. Meiche unfortunately characterizes as a “cover up”.
•LA City Firefighter Steve Meiche says: Fire Chief Mark Muir, was a no show when scheduled to meet with the Encinitas Taxpayers Association in January to discuss leaks about the misconduct and current state of fire department oversight...
Encinitas Fire Chief: As an Encinitas resident, I am very active in volunteer efforts and organizations serving our community (personally raised many thousands of dollars for both the Encinitas Library and Quail Gardens; as well as contributions to many other local charities). As a fiscal conservative and a resident looking to continue my service to the community after my retirement, I expressed an interest in becoming a member of the Encinitas Taxpayers Association (ETA) in an e-mail to Kevin Cummins on December 31. Within a week’s time, I was invited to the ETA’s January meeting and asked to speak for 15 minutes, answering questions about specific fire department issues (response time/staffing, management practices and fire stations). As with my involvement in any other community group, my interest was not related to my position as Fire Chief and I envisioned my participation in their group strictly as a private citizen--not representing the Encinitas Fire Department and independent of my job duties. I found this request from their organization odd, given that any other Encinitas residents attending their first ETA meeting would not be placed in this situation and asked to answer questions such as these that were related to their profession. I indicated that I would be more than happy to answer general questions pertaining to the fire service and my personal experience. I ultimately declined to attend the January meeting because I felt that the invitation was disingenuous and was uncomfortable at the prospect of being placed in a position where I was asked questions on matters of a confidential nature or those that required a detailed response.
•LA City Firefighter Steve Meiche says:“These acts of misconduct were extremely serious and were signs of poor leadership from the fire department administration...”
Encinitas Fire Chief: These were situations that required discipline and such matters were handled through the discipline process, which involved a thorough investigation by fire department management and the City’s Personnel Director. I worked closely with the Personnel Director to ensure that the process was judicious, within the scope of the City’s legal authority and effective in addressing the misconduct and preventing future occurrences. The discipline process and past practices have been thoughtfully carried out to the extent the law allows within the Encinitas Fire Department. I take such incidents very seriously and have in the past approved the termination of employees for misconduct or failure to meet our standards.
The City takes appropriate action to change or eliminate any inappropriate behavior. City and Fire Department policies are continually established and updated, and ongoing training is conducted to ensure compliance with rules and enforce proper behavior. Fire Department administration consistently follows best management practices when addressing such incidents within the Department. The City takes immediate action on incidents such as these and management takes the appropriate response based on the situation. The discipline process and past practices were thoughtfully carried out to the extent the law allows (including compliance with the Firefighters Bill of Rights, one of the many legal requirements that the City must comply with when administering discipline to employees).
As the Fire Chief, I’m very proud of the progressive and professional fire department we have in Encinitas. Our fire department provides exceptional customer service, which I’m constantly reminded of by our community citizens. This year, the San Diego Taxpayers Association awarded our Department, along with the cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach and the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District (RSFFPD) the Regional Golden Watchdog Award for the work we have done in developing a cooperative partnership and sharing senior fire management staff, thereby collectively saving over one million dollars. Furthermore, when I first became Fire Chief, I implemented our Department’s Saving More than Lives program that encourages senior staff and managers to reduce costs, identify alternate sources of funding (such as grants) and create efficiencies. Our Department continues to maintain an excellent rating from the Insurance Services Organization (ISO), which, in turn, ensures that residents’ insurance rates remain lower than other jurisdictions. Also, during my tenure firefighter training has improved, as well as the resources firefighters rely upon to effectively respond to emergencies.
I am proud of the work our Department does and the exceptional service it provides in responding to over 5,000 calls annually, in addition to its other responsibilities including fire prevention and public education. The Encinitas community also recognizes the outstanding service the Department provides. Those who had a personal experience with the Fire Department gave it a satisfactory rating of 95% in the City’s last community survey in 2007 (the last time the City conducted a survey).
•LA City Firefighter Steve Meiche says: According to the new 2011 budget, the fire department projected a 6% increase in budget without any justification. “It is possible they could be factoring in a raise for fire department employees. No one knows” added Meiche....
Encinitas Fire Chief: The budget does not include raises for firefighters, fire chief officers or other employees. The budget increase of $639,452 is off-set by an estimated $450,000 in revenue received from the cooperative fire management services agreement (RSFFPD, Solana Beach and Del Mar’s share of services that Encinitas staff provides). The remaining increase is primarily due to increases in retirement rates and health care benefits. It is important to note that the retirement benefit Encinitas provides firefighters (3% @ 55) is less than that of a number of other cities (many provide 3% @ 50). The April 27th City Council Agenda Report introducing the two-year operating budget provides greater detail regarding the Department’s budget.
In light of current economic conditions, the Department has taken steps to reduce staffing (not filling two full-time positions) and lower costs. Last year, the retirement of an Encinitas Deputy Chief responsible for training created an opportunity to contract with RSFFPD for the same services but at a reduced cost. Encinitas’ cost was reduced from $138,223 to $78,066 (shared resource). In addition, one position in the Fire Prevention Division has remained un-filled, for a savings of approximately $108,000 last year.
Thanks for the opportunity to clarify these inaccuracies. I feel very blessed to be able to work, live and play in Encinitas…
Encinitas Fire Chief
KC's note: I believe (no time to review my records right now) that questions were emailed to the Chief after he decided not to attend the ETA meeting and that rejections of records request for related information followed the meeting. The Chief is not a regular citizen. He is the head of a department and it silly to not take the opportunity to have him address the ETA about how his department.
The Police Chief of Chula Vista has announced he is going to toss out the privacy rights of his officers to, "make sure we maintain confidence in our community." Chula Vista will be posting disciplinary problems of their officers, even stuff that happens off duty!