Friday, June 03, 2011

Encinitas Fire Department Management Update

 From the In Box:

The City of Encinitas Releases Fire Department Disciplinary Files

Under threat of legal action, the City of Encinitas has released documents that confirm the accusations of gross misconduct and negligence by fire department employees.  The accusations were posted on the Leucadia Blog and other media outlets earlier this year. The release comes after months of refusals to the request for information on these incidents.

The City is under immense pressure for their lack of transparency and disclosure of public documents.  The release falls on the heels of a successful lawsuit against the City for withholding the release of a public document which shows the City has fallen behind on road maintenance. The suit was filed by Encinitas resident Kevin Cummins.   In the lawsuit, a superior court judge told the City of Encinitas that it was not in compliance with the law and required the City to release public documents.

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.  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. Additionally, members of the City Council and City Manager refused to confirm or deny the misconduct or respond to requests for the release of the related documents.

“I’m happy that the City was finally pressured into releasing the documents, although the documents appear to be incomplete” states Steve Meiche, an Encinitas resident and fireman.  Meiche caught wind of the misconduct and wanted to find out the depth of misconduct and confirm the seriousness of the acts. “These acts of misconduct were extremely serious and were signs of poor leadership from the fire department administration.”

Meiche said that after he reviewed the investigations of misconduct done by the fire department, it appeared they were not thoroughly investigated and incomplete. “It's obvious they are still covering up” said Meiche. 

Meiche, a board member for the Encinitas Taxpayers Association says "The City has been covering up problems and in doing so have successfully manipulated the public's perception of the City's administration and financial status. One way they have been doing this is by constantly limiting the public's access to information."

The release of these documents comes at a time when the fire department union enters into negotiations for a new contract in July for pay and benefits.  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. 

The fire department projected $11,721,038 annual budget for 2011, a budget increase of $639,452 or 6% from the previous 2010/11 budget.  Additionally, the 2011 budget is a $1,464,671 increase from the $10,256,367 actual fire department budget of 2008/09. 

Meiche sums it by saying: “Something is not quite right here in Encinitas, there seems to be a lot of collusion and misinformation within our city government."

18 comments:

  1. Hopefully Steve will post what he found out about the fire dept. and Chief Muir on this site or on the ETA site. It should be interesting.

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  2. I agree. Encinitas is smelling like rotten fish.

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  3. Well, Steve, I am waiting for you and the blog to be transparent with the findings you received about the fire dept. I am sure the City won't, so please post what you found. For the last few months you have repeatedly accused the Fire Dept. of Encinitas with unsound management and practices. So, now that you have found the smoking gun it seems only right to share it with teh good people who read this blog and perhaps even give money to the ETA. So, I for one, am waiting with bated breath. Thank you.

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  4. Part 2 of 3

    •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).

    Next Blog – Part 3 of 3

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  5. Part 3 of 3

    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…

    Sincerely,
    Mark Muir
    Encinitas Fire Chief

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  6. Mark,

    Where is part 1 of 3?

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  7. Anna,

    Part 1 is a "draft." You'll have to sue them for it.

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  8. W.C.-Since you all know I am a friend of Mark Muir's, I called and asked him where was part 1. He didn't realize it wasn't there. When he attempted to post it again, somehow it would not post. I spent 15 minutes on the phone with him to walk him thru it and it still would not post. So it really isn't a secret. I am sure if you all want me to, I can get Part 1 and post it. However, before that I would again like to ask Steve to post the documentation of what he found out. Not his own words, but what the City gave him. Kevin did that and I call upon Steve to do it as well. Allegations are one thing. Show us the documentation Steve or please stop this silliness about the Fire Dept. and how much you dislike how they are managed. It is becoming tedious.

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  9. Dr. Lorri,

    Do you live in Leucadia? You sure are funky. Why are not asking your friend the Fire Chief for the documents?

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  10. Dr. Lorri,

    It is easy to get part 1, up. Send it to leucadiablog@gmail.com. We post just about anything.

    I thought you had advocated keeping all this stuff secret? I think you also indicated that there was no substance to leaks coming out of city hall about FD problems.

    I haven't read part 2 or 3. Just got back from vacation in sunny San Diego.

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  11. Part 1 of 3
    This is actually part 1A of the 3. I will now send the 2nd pice. Perhaps the blog would like to publish all three in one full piece for all to see.

    Mark Muir:


    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”.

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  12. This is part 1B of Mark Muir's response to Stve Meiche's allegations. So here you have all of it. I am now, and will always be for transparency in government.

    From Mark Mur:


    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.

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  13. Walker O- I have not asked Mark Muir for the documents because I wanted to see what Steve found out, and to be sure Mark was being straight with me. As it turns out, I was told today that the documents were not even looked thru, or analyzed by the ETA before this blog published Steve's stuff. To me, it seems like that should have happened first, but this is not my blog. I am a member of ETA so this is how I found out from the President that they had not looked over the documents. I will be going to City Hall Monday and pay the $15.00 to get the documents myself. Not sure why you asked if I live in Leucadia and could not quite make out what you were asking me, but hopefully I answered the question. BTW, I live in Cardiff.

    For anyone who is interested: I was one of the ETA members who donated money to Kevin and the ETA to get the street repair report. I have also donated on various occasions to others so that they could obtain various things from the City. In addition I have used much of my own money to get records, including information on how much we have paid Glen Sabine over the last 10 years. I am very much for a transparent government and never suggested Steve should not get the report and release it. I am just waiting for the release to all of us.

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  14. The documents have been analyzed and reviewed in their entirety. At this point, the documents received from the city are incomplete and full of holes for the time frame and specified reports requested.

    It is obvious that the city continues to engage covering up and breaking the law.

    At lease one of the investigation was done so poorly I decided to have a retired Internal Affairs investigator from LAPD analyze the completeness and thoroughness of all the investigations that were surrendered.

    Please understand, the intent of this records request is to prove that the city continues to withhold public documents, cover up mismanagement and violate the public records act.

    It just so happens that the fire departments mismanagement and misconduct was so egregious it could not be ignored.

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  15. You making stuff up again Dr. Lorri?

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  16. Walker O-If only I were that creative. Lots of stuff to make up here. I guess you will have to decide for yourself. Have a good one.

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  17. Dr. Lorri,

    You strongly objected to the efforts to get this information released and went so far as to claim there the public had no legal right to these documents.

    You expressed that you had inside information and had a close relationship with Muir, and that you would "side" with Muir over backing the effort to get the documents released.

    Let's not rewrite history.

    If you are going to continue on this issue, perhaps you will give a different perspective to this topic after you pick up a set of records from the city?

    The documents take time to work through and because I've got lots of other things to work on I have not yet analyzed everything, and as far as I know that is the same for other people. Doesn't mean people can't pick out the big points in the first 10 minutes.

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  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

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