Analysis: City Hall Bought and Paid For by Firefighters Local 3494

davis_firedepartmentNearly a month ago, the Vanguard ran a story asking why firefighters make substantially more than police officers in comparable positions.  This was after Councilmember Lamar Heystek posed questions to city staff.

In particular, the Vanguard learned that while the two positions appear to be similarly funded, the Firefighter II position is not the equivalent of the Police Sergeant position.  When Councilmember Heystek asked Bill Emlen what the comparable front line supervisory positions were for police and fire, City Manager Bill Emlen responded:

“It’s difficult to compare because it’s not apples to apples since they have different functions.”

He then offered:

“I would have to put some equivalency between a captain and a sergeant and lieutenant.”

Lamar offers sergeant and a fire captain as a more applicable comparison which Police Chief Landy Black agrees with.

“Yes the police sergeant is the first line of supervision in the police department.  It would be difficult to compare the actual job duties, with the first line of supervision in the fire department, but it is our first line of supervision.”


During the course of question it was determined that at the top step there was roughly a $20,000 discrepancy between police sergeant and fire captain.  Councilmember Heystek then asked the crucial question, “Why is that?”


The answer after some hemming and hawing by the City Manager was not forthcoming.  However, after some considerable research into city campaign disclosure records, the answer becomes painfully obvious.  Prior to the last MOU the fire department spent far more on campaign contributions than the police department.  A pattern that has continued for each campaign cycle save one–2006, when the police spent far more than usual when the issue of civil review came before the council.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of this influence is borne out by the fact that the non-union comparable positions, the division chief versus fire captain and the chiefs make identical salaries.

Campaign Finance Analysis

The Vanguard pulled all financial disclosures since 2000 for City Council candidates and what we found was that overall fire contributions increased over the course of the decade with the exception of 2006 when they did not make direct contributions to candidates, instead they had an independent expenditure mailing and a drop piece flier that they delivered to the precincts.

In the other years, the fire department membership would make individual contributions that enabled them to circumvent city campaign finance laws by bundling contributions from membership.


These bundled amounts would go up over time as well.  In the year 2000, the membership of the fire union would typically give $25 contributions to their candidates such as Joe Boyd and Stan Forbes at that time.

By 2002, they were typically giving $50 contributions to their candidates Ruth Asmundson and Ted Puntillo.

It was not until 2004 and 2008 that we see the favored candidates receive the maximum contributions from nearly the entire department.


We also see the advent of independent expenditures in 2004.  The spending increased in 2006 and even more so in 2008.

By 2008, the fire department had combined to give over $20,000 to their preferred candidates.

The one question that perhaps remains unanswered was why the fire contributions dropped in 2006.  One thought on this was that the MOU was signed in 2005 and is up in 2009, thus the council elections in 2004 and 2008 were crucial for the firefighters to gain influence over the process.  This is but conjecture at this point in time however.


Next we broke down the contributions by which campaigns they specifically gave to and how much.  The firefighters have picked out endorsed candidates and focused their money there.  In 2008, they endorsed Incumbents Don Saylor and Stephen Souza along with challenger Sydney Vergis.  In 2004, they gave to Incumbent Sue Greenwald and challengers Don Saylor and Stephen Souza.  In 2002 it was Ted Puntillo and Ruth Asmundson.  In 2000, it was Susie Boyd, Joe Boyd, and Stan Forbes.

Throw out the year 2000, and in the last three elections that the firefighters have given direct contributions that were bundled, they have won with SEVEN OUT OF THEIR EIGHT ENDORSED CANDIDATES.

Only in 2008 was Sue Greenwald, the candidate they endorsed in 2004, able to withstand a surprisingly close challenge from Sydney Vergis.

If we throw in 2006 when they used Independent Expenditures exclusively and not bundled direct contributions, we see that they have won 8 of their last 10 election.


Contributions in a given campaign cycle of course understates the amount of influence.  So we added up the total direct contributions by candidate across elections.  This chart actually understates the influence because it does not include the more than $8500 in independent expenditures in 2008 and $1500 in 2004 that went to Councilmembers Don Saylor and Stephen Souza.  Adding in that money and their influence goes well over $10,000.

Is it not surprising that these two councilmembers were the strongest supporters of the fire department during the Grand Jury report and now have become staunch defenders during contract talks.  At the last council meeting it was Stephen Souza who stood up and indignantly defended city employees and accused Councilmember Sue Greenwald of denigrating city employees.


What is clear from the analysis is the huge differential between police and fire in terms of contributions both direct and independent expenditures.  Really with the exception of 2006, police did not purchase any independent expenditure.  They also never bundled their money.  In 2000, 2002, and 2004, their contributions for the most part were the simple $100 maximum direct contributions to endorsed candidates.  In 2008, there were a small number of individual direct contributions, most of them in the amount of $50 from a few police officers.  There is no evidence of bundling by the police at any time.

Clearly the 2006 election was unique in the fact that the police felt under a greater degree of scrutiny due to the police issues raised in the community.  That is largely the exception and was not used as a means to influence the signing of any MOUs, as their MOU would not come up for a few more years and 2008 saw the return back to more typical contribution patterns.


Over the course of the decade, fire gave a total of nearly $28,000 in direct contributions and another nearly $14,000 in Independent Expenditures.  That is more than $42,000 in contributions.  Police by contrast gave a total of $8900, almost all of that in 2006 when they gave around $7700.

Summary and Commentary

For their efforts, fire’s reward for their campaign contributions (and picking the winners in the 2004 election) was a much larger salary increase following their 2005 MOU than Police would receive in their 2006 MOU.

Firefighter MOU:

June 20, 2005 10% Salary Increase
June 19, 2006 8% Salary Increase
June 18, 2007 8% Salary Increase
June 30, 2008 6% Salary Increase

Police MOU:

2006-07: 6% Salary Increase
2007-08: 3% Salary Increase
2008-09: 4% Salary Increase
2009-10: 3% Salary Increase

There is a difference between now and then.  In 2004, the fire department was largely on offense, they were building their huge salary increases into their next contract.  Times have changed and they will not get comparable increases in this cycle.  They are largely on defense.  The question now is whether the city will be able to correct the damage that they did in 2005 with the huge and unsustainable salary increases which is on top of the damage wrought by the implementation previously of 3% at 50 during the previous MOU period.

We pretty much know that Councilmember Don Saylor is going to run for the Yolo County Supervisor seat vacated by a most-likely retiring Helen Thomson.  It is clear that he will be banking once again on huge money from fire in addition to developers and commercial interests to bankroll that campaign.  In some ways, fire becomes more powerful because they will not have the limitations on their contribution levels that they do in city council campaigns.

The key swing vote on contract negotiations may be Mayor Asmundson.  The Mayor has at times been critical of fire department and in particular their rising compensation.  However, she is also facing reelection and would probably like both the money and the foot soldiers that the fire department provides.

The city’s contribution limits to some extent are designed to prevent this kind of influence peddling, however through the use of bundling efforts, it enables a well-coordinated and financed group of city employees to exert disproportionate influence on the process. 

I think the most compelling statistic presented here is not the discrepancy between police and fire, although that is certainly manifested and illustrated by their pay differential.  The most compelling statistic to me is 7 out of 8.  That is their winning percentage in the last three campaigns they have made direct contributions and 8 of 10 in the last four campaigns overall where their candidates have won.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. wdf

    “We pretty much know that Councilmember Don Saylor is going to run for the Yolo County Supervisor seat vacated by a most-likely retiring Helen Thomson. It is clear that he will be banking once again on huge money from fire in addition to developers and commercial interests to bankroll that campaign.”

    What benefit would the Davis Fire Dept. get from Saylor as county supervisor? Your point is clear that as city council member, Saylor et al. can influence salaries. But how can a county supervisor benefit a city fire dept.?

  2. Anon

    I don’t see that the fire dept has done anything illegal here. Nor have the candidates who accepted the money. What I do see is influence peddling via campaign contributions, but all of it technically legal. So that means the voter has to decide whether Souza and Saylor have allowed themselves to be so corrupted, that the city has suffered. For me, that is an easy question to answer, and it is an emphatic YES. The firefighters salaries are unsustainable (as are most other city employee salaries/benefits), and are ruining this city financially. So to my mind, Saylor and Souza have allowed campaign contributions to influence their decisionmaking in terms of what is best for the city.

    Short of campaign finance reform, and I am not sure how you would end the practice of “bundling”, the only thing that can be done to end such influence peddling is to vote the bums out. But it means more of the electorate has to become engaged in the local political process. It is imperative for the good of the city. Otherwise we get more of the same.

  3. Rich Rifkin

    I think Anon 9:37 has it right. It’s not illegal (though it should be). It is unethical, especially for the candidates to take that money. But in the end it is our fault, as voters, for electing people who were bought and paid for.

    What I found most telling in 2008 was that of all of the individual contributions to all candidates for city council, there was not one contribution (that I found in going over the records) from any city of Davis employee who was not a member of the firefighters’ union. Not one. Yet every member of the fire Local gave a maximum contribution to Saylor, Souza* and Vergis.

    *Full disclosure, I contributed to Stephen Souza’s campaign and consider him a valuable member of the city council, though I have never hesitated to be critical of him for taking funds from the firefighters.

  4. earoberts

    To “To Anon”: I was only making the point that the only solution is to vote the bums out, or to enact campaign finance reform. Firefighters have effectively found a loophole in the campaign finance laws, just as happened at the federal level with McCain’s “campaign finance reform”. If you want to “throw the bums out”, aka Souza and Saylor, then the electorate cannot afford to remain apathetic. Apathy will breed more of the same.

  5. Dont get it

    Relying on “hero status” only gets you so far and eventually people start to see through very unethical conduct(buying candidates is, I am sorry…). Yes, even firefighters “put their pants on one leg at a time”–sorry, party is over boys and girls. Hope you enjoyed your time in the sun.

  6. rick entrikin

    Read with interest, comments by “wdf,wow & anon,” regarding firefighter salaries & benefits. It is abundantly clear that our City cannot sustain such salaries, let alone increases over the next several years.

    I recognize that certain CC members (viz., Saylor & Souza) have benefitted from firefighter & police association contributions. On the other hand, I hope Don & Steve will give preference to the fiscal welfare of all our citizens, rather than to special interests, during the current labor contract negotiations.

    Our federal & state budgets are a disaster,but Don & Steve have a real opportunity to make their mark on our future, by joining with Lamar & Sue to protect Davis citizens from unsustainable, budget-draining salary & benefit increases for public employees.

    Please, work together, folks. Whether you choose to retire at the end of your term or seek higher office, please, let us remember you as the CC that honestly cared about & protected Davis citizens as a whole.

  7. Thank you Vanguard

    I don’t know where else we would find out such information in Davis. When I want to know the real stuff going on in the city I read your blog David. Thank you for the great work you do. Congratulations on your award! Well deserved.

  8. Surprising?

    Is this really surprising? All elections are “so-called” bought and sold. Don’t unions across the country give great amounts of dollars to the Democrats? Why is/should Davis be any different?

    Not saying it is right…but many of the same people commenting here probably supported Obama who was bought and paid for by Unions across the country….

  9. Rich Rifkin

    [quote]Don’t unions across the country give great amounts of dollars to the Democrats? Why is/should Davis be any different? [/quote]The city of Davis’s employees are represented by 7 unions or employee associations. Only one of them funds the campaigns for favored candidates to the city council. It’s not fair to DCEA, the DPOA or PASEA to paint them with the same broad brush as you paint Firefighters Local 3494.

  10. just wondering...

    Rifkin’s 5:11 post says the “painting” doesn’t apply/not fair for DCEA, DPOA, or PASEA… does that mean that it’s fair to “paint” management employees and/or Department Heads with this “brush”?

  11. To Surprising

    What makes Obama different is that he raised millions in very small donations from average people–his average donation was about $85, that means he really was not bought and paid for in the sense that we would nromally think. What makes the DFD insidious is their ability to bundle money in otherwise low spending elections giving them disproportionate influence.

  12. alphonso

    Donating time and money to campaigns is part of the political process and as long as it is done within the set of rules there is nothing wrong with it.

    The problem with our political process is the short term mentality of our political leaders. They are willing to make people happy in the present, while they are in office, and completely ignore the future. It is obvious this is happening at all levels of government – city. county and state. We need to elect more leaders who spend our money they way they would spend their own money.

  13. The truth is simple

    Cops make a higher hourly wage than firefighters .Firefighter wages are higher because cops work 40 hours a week and firefighters work 56 hours a week . The facts tell the truth .

  14. Is Blog boy paying for city funded media access

    My sources say that this blog uses the radio station KDRT for free . This seems wrong to me , for a for profit business such as this blog to be using City funded services , that should be used for public service announcements .

    How do other people feel about this ?

  15. Facts Can be Pesky things

    In 2001-02, according to the MOU’s (which you can find on the city’s webpage) Police Officer’s made almost the exact same salary as FFI. Sgt’s made more than FFIIs and almost the same as Fire Captains. Now FFI make well over that of Police Officers. FFII make more than SGTs. Captains make well more than SGTs.

    So I ask you what changed from 2001-02 to 2008-09? Did FF’s suddenly start working more than police officers or did they somehow suddenly start getting a lot more than police officers.

    Tell us about your facts please that explains this because to me it looks a like you firefighters have simply spent a lot more than police officers to get better MOUs.

  16. Sherrill Futrell

    It’s unethical for city council candidates to take contributions from their present or future employees. It’s a clear conflict of interest. There’s nothing hard about this. Why are the candidates taking firefighter money? It’s not just the appearance of corruption – it’s corrupt, and there need to be consequences. We need an ordinance banning it. And don’t tell me money is speech.

  17. Blog boy FAIL

    Blog Boy, you continue to see conspiracy around every corner. None of the elected officials take you seriously, so if this blog is supposed to promote some sort of change, it’s failing.

  18. Which is it

    Last week you wrote:

    [quote]Congratulations on your award. It is nice to see the city recognizing someone who contantly keeping a watchful eye over the mishandling of peoples tax dollars. You insight has created a world of micro mangement where the city department heads are not being allowed to run their department without constant questioning by the city administration and city council.[/quote]

    Now you claim:

    [quote][u]None[/u] of the elected officials take you seriously[/quote]

    I’m confused.

    And btw, I assume by none of the elected officials, you mean who exactly? Heystek? Greenwald who frequently posts here? Souza who posts on this blog in response on a periodic basis? Saylor and Asmundson? How many is none?

  19. alphonso

    “It’s unethical for city council candidates to take contributions from their present or future employees. It’s a clear conflict of interest.”

    Then they should not take money from anybody who might benefit from anything they plan to do- in other words no contributions at all from anybody would be the solution.

  20. Anon

    “FWIW, I don’t think bundling is legal as suggested in the Grand Jury report, proving it is a different matter.”

    Now that is a very good question. My impression is that “bundling”, as long as there is no coercion involved, is not TECHNICALLY ILLEGAL. Can someone correct me if I am wrong in that assumption?

  21. Sara Lee

    The only thing that can be done, is to vote the corrupt ones out, and get some real leaders in power. Don Saylor is clearly not fit to be part of city council nor supervisor. DOn’t worry he won’t win.

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