Staff Report on Fire Staffing Misleading and Confusing

davis_firedepartmentOn Sunday, the Vanguard a full story on the proposed staffing changes for the fire department which includes the fire department getting their long-sought after battalion chief position.  We noted several problems at that time with the staff report and the combination of two separate changes to create the illusion of cash savings.  However, we have with further examination and upon further information, there are additional problems with the staff report and the accounting.

We will go through several of them here to re-emphasis the points ahead of tonight’s meeting.

The basic argument staff is making is that the current leadership model that utilizes Division Chiefs is a less-than-ideal situation.  Therefore they recommend phasing out the Division Chief model if feasible economically.  The firefighters union has wanted this change because it gives the department extra positions for promotion.  The fire chief wants it because it gives her additional power to appoint firefighters loyal to her.

The problem with the model is that it would according to the city gate report cost the city an additional $180,000.  In a time of budget deficit that is not a feasible change unless you can find the money elsewhere which they by lumping the proposal for a staffing change in with the change in the leadership model. 

Citygate found that for the most part the city can get away with one fewer relief staffing firefighter on the permanent payroll due to the scarcity of the need for a third relief staffer.  Instead, they can fill that void when it comes necessary with overtime to another firefighter already on the payroll.  The result of using only two rather than three relief staff per shift and using overtime to cover the balance is expected to save the city around $360,000 per year.

Given the fact that the city is facing a sizable budget deficit, it would seem that finding a way to save $360,000 per year would be a great find.  It would allow the city to avoid a cutback off services to the public.  But the staff report instead uses this savings to basically mask the cost of the Battalion chief model. 

What the council sees is this chart that does not separate out the independent costs of the two changes:


But there is more than just masking the impact of the moves independently here.  Notice under additional considerations it proposes hiring an assistant fire chief and offsetting that cost with deleting the position of fire division chief prevention.  They even re-calculate the “total reorganization package” by showing it a savings of $177,000.  It seems like the switch would cost the city just over $30,000 more.  The problem is that the fire division chief prevention position was eliminated from the budget in June when the council approved the new budget and the addition of the assistant fire chief position, if they hire one, would be a full $210,000 above the current expenditures.


But there is more.  The Vanguard confirmed that the Citygate consultants recommended that any Battalion Chiefs hired should be hired from outside of the department.  Both Citygate and the Grand Jury recommended the next chief come from outside the department as well.  However, in the staff report, we see the groundwork being laid for both of those things to not come true.

While the staff report officially recommends an “open recruitment”–if you read the fine-print, they are actually laying the groundwork for the city to hire within the department.

The staff report reads:

“The City would hold an open recruitment for the Battalion Chief position. If existing employees were hired, then layoffs could be avoided through internal promotions. If someone not currently employed by the City were hired, in order to maintain the proposed cost savings (or at least make the move to Battalion Chiefs cost neutral), there would have to be a reduction in one or two firefighter positions.”

First that gives clear license to hire internally against the advice of Citygate.  But more importantly it not only gives license it gives incentive.  By hiring existing employees, layoffs could be avoided.  And no one wants to lay anyone off.

A source has informed the Vanguard that it is far worse than that.  Any internal move to hire a Battalion Chief would have to come from the existing captain and according to that source, an examination of qualification standards would indicate that none of the captains in the Davis Fire Department would qualify for such a leadership position at any other department.  The Vanguard is looking more closely into this information.

In summary, the staff report seems to have several key flaws that are either sloppy or intended to mask the true impact of the changes that they recommend.  It is interesting to note the similarity we saw with the staff report on the DACHA refinance where city staff conveniently masked the fact that residents of DACHA would see repayment by putting the repayment category into a category that was characterized as “reserve.”

Here the city staff places the costs of the Battalion Chief Model with the savings from the shift reserve changes to create the illusion of the fiscal benefit of shifting to the Battalion Chief Model when in fact the Battalion Chief model actually costs more and the costs are canceled out by the savings accrued from reducing the number of reserves from 3 per shift to 2.  Given the fiscal climate of the city, the council should defer additional costs and only look toward saving money at this time.

The staff report also engages in what can be described at best as sloppy accounting by counting an already deleted position in order to offset the costs of a proposed added position.

Finally the staff report carefully goes against the advice of consultants to make it not only possible but likely that new hires will come internally rather than outside of the department.

—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. SODA

    Again, CC please examine and decide on UCD-DFD combination or at least integration BEFORE making this chg in staffing and management model. To do otherwise I feel is irresponsible.

  2. Rich Rifkin

    Heads up on tonight’s city council meeting: Look for an announcement that most, but not all of the city’s labor bargaining units and the city’s labor negotiating team have reached agreements on new contracts.

    The city council is meeting in closed session tonight before the open session meeting of the council. I have received tips from two sources that deals were struck and that the council is going to hear of them tonight.

    It was suggested to me that the council might even vote to approve these deals at tonight’s meeting. However, because such a vote was never put on the agenda, I don’t believe they can legally do that. Even though these contracts are way overdue, I think it would make sense that the public (if not the Finance & Budget Commission) has a chance to read them over to see how many, if any, reforms they include and if those reforms put the city on a more sustainable path into the future.

  3. Rich Rifkin

    Went to the CC meeting tonight. Not a single word from the dais re: the labor contracts. Apparently the info I got was mistaken (and I got it from more than one source and spoke with David at the meeting and he said he’d heard the same as I had). So something seemingly went wrong in closed session.

  4. David M. Greenwald

    Rich: I think it is not wrong info, they probably have not finalized it and I think they also are trying to figure out the process by which to discuss and ratify it.

  5. SODA

    Just listened to fire discussion. All your predictions of misleading data was true and it was a complete sell out by majority. Is fire chief retiring; there were so many agendas flying around, my head was spinning. David, your read please!

  6. David M. Greenwald

    I’ll save most of my read for the morning, but this is what I thought it would be. Also proves that whoever my source is, is right dead on which will give us a few interesting revelations to ponder tomorrow.

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