Read the Full Unredacted Fire Report at the bottom of the article – This week Rich Rifkin tells the tale of “When union money corrupted the Davis City Council.” Mr. Rifkin writes that, in the seven decades since Mayor Calvin Covell’s resolution “which urged the prohibition of Japanese nationals and Japanese-American citizens,” “I know of no lower ebb for our Council than the night of Dec. 9, 2008.”
That was the meeting where the council majority voted to bury the report by Bob Aaronson.
Rich Rifkin writes, “Not only did those three (Don Saylor, Ruth Asmundson and Stephen Souza) – who together had received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions plus other support from members of the Davis firefighters’ union – not want to let the taxpayers and residents of Davis see what Mr. Aaronson had found. They decided no one on the Council should be permitted to learn its contents.”
He goes on to argue, “Theirs was never a vote of conscience. It was not a vote of practical or legal merit. It was not due to precedent. The vote was cast because those members of the Davis City Council had been influenced by all the money and favors Local 3494 had given them to win office.”
Mr. Rifkin adds, “It was just as telling that Sue Greenwald and Lamar Heystek, the two dissenters who voted in favor of unsealing the report, had won office despite the vigorous efforts of the firefighters to defeat them. They argued that if there were management and behavior problems within the DFD, the public and the City Council ought to know about them and ought to know what, if anything, would be done to correct those situations.”
And he writes, “Yet for most of the last four-and-a-half years we were kept in the dark, only able to see parts of a heavily redacted copy, itself the result of a lawsuit against the city.”
One of Mr. Rifkin’s readers pointed out that there was no note as to whether a vote was taken at the December 9, 2008 meeting. Unfortunately, we cannot watch the video of the meeting, because the city fails (or at least in the past failed) to store the council meetings.
I went back to my original report on the meeting, Independent Investigation of Grand Jury Report on the Fire Department Pushed Back Until January, and it seems likely that no formal vote was taken that precluded the council from reading the report.
Instead, each councilmember seemed to make a statement. For instance, Sue Greenwald argued, “I’d like to get a council consensus that we have access to all the information.”
Both Stephen Souza and Don Saylor were adamant that the council not read the full report.
“Just so that’s clear, I’m interested in hearing from the city manager what his conclusions are based on whatever he has done to arrive at them,” Don Saylor stated. “I don’t need to know what exactly was stated by any person, at every point in time.”
Stephen Souza would add, “I don’t need all fifty pages, I just don’t.”
However, we noted that Mayor Ruth Asmundson was “in the middle.” She argued that she wanted to see Bill Emlen’s report first and then she would decide if she needed to see the entire report.
What is interesting, however, is that Bob Aaronson – at the actual meeting the following January when the report was discussed in open session for the first and only time, in an agenda item that started well after midnight – made it clear that his interpretation of the report differed from the city manager’s.
However, despite the comment of Ruth Asmundson in December, the council never revisited the issue.
As Vanguard reader and Davis resident Jim Frame noted earlier this week, “I ran into Stephen downtown this afternoon, and he wanted to clarify some things in response to my posting above. Stephen told me that all of the council members read the report, either in its redacted or unredacted version, prior to the council vote.”
He added, “This apparently was done informally — I don’t recall now whether he said they read it while in closed session or at some other time in the city manager’s office. “
Mr. Frame also stated, “Stephen gave as his reason for voting not to formally receive the report a desire to protect the confidentiality of the employees; that because employees were told their remarks would be confidential, making them public would deter employees from cooperating in future investigations of this nature.”
In the past, prior to filing the 2012 lawsuit, I had an extensive conversation with former Councilmember Lamar Heystek.
My understanding of what happened is that the councilmembers were allowed to read a redacted version of the report. That version was similar to a version that was released in 2011 after the Vanguard met with Mayor Joe Krovoza and Mayor Pro Tem Rochelle Swanson, requesting that the issue of the fire report be revisited.
The councilmembers were given a brief period of time to read the report in Mr. Emlen’s office and they were not allowed to remove even the redacted version of the report from the office.
Mr. Heystek has not read the unredacted version of the report, but he will shortly. At no time did Mr. Heystek or anyone else divulge the contents of the confidential portions of the report to the Vanguard.
So, the bottom line here is that, while it appears there was no formal 3-2 vote to preclude the council from reading the report, the effect of council comments was in fact a 3-2 vote to preclude council from reading the report. And Ms. Asmundson’s nuanced position was undermined by her lack of interest to read more, even after the investigator suggested that his report was misrepresented by Mr. Emlen’s summary.
Mr. Rifkin continues by recounting the biased promotion of union President Bobby Weist.
Here Mr. Rifkin writes, “The single most troubling situation discussed in the report was the promotion of Weist from firefighter to fire captain. The belief of many firefighters interviewed by Aaronson was that Weist did not merit his promotion and that a better candidate was bypassed by Chief Conroy due to favoritism.”
He continues, “The promotion process began with a three-part assessment of nine candidates by outside examiners. Of the nine, Mr. Weist finished in dead last.”
Mr. Rifkin then notes, “Despite his poor scores, Conroy promoted union president Bobby Weist to captain. She also promoted the union’s vice president, who did well on his tests, to captain at the same time.”
“At the end of that process, a large number of Davis firefighters told Aaronson that Conroy’s decision was unjust and that a far better candidate was unfairly not promoted,” Mr. Rifkin writes. “Had the Davis City Council not been influenced in 2008 by all the campaign money given to Saylor, Asmundson and Souza, they would have voted to look at the ombudsman’s report. And they would have found that Bob Aaronson bent over backwards to be fair to Chief Conroy and the firefighters’ union.”
But he writes, those councilmember never saw the report. Not the portion that highlights the promotional process and certainly not the fire chief’s rants that the employees with complaints were “narcissistic.”
Chief Rose Conroy told Mr. Aaronson, “From my perspective, the people that are – that have gripes and things like, that are the people that are narcissistic. That it’s about them and they don’t like it if it’s not about them and they don’t look good in front of other people …. The problem employees are the employees who don’t get their way …. These others are people that don’t fit well in a team game.”
She added, “There’s a difference between a legitimate complaint and being narcissistic and because I didn’t get my way there is a problem, which is a characteristic of a few of our people.”
Mr. Rifkin follows up his report with a comment, “For reasons of space, I did not mention that the first lawsuit to unseal the Aaronson report was brought last year by the Davis Vanguard. The city of Davis did not oppose.”
To clarify here. The city of Davis did oppose initially, but the city and the Vanguard settled on the release of a less-redacted version. The firefighters attempted to intervene.
As Mr. Rifkin continues, “However, a third party, the Davis Professional Firefighters Assn. (Local 3494), sued to have the report kept sealed. A compromise settlement was agreed to by the court, which resulted in a heavily redacted version of the Aaronson report being made public.”
“The lawyer for the Vanguard, Paul Boylan, later also represented the Woodland Record in its case,” Mr. Rifkin writes. “Because the Record won, it is likely that Rose Conroy will be responsible to pay Mr. Boylan’s legal fees in the case brought by the Woodland Record.”
I am not sure that there will be attorney fees here, at least as Mr. Boylan had previously represented to me. The Vanguard was not involved in the Woodland Record suit, so I cannot say for sure.
“In the earlier case, brought by the Vanguard, the court required Local 3494 to pay Mr. Boylan’s fees. I am not sure of the full amount, but I believe it was somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000–a hefty amount of money. And that raised the question (I am told) among many Davis firefighters who wondered why Bobby Weist fought against the Vanguard’s lawsuit,” Mr. Rifkin reported. “It ended up costing them all the money they paid their attorney and the fees of Mr. Boylan, but the unsealing of the report never stood to harm the union so much as it harmed the reputation of Mr. Weist.”
The Vanguard has received some indication that Ms. Conroy will now sue the city of Davis for releasing the document. However, at the same time, her attorney represented to the court that she was dropping the case because she could not afford the legal fees to fight it.
Clearly, this is far from over. However, here is the full and unredacted copy of the report that, for four and a half years, someone did not want the public or even the city council to read.
—David M. Greenwald reporting