Clarifying the Extent to Which Council Was Kept in the Dark on the Fire Report

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firefighters-friends-of-2Read 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.

UNREDACTED FIRE REPORT

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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20 thoughts on “Clarifying the Extent to Which Council Was Kept in the Dark on the Fire Report”

  1. DT Businessman

    Based on Conroy’s quotes, either the fire department was riddled with narcissistic employees or the management was severely challenged. What a mess. What’s the current status?

    -Michael Bisch

  2. David M. Greenwald

    The current status is that we have no chief. Landy Black and Steve Pierce are overseeing the administrative operations of the department. The division chiefs, four of them, are running the operations. And there are still apparently huge problems with retaliation and insubordination by Weist.

  3. JustSaying

    “Mr. Heystek has not read the unredacted version of the report, but he will shortly….” “And there are still apparently huge problems with retaliation and insubordination by Weist.”

    According to who? Attribution, please.

    Jim Frame’s hearsay conflicts with Stephen Souza’s contemporaneous statements at the time of the decision not to read the report. Furthermore, his statement about “voting not to formally receive the report a desire to protect the confidentiality of the employees” fails in two ways: 1) apparently, there was no vote, and 2) employee names would have been redacted before the report was released.

    Stephen and two others either knew that “the fire department was riddled with narcissistic employees or the management was severely challenged” or refused to read the report to find it out.

    Don Saylor’s claim that they should be satisfied with the city manager’s conclusions flew in the face of Bob Aaronson’s insistence that it conflicted with his investigation report. And, it’s strange that Ruth Asmundson didn’t insist on reading the report after hearing Aaronson’s comment and reading the city manager’s summary.

    All three owe the public on-the-record Q&As to justify their decisions instead of passing along revisionist history on this matter. I’d hope the council has changed its no-records, no-motions/votes practices.

    To my mind, this was Sue Greenwald’s high point in her gadfly career on the council and a reminder of how much we miss Lamar Heystek.

    This also is the best example of the Vanguard’s civic performance and potential. Did Rich give you credit for unearthing these hidden documents and providing them to Davis citizens (and giving him excellent material for his columns)?

  4. Jim Frame

    [quote] Furthermore, his statement about “voting not to formally receive the report a desire to protect the confidentiality of the employees” fails in two ways: 1) apparently, there was no vote[/quote]

    I’m not sure Stephen used the word “vote” in our conversation; that may have come from me, as I was under the impression at the time that there had been, in fact, a vote. It was a spontaneous on-the-street conversation rather than an interview, so I’m afraid that details were left to the fate of my porous memory.

  5. JustSaying

    Not surprising, Jim, since I think we all had gathered the impression that these conversations had ended with a 2-3 vote. Maybe even Stephen had heard for so long that he’d voted “no” that he started believing it as well.

    I sure wish Stephen, Ruth and Don would offer to talk with Rich or David on their actions on the fire department’s critical personnel problems. Ruth and Don still represent Davis citizens, and owe us an explanation now that we’ve all found out how wrong their decisions were.

    Stephen still has potential to run again successfully for office, in my opinion, but ought to face up to the adverse impact his decision had on fire department operations for the balance of Chief Rose’s career.

    I’m assuming, of course, that these three will be able to provide rationales other than Rich’s political expedience/avarice conclusions.

  6. David M. Greenwald

    Don’t feel bad Jim, I had been under the impression that there was a vote, now going back over my notes from the time, it looks like it was a 3-2 consensus decision. Wish I could re-watch the video.

  7. Jim Frame

    [quote] it looks like it was a 3-2 consensus decision[/quote]

    Not to distract from the sentiment, but that’s not the kind of consensus with which I’m familiar.

  8. Stephen Souza

    Jim Thank You for representing the thoughts of mine on this matter.

    I will in a short while speak to this scurrilous attack upon my integrity in carrying out the over site of city personnel through our only 2 directly hired personnel, the City Attorney and the City Manager. For now here is the minutes of 9-9-08:
    [url]http://city-council.cityofdavis.org/media/default/documents/pdf/citycouncil/councilmeetings/minutes/archive/minutes-20081209-city-council-meeting.pdf[/url]

  9. Jim Frame

    [quote]For now here is the minutes of 9-9-08[/quote]

    Unfortunately, the city doesn’t keep verbatim minutes. The only record of the fire report discussion in the minutes is a note that staff will develop an “appropriate way” to share the report’s information with the Council.

  10. JustSaying

    [quote]“David Greenwald spoke regarding the investigation of the Fire Department by Bob Aaronson, and stated City Council must be fully informed in order to make any decisions and should pursue an un-redacted version of the report.”

    * * * * * * *
    “Emlen recommended the Fire Department investigation report be agendized for a January meeting instead of the next meeting. City Attorney Harriet Steiner stated staff will develop an appropriate way to disclose the information contained in report to Councilmembers. Council concurred.” [/quote]Stephen, thanks for the link to the Sept. 9, 2008, minutes.

    Interesting that they are so hopelessly inadequate. Was this the meeting at which all of the council discussion ensued, at which Aaronson reported that the Emien’s summary didn’t accurately reflect his report and that you said you ‘didn’t need all 50 pages”?

    Was there ever a vote or was it so obvious that it would have been 2-3 that “consensus” was that it was time to stop arguing? Or, was this kind of discussion/voting held at the January meeting at which the city attorney was to develop “an appropriate way to disclose” the Aaronson report to you and your colleagues?

    Do you also have links to Harriet’s report in the January meeting packet and minutes for that meeting?

    I’m just fascinated that there’s David (big as life) telling you folks in September 2008 that you ought to read the unredacted report in order to accomplish your due diligence.

    Now that you see what was in the report you didn’t want to read (and reflect on how things have played out since), do you regret not listening to David, Bob, Sue and Lamar?

    I hope you can provide your view of what happened without feeling that Rich’s column is a “scurrilous attack upon my integrity in carrying out” oversight of the city government in general and of the bad management of the fire department specifically.

    Rich has been giving his own opinion about what motivated this unsavory city council action with little or now argument from the three councilors targeted. It won’t help much now to protest too much about “attacks’ on personal integrity.

    A simple rationale for why the council majority refused to read Aaronson’s work (even if rank and file firefighters’ were retracted for personnel privacy) would be welcomed by the public, however.

    It’s easy for most of us to see how the council’s lack of action on the Aaronson report allowed the poor management to continue. The council should have seen that the city manager needed council guidance if he refused to take action–but, you couldn’t have known that unless and until you had read the report.

    By the way, who commissioned and paid for the Aaronson investigation and report?

  11. Jim Frame

    The desire of Don, Ruth and Stephen to delegate the matter to the employees under direct control of the council would be reasonable under normal circumstances. However, it was clear by the December 9 meeting that the Fire Department situation had degraded to such an unreasonable degree that the executive’s job was to step in and take charge. I continue to believe that the council majority didn’t want to have this blow up in their faces, and chose to stretch its credibility well beyond the breaking point by hiding behind the chain-of-command fig leaf.

  12. JustSaying

    Jim, are you referring to the September 9 meeting? Stephen’s link was for that date, not December 9. Now, I’m wondering if the January 2009 “agendizing” happened and what discussion occurred at that meeting.

    i agree with you that the concept of hands-off (“we don’t care what’s happening under the city manager’s supervision”) isn’t at all convincing.

    Now, if the city attorney advised the council that Aaronson’s investigation/report was somehow protected and confidential by law from everyone but the city manager, there might be reason to agree without arguing (the way Sue and Lamar apparently did). All that would be in Harriet’s report in the agenda package for her January presentation, assuming there was one.

    There’s also David’s strong public comment that the council had to consider or risk being criticized for sweeping the issue under the rug.

    That said, it’s a leap from a professed lack of desire to read the report to assuming it was in order to avoid offending the firefighter union and Weist. That might be logical in the absence any justifications from the three council members, but I think we should hear from those three before accepting Rich’s conclusions.

  13. Mr.Toad

    Did Rifkin really compare WWII era racism against Americans of Japanese decent and this cover up of Fire Department dysfunction, cronyism, union bullying or whatever? Certainly demeans the societal failure in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor that led to the internment under FDR, Earl Warren and Calvin Covell. Nothing else was as bad? Really? What about a council member calling the City Manager “Boy.” That was pretty bad if you ask me. What about the public safety issues around the boundary drop? What about pepper spraying students for protesting the cost of tuition? What about not annexing student housing so students can participate in civic life. What about nooses from goal posts.

    Burying this report the worst thing since internment? No, at worst, burying this report smacks of petty politics, although the council majority might have simply sought to save the chief from public humiliation. is that so bad?

  14. Jim Frame

    [quote]Jim, are you referring to the September 9 meeting? Stephen’s link was for that date, not December 9.[/quote]

    Stephen’s post said 9-9-08, but the linked minutes are for 12-9-08.

  15. JustSaying

    David, thanks for the link to the unredacted report. It was fascinating reading–completed in 30 minutes–filled with many topics that should have interested the council. It was critical of the city manager in a couple instances, perhaps suggesting why he suggested that his supervisors (the council members) didn’t need to read it.

    The claim that reading the report would violate the confidentiality “of the employees” isn’t supported. Not a single disgruntled employee (about 20 percent of the workforce) is named or otherwise identified in the report, obviously by Aaronson’s design. Other than Weist and Conroy, only Sidney/Sydney and the union treasurer (both non-complainers) are named.

    So, what would the council members have read about if they’d chosen to do so? Problems with the FD/PD CAD system implementation, the city’s competitive promotion process, the city donations to the “union bank” and the aforementioned city manager failings. Also, a perception of favoritism and management terrorism that existed for years and many recommendations for city improvements, including a system for emplyee grievances.

    Also, heavy duty pressure on all firefighters to donate money and walk precincts for “union endorsed” council candidates while wearing their union tee shirts that just happened to be designed to look like their official uniform shirts! (Now, why would Rich zero in on this concern shared by Aaronson? Hmmm.)

    Even a quick reading of Aaronson’s report would have provided the council with a host of corrective actions they could have undertaken, including a few directed at the city manager. The disgruntled firefighters must have been terribly disappointed that the council dismissed their well-documented concerns so cavalierly.

    PS: The report also answered one of the questions I’ve asked for years. Answer: Fewer that 20 percent of Davis firefighters live in Davis. I wonder why.

  16. David M. Greenwald

    Thanks Jim Frame and JustSaying. There are times when the comment section here is just so valuable and this was one of them. Without your follow up here, I think key issues could have been lost. I wasn’t able to respond as I had left town with my family yesterday afternoon, but it was probably better that you two rather than me followed up.

    A few points:

    1. “That said, it’s a leap from a professed lack of desire to read the report to assuming it was in order to avoid offending the firefighter union and Weist. That might be logical in the absence any justifications from the three council members, but I think we should hear from those three before accepting Rich’s conclusions. “

    While I think this is a fair point, there is some context missing here. This meeting occurred six months after Mr. Saylor and Mr. Souza were reelected and finished 1 and 2 in the race. The two of them had just received about $20,000 from the firefighters in direct and indirect money.

    So the two councilmembers receive a large amount from the firefighters and then vote basically to bury a report that is critical of the very union leadership that got them reelected?

    2. I’m always reluctant to speak and yet here it seems the fact I did helped to clarify the historical record

    3. Once again, the fact that we did not store video recordings helps to distort the historical record.

    4. I believe my account is largely correct. I don’t understand why Souza did not come back on as he said he would and explain what was scurrilous about this article.

  17. JustSaying

    David, thanks for your additional comments.

    Do you remenber how this all played out at the January meeting at which the city attorney was to make a presentation on how best to present the report for council action? Did you speak at the January followup? Did any other public member or firefighter?

    Do you know if the council dealt with any of the recommendations Aaronson made, which were numerous and excellent?

    Is a copy of the city manager’s summary report available? It would be interesting to compare it now, particularly to see what he failed to include and to see how Stephen Souza got the impression that were privacy concerns involved when the report listed not a single name of the disgruntled employees? Did the summary note Aaronson’s recommendations about the city manager’s own actions, performance that the council members surely would have wanted to deal with.

    Did the city manager’s summary report include Aaronson’s documentation and concerns about how the city-financed union bank (equal to one half year of staff time) and how the pressure was applied to rank-and-file firefighters to provide money and precinct campaigning time for union-approved candidates? If so, did any city council members express concern about these issues?

    I assumed that Stephen was announcing a response to Rich’s “scurrilous attack,” not this Vanguard report. Maybe an Enterprise letter or op-ed. Since Rich has long exposed the special relationship certain council members had with the firefighter union (and attributed their actions to stupidity or political considerations), I’d rather read about whether Steven and the two others feel they were misled by the city manager and attorney now that they’ve had the chance to read the redacted and complete reports.

  18. David M. Greenwald

    JS:

    My memory is not as good as it used to be. Part of the problem isn’t memory per se, but the lack of sleep and excessive information jammed into it.

    I am fairly sure I spoke. I don’t recall what I had to say, to be honest.

    Here is the story I wrote right after the January meeting, I think it puts the conversation into good context:

    January story ([url]https://davisvanguard.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1266:council-hears-city-manager-report-on-grand-jurys-findings-into-the-dfd&catid=58:budgetfiscal&Itemid=79[/url])

    My recollection of the January meeting is that the council heard the report, had a discussion, and I don’t remember any follow up or recommendations.

    “Is a copy of the city manager’s summary report available?”

    It’s in the January 13, 2009 staff report, which I think is still online.

    ” It would be interesting to compare it now, particularly to see what he failed to include and to see how Stephen Souza got the impression that were privacy concerns involved when the report listed not a single name of the disgruntled employees?”

    I’m pretty sure that the council read a redacted report that was more extensive than anything that the public saw.

    “Did the summary note Aaronson’s recommendations about the city manager’s own actions, performance that the council members surely would have wanted to deal with. “

    If you do some searching, you can find my summary of the summer (lol), and that may answer the question, I just don’t remember.

    Here are a couple of links to stories I did in early 2009:

    Independent Investigation ([url]https://davisvanguard.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1261:independent-investigation-into-yolo-county-grand-jury-report&catid=58:budgetfiscal&Itemid=79[/url])
    Davis City Council Never Sees Unredacted Report from City Ombudsman Bob Aaronson ([url]https://davisvanguard.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1262:city-managere28099s-handling-of-fire-report-undermines-investigatory-process&catid=58:budgetfiscal&Itemid=79[/url])

    “Did the city manager’s summary report include Aaronson’s documentation and concerns about how the city-financed union bank (equal to one half year of staff time) and how the pressure was applied to rank-and-file firefighters to provide money and precinct campaigning time for union-approved candidates? If so, did any city council members express concern about these issues? “

    I remember discussion of that issue. One of the problems I had is that the city could document the use of the union bank hours in terms of number of hours, but not how those hours were used. And I was fed a confidential leak from someone, who disguised their identity, telling me that those hours were being misused, but that was never proven.

    “I assumed that Stephen was announcing a response to Rich’s “scurrilous attack,” not this Vanguard report. Maybe an Enterprise letter or op-ed. Since Rich has long exposed the special relationship certain council members had with the firefighter union (and attributed their actions to stupidity or political considerations), I’d rather read about whether Steven and the two others feel they were misled by the city manager and attorney now that they’ve had the chance to read the redacted and complete reports. “

    I think that’s a good question – I don’t know if we’ll get an answer to that.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments here.

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