Yesterday, the Vanguard reported that the Davis Professional Firefighters Association President Bobby Weist held a party at Uncle Vito’s in Downtown Davis to “celebrate the departure” of City Manager Steve Pinkerton. In addition to employees from PASEA (Program, Administrative and Support Employees Association), the event included a countdown at 5 pm and was attended at different times by Sheila Allen, Don Saylor, Dan Wolk and Lucas Frerichs.
The smoking gun was an email, obtained by the Vanguard that was sent by PASEA President Sara Williams (during city business hours) to members of the PASEA Google Group.
Despite the fact that the Vanguard sent a screen shot of that email to the elected officials on Friday evening, the Vanguard did not start receiving responses from the elected officials until Saturday. While the Vanguard has not heard from Don Saylor, Sheila Allen, Dan Wolk and Lucas Frerichs have now all denied any knowledge of Bobby Weist’s true intentions.
Lucas Frerichs told the Vanguard, “I was invited to Uncle Vito’s to have a beer and meet city employees – many of whom I’d not had the chance to meet previously. I was told in advance that the purpose for the gathering was ‘to get all the city labor groups together to start working together because Pinkerton is leaving.’”
Sheila Allen explained, “On 4/24 Bobby Weist sent the following text to me ‘Hey we’re having pizza tomorrow at Vito’s. You should come by. It starts at 4pm.’ I replied ‘Sure, see you there.’”
She would add, “I had no idea the get together was related to Steve Pinkerton’s last day.”
Dan Wolk made a similar denial, but the comment itself was not on the record.
In all candidness, a lot of people wrote me, called me, and posted that they disbelieved that the four public officials had no idea the true purpose of the event. It’s certainly plausible that they got together, concocted a cover story, and made similar comments. But I think it’s best to take people at their word, without further evidence.
Leaving aside the strange explanation that city labor groups would get together and start working together after 4 pm on a Friday over beer, we will take the politicians at their word that Union President Bobby Weist, who has been caught in a number of tall tales by the Vanguard over the years, might have deceived the elected officials about the true nature of the gathering.
But to me that doesn’t get them off the hook, it simply changes the nature of the complaint.
First, any observant reader will notice that there is actually something missing here. While Lucas Frerichs, Sheila Allen, and Dan Wolk deny that they knew the true nature of the event, not one of them said boo about the true nature of the event being wrong.
None of them stated that they believed it was inappropriate for them to have attended an event which was intended to celebrate the departure of the city manager. None of them, upon learning what the countdown referred to, spoke out against it. None of them stated that, had they known, they would not have attended.
There was not one expression of outrage over being misled and about disparaging the outgoing city manager.
So yes, they all were quick to create plausible denials as to their attendance, but not one of them spoke out against attending had they known.
Was it in their opinion wrong to celebrate Steve Pinkerton’s departure? Would they have attended the event, had they known its real purpose? Did any of them apologize to Steve Pinkerton?
Second, who attended the party and who did not attend the party has meaning. The firefighters’ union has been at the center of several controversies. They were subject to a grand jury report and an independent investigation that the Vanguard and others spent five years and multiple lawsuits to get released to the public.
The firefighters protested against city hall last year. The firefighters had to have their contract imposed on them. The firefighters for years controlled city hall through bundled donations and independent expenditures, which often meant they spent upwards of $20,000 to elect candidates. It has only been in the last two election cycles that that influence has been broken.
At this party, the firefighters were selective about whom they invited. They invited Lucas Frerichs and Dan Wolk. However, they did not invite Joe Krovoza, Rochelle Swanson or Brett Lee. Each of them confirmed this fact with the Vanguard.
Moreover, while they invited Sheila Allen, the other four candidates for city council were not invited.
If this were just beer, if this were just about gathering “to get all the city labor groups together to start working together because Pinkerton is leaving,” why would they invite some elected officials but not others?
The answer is clear: because they were inviting the elected officials who were friendly to the firefighters and they did not invite those elected officials or candidates that they deemed adversarial or potentially adversarial.
Finally, we again will take the elected officials at their word that they did not know that this was a party to celebrate the departure of Steve Pinkerton. However, at the end of the day, they knew it was Bobby Weist who was inviting them to a party.
By now the elected officials knew with whom they were getting into bed and should have been prepared for the possibility that the party might not have been what it seemed or was purported to be.
I particularly take exception to the insinuation made publicly that there was misinformation in this report. I went very far to do due diligence to make sure that everything stated in yesterday’s article was not only accurate but could be backed up by evidence.
I waited until I had possession of the email before deciding to write the story. I sent a screen shot to the elected officials. I was not given information on the record at first by Lucas Frerichs, Sheila Allen or Dan Wolk.
Mr. Frerichs specifically requested his initial text be off the record, Sheila Allen did not state either way – and I always assume a comment is off the record unless told otherwise – and Dan Wolk’s comment was “for background” only.
In the initial story, I specifically stated that Sheila Allen and Lucas Frerichs denied knowledge of the purpose of the event. I wrote, “One person indicated they were invited by Bobby Weist to come meet some current and former staff. They were a bit confused by the countdown and cheer.”
That one person was Sheila Allen, but I could not say that because she never gave me permission to do so. When I sent her the text with the screen shot it was 9:30 pm on Friday; I didn’t receive a response until nearly 5 pm on Saturday. It wasn’t a priority for her.
The bottom line here is that no one likes to get caught with their hands in the cookie jar. However, in my view, while everyone expressed to the Vanguard that they did not know the purpose of the event, no one expressed regret for attending the event or spoke out against it once it became known to them.
To me that silence speaks 1000 words.
—David M. Greenwald reporting