The big news from the latest financial disclosures is that for the first time since 2008, the Davis firefighters have both endorsed and contributed money to a Davis City Council candidate when, on May 8, they donated $100 to the campaign of Sheila Allen.
They also contributed $500 to the judicial campaign of Janene Beronio. While it is unclear the nexus there, there have been at least two court decisions that have gone against the firefighters’ union in the last two years. In 2012, Judge Stephen Mock ordered the firefighters’ union to pay the Vanguard’s attorney fees in a public records case in which the city turned over portions of the Aaronson Fire Report.
Last year, the city turned over the full report to the Woodland Record and former Fire Chief Rose Conroy intervened. In that case, Judge Dan Maguire ordered the former chief to pay up to $43,000 in attorney fees.
The contribution and endorsement to Sheila Allen’s campaign is the first such endorsement since the firefighters endorsed Don Saylor, Stephen Souza and Sydney Vergis back in 2008.
The firefighters in the last year have been active, opposing several city-led reform efforts. In 2013, the city implanted several reforms including boundary drop, increased response time, fire staffing reductions from 12 to 11 and the shared management service agreement with JPA. The latter two reforms were heavily contested by the firefighters’ union and Sheila Allen has supported them on those issues.
The city also had to impose the last, best and final offer to the union in December 2013. And, as we reported earlier this week, there is an unfair labor practices complaint filed by union president Bobby Weist and the union against the city.
In the last year the firefighters have organized by walking precincts, protesting in front of city hall and creating a friends of the firefighters group. It is also believed that their efforts to organize involved pressuring councilmembers to fire former City Manager Steve Pinkerton.
While the firefighters are clearly more active than they have been, the activities are tiny compared to previous involvement. In 2008, between 34 and 40 firefighters each donated $100 to their three endorsed candidates. There is no evidence that this has occurred in 2014.
Moreover, there is no evidence that the firefighters’ union has expended money on an independent expenditure campaign.
In 2004, firefighters spent $12,000 on their three preferred candidates, including nearly $11,000 in direct contributions and $1400 on an independent expenditure campaign. In 2006, that IE campaign reached $4000 and in 2008, the union spent $20,000 including $12,000 direct and $8000 indirect to reelect Don Saylor and Stephen Souza and retain their narrow 3-2 majority on council.
That proved critical for the next two years, as those votes meant blocking council and the public from reading the Aaronson report, approving a new and expensive Battalion Chief model (which was never implemented), and securing the 2009 MOUs that ended leaving the city well short of the savings it needed.
However, in 2010, none of the candidates accepted endorsements from the firefighters’ union, and Joe Krovoza and Rochelle Swanson were instrumental in leading the way to city budgetary reforms.
In June 2011, Dan Wolk joined Joe Krovoza and Rochelle Swanson to implement $2.5 million in budget savings that would go to pensions, OPEB and roads, reducing employee compensation by $2.5 million. They had to face down a room of 150 employees in stifling heat. Leading the way was firefighters’ union president Bobby Weist.
The same occurred in 2012, and Brett Lee, who was elected in the 2012 election, joined with Joe Krovoza and Rochelle Swanson to implement fire staffing reductions and the shared management services which have brought the city savings and safety improvements.
In December 2012, Interim Fire Chief Scott Kenley presented the fire audit to council. Union President Bobby Weist misled the council, stating that the firefighters had not been not involved in process.
The fire audit recommendations were reviewed in great detail by the city council. In an unprecedented move, the city council literally sat at the table with the fire union to discuss the findings. The fire union demonstrated an incredible lack of respect for council and city staff while objecting to every single recommendation in the report. The city would meet again in March 5, 2013. Ultimately, all of the report’s recommendations were approved.
In April 2013, in a 3-2 vote with Brett Lee, Joe Krovoza and Rochelle Swanson voting in the majority and Lucas Frerichs and Dan Wolk dissenting, the city council voted to reduce overall staffing to 11 firefighters on duty.
In October, they would tentatively approve the shared management services by a 4-1 vote, but following two letters, including one by Senator Lois Wolk, Mayor Pro Dan Wolk flipped to the opposition, leaving a 3-2 majority to approve the shared management services and bring on Nathan Trauernicht as chief of the UC Davis and Davis fire departments.
Finally on December 18, 2013, the council voted 5-0 to impose its last, best and final offer on the firefighters.
Despite the rather small expenditure, at least one believes there is an ethical problem with Ms. Allen receiving the contribution. Rich Rifkin said, “I think the ethical trouble is with the receiver, not the giver. The firefighters are just doing what they can to better their fortunes. That is the job of a union. However, since Ms. Allen hopes to represent all of the people of Davis and would be in position to negotiate against the firefighters, it is unethical of her to accept a donation from any city employees, even if the gift is rather small.”
Still it is a far cry from a union whose influence from 2002 to 2008 elected 7 of their nine endorsed candidates. Only Lamar Heystek in 2006 and Sue Greenwald in 2008 were elected without firefighter endorsement.
The union in 2004 and 2008 gave Stephen Souza $8100 and Don Saylor $7850 in direct contributions, in addition to two independent expenditure pieces.
We just don’t see that level of activity in 2014.
—David M. Greenwald reporting