Analysis: Firefighters Back Allen, Beronio in Reemergence in Davis Politics


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

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. Barack Palin

    I don’t care if Sheila Allen took $100 or even $1, the fact that she took any money at all from the firefighters hopefully will derail her council bid. We’ve gone down this path before and I can only hope that Davis voters are smart enough to not put us back on that track.

    1. Frankly

      This public sector union connection would seem to still play pretty well in a town filled with public-sector employees. I hope Davis voters get it, but then there are signs of a certain tribalism that might continue to bode well for Allen and bode poorly for future city budget sustainability.

  2. Tia Will

    Two candidates have accepted $ 100.00 from me this election cycle. I have definite views and preferences which I state in very definitive terms in public venues. Does that make them corrupt ?

      1. Tia Will

        I see the difference. I just do not feel as strongly about it as many here seem to. If we were talking about thousands of dollars, sure. But I find it hard to believe that $100.00 dollars is going to buy anyone’s support.

        Also, I feel that you are asking the wrong question. You asked do I have “business” before the city. I am sure that you are meaning business with monetary value. The answer to that question is “no”. However, do I have a vested interest in whether or not certain issues are decided in my favor. Absolutely. For me it is not all about the money. Many other issues are at stake that are more important to me than money, and my $100 is no different than the amount contributed by the firefighters.

    1. Frankly

      What Don said.

      And certainly lets not cast criticism on those that have never demonstrated their involvement in any proven conflict of interest. But, at the same time, please, let’s not ignore those that have… especially the public sector labor unions… for political or ideological reasons. It really damages a person’s credibility to deny the problem while arguing for fairness.

  3. noname

    Don’t overlook the $8,000 contribution by the Davis firefighters to the statewide firefighters’ independent expenditure committee. That same IE just dropped a glossy pro-Dan Wolk mailer in my mailbox today.

  4. Tia Will

    “Like what?”

    Like the kinds of issues that I post about on a regular basis.
    Environmental issues. Health issues, both public and private. Housing issues for those truly in need, not the young up and coming entrepreneur who will do fine ultimately without any special help . Social issues in terms of our police, safety and judicial system.
    The so called “soft issues”. You know, the ones that people say that we cannot possibly address without more money.

    What this point of view is missing is that when we neglect any of theses issues, there is a huge price to be paid both financially and socially. We pay for cleanups of toxic sites that could have been avoided if reasonable preventive safety measures had been adhered to. We pay with our health from smog and other chemically induced illnesses from pollution of our environment. We pay for the care necessitated by virtually entirely preventable illnesses such as obesity related conditions such as cardiovascular disease and Type II diabetes. We pay both socially and financially for our state’s decision to back away from financing public education.

    Yes, I realize that money is important. Unlike John Munn, I think that we ignore other aspects of our society whenever our views become “laser focused” which for me is synonymous with lacking in balance and perspective.

    1. David Greenwald

      Okay Tia, I agree with you part way here, but not all the way. One of the reasons I became a deficit/ budget hawk is I realized way back in 2007 and 2008, that we would not have the money to do the types of things I wanted to see done on the environmental, social, and education front if we did not get a handle on the budget.

      Recently we reversed on the POU because of concerns about the budget. That’s both an environmental and social justice endeavor. The school district has ignored the achievement gap, the growing Title One population, because it lacks the resources.

      EPA funding has been slashed because at the federal level, we have spent too much money on other things.

      Bottom line, we have to make choices, but those choices have to come out of a smart and sensible budget or we will all fail.

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