Quietly, earlier this month with no fanfare or controversy, a critical date passed in the city. The shared management agreement between Davis and UC Davis Fire Department was automatically extended, until the end of 2016, when neither Davis nor UC Davis exercised their opt-out option by July 1.
There was a time that this did not seem likely. The Vanguard reported back in November that both the city, under interim-City Manager Gene Rogers, and UC Davis, under Senior Associate Vice Chancellor Karl Mohr, pushed back against a request from Bobby Weist, Davis firefighters’ union president, for an independent audit of the shared management program.
In a letter from Vice Chancellor Mohr, “The City and the University have and will continue to assess the value and efficacy of the Agreement. Chief Trauernicht presents quarterly reports to the Davis City Council and monthly briefings to both the University and City Fire Departments.” He added, “We do not believe an audit of the Agreement is necessary or appropriate at this time.”
As it turned out, the Shared Management Agreement, which put the City of Davis Fire Department under the direction of Chief Nathan Trauernicht, a UC Davis employee, would be the most controversial of the reforms enacted by the Davis City Council in 2013. Earlier that year, the council approved, by a 3-2 vote, a reduction of fire staffing from 12 to 11.
But it was the November discussion and December vote on the shared management that ultimately proved most meddlesome.
On November 21, the Vanguard reported that Senator Lois Wolk, Assemblymember Mariko Yamada, Supervisors Don Saylor and Jim Provenza and former Supervisor Helen Thomson wrote a letter to the Davis City Council opposing the agreement.
The letter argued, “We believe that governance of public safety is and must remain a core function of the elected City Council of Davis. Community oversight and accountability is an important element of municipal services.”
They wrote, “We urge the Davis City Council to take another look at the serious long-range consequences of this proposal before contracting out any of these core municipal functions. There is a key difference between sharing or coordinating services and merging governance with the constitutionally separate and unelected Regents and Chancellor.”
“This proposed action would place a well-established and effective municipal service within an entity whose primary mission is higher education and research, not public safety,” the letter continued. “This could easily result in a lessening of service and response for the residents of the Davis community and the surrounding areas historically served by the Davis Fire Department. We deeply appreciate the presence of the UC Davis campus and respect the leadership of the campus. Unified operations and efficiencies are appropriate considerations, but should not come with loss of community accountability.”
Throughout 2014, there were signs of trouble ahead. Union President Bobby Weist had attempted to enlist the statewide union to aid their cause, going so far as to propose legislation to prohibit such a merger.
When the city council hired Dirk Brazil, it was unclear which direction the city would go.
However, data emerging in 2014 showed that the reforms, rather than making residents less safe, have actually greatly improved safety in the city. From September 2012 until August 2013, in a typical month Station 32 (west Davis) and Station 33 (south Davis, covering the eastern and southern portions of the city) had essentially been uncovered between 20 and 40 times per month.
That means that areas of west and east Davis, if they had an emergency, were looking at far longer before an engine that had been moved to the central fire station on Third and E Street could travel back into the areas on the eastern and western portions of the town.
In critical situations people might have to wait three, four, or five extra minutes. This wasn’t just a few times per month, this was daily for long periods of time during the day.
With the changes, the number of “move and cover assignments” has fallen to, in most cases, less than five times a month in total. The Vanguard has the most recent data that will be analyzed in a separate piece.
When the Vanguard spoke to City Manager Dirk Brazil, he said back in May that morale is improving on fire. He said that there have been some new hires who have helped to change the makeup of the organization. While the previous city manager was instrumental in implementing unhappy policy changes and imposing the last, best and final offer on the bargaining unit, Mr. Brazil represents a new face.
The Vanguard asked the city manager, in May, directly about whether joint management sticks past July, and he said that if he had to guess, he thought it would. He cited at least three, and probably more, council supporters for shared management.
Mr. Brazil also seemed genuinely committed to the idea of regional collaboration. “We have to look at things collaboratively, regionally.” He said, “It is short-sighted to look at it” in isolation.
John Meyer pointed out that fire already has to have collaboration. When a fire happens, the local fire department “needs the cavalry from other agencies. It’s all about mutual aid.” He said it is better to train the same way.
A few weeks later, the budget released in late May also showed a continuation of shared management.
The budget memo noted, “Continued refinement of resource deployment under the boundary drop and updated 1st Alarm assignment.”
The budget also noted the continued “partnership with the West Valley Regional Fire Training Consortium for career development of all staff,” which has led to an improvement in the training of firefighters.
Last year we saw the hiring of five new firefighters, which allowed the department to have a full contingent of firefighters on each shift, alleviating previous problems of excessive overtime and workload.
The budget highlights are interesting. The report notes that the budget is increasing by $362,792, explaining “This is primarily due to: $180,676 in costs for the shared services agreement with the University of California Davis (UCD); addition of FLSA [Fair Labor Standards Act] required overtime costs ($92,000); and the addition of one-time safety equipment purchases ($166,000), all net of the removal of FY14-15 anticipated MOU increases, which are still under negotiation and have not been included in the FY 15-16 budget.”
It goes on to note, “Operations and Maintenance expenditures for FY 15-16 include increases in contract services cost of $180,676 for the City’s share of the shared services agreement with UC Davis. A portion of this increase is offset by revenue from UCD for their share of City services ($145,551). In addition $20,000 in funding was included for a 50% shared Office Assistant position with UC Davis in support of the shared services agreement, as well as $5,000 of one-time funding for equipment/supply needs in the City’s Emergency Operations Center.”
All of this suggests that the critical pieces of fire reform have held and hopefully, as time goes on, these reforms will help restructure the fire department and the role that fire has played in the city, allowing us to move on to other areas of focus.
—David M. Greenwald reporting