Fire board should reconsider most important hire

HMB Review Editorial: Fire board should reconsider most important hire
Thursday August 30, 2012

Here’s the thing about good-old-boy networks. They are generally not clutches of evil-doers bent on dictatorship, but rather well-meaning people who simply think they know best. So it is with the emerging cabal that is determined to return Coastside fire services to “local control.”

The dissolution of the Coastside Fire Protection District’s CalFire contract is sad for many reasons. By most guesses, the stand-alone department that emerges will be more expensive at a time when money is so scarce for other public projects and infrastructure. It marks the return of acrimony surrounding the local fire department. And it has sparked an unfortunate effort to recall elected members of the board of directors.

But if you are looking for the most obvious reason to be concerned about the future, look no further than this: The board majority that caused this mess has decided on its next fire chief without so much as posting the job. Forget vetting candidates in public. Three men on the coast don’t even plan on interviewing anyone at all.

Board President Doug Mackintosh told the Review last week that he had no intention of advertising the job. Like-minded board member Mike Alifano told us something similar on Monday, adding that the board was not required to notice the job. They already know who they want to be chief. [emphasis added]

We don’t know whether the fire board is technically required to advertise the chief’s position, but why in the world wouldn’t it choose to do so? If you were on a public board and contemplating paying your top employee something like $200,000 a year, wouldn’t you want to entertain outside candidates for the position?

The board has hired a good man, former San Mateo Fire Chief Dan Belville, to study the next steps toward forming a stand-alone department. His most important task is to find some way to attract qualified firefighters to what would be a fledgling department —without breaking the bank. That means navigating the morass that is the state’s retirement system for public employees. The Coastside’s new department would likely incur as-yet-unknown health care and retirement expenses that could easily run into the millions of dollars.

When he’s done decoding CalPERS indecipherable rules and expenses, Belville should tackle another all-but-impossible task. He should ask board members to change their minds. Cronyism is among the most damning charge made against any public board. By announcing the new chief without a single interview, the current board majority would be acknowledging they are good old boys indeed. [emphasis added]