The city of Davis responded last week to the Yolo County Grand Jury’s investigation of the Davis Fire Department by announcing its intention to hire an independent investigator to evaluate the jury’s report of inconsistent promotion practices stemming from a close alliance with the union.
The city released a list of concerns regarding the jury’s investigation, including a lack of what city staff considers to be sufficient detail to allow them to investigate the claims. The report relied on interviews with unnamed sources.
“I’ve seen these [reports] over the years and I think it is pretty broad in terms of scope and the things they looked at,” said city manager Bill Emlen. “There are issues in there we wish we had more information on, but we understand why it can’t be there due to the need for confidentiality.”
There are several findings in the report for which there are legitimate explanations, but confidentiality prohibits the city from providing them, Emlen said.
“If we can legally provide more detail, that might enlighten the public and provide a different perspective,” he said.
The DFD declined to comment on the report or the pending investigation, referring all questions to the city manager’s office.
The independent investigator will do an in-depth analysis of each of the jury’s findings regarding the fire department and report back to the city manager and Davis City Council. The city council, city manager and Fire Chief Rose Conway are required by law to respond to the grand jury’s recommendations within 90 days.
“The grand jury report contains several very serious allegations about practices within the Davis Fire Department,” said city Councilmember Don Saylor. “I support the city manager’s independent review of these allegations to determine the accuracy of the charges and guide any necessary corrections or other actions.”
The grand jury’s final report, released last week, investigated the DFD in response to citizen complaints of an overly interconnected relationship between the fire chief and the union, Davis Professional Firefighters Local 3494, resulting in a hostile work environment and inconsistent promotion practices.
After interviewing past and present DFD employees, including Conway, the jury concluded that an inappropriate relationship does exist between Conway and the union’s leadership. This created a hostile work environment for non-unionized firefighters and led to the perception within the department that promotion depends on being active in union leadership.
“A number of DFD firefighters are fearful of retaliation if they speak out against the fire chief or the union,” the report said. “DFD firefighters, both past and present, indicated that those who questioned or challenged the union in any way would be openly shunned by union members.”
The report goes on to list several instances of ostracism and union favoritism including the case of a 33-year DFD veteran and non-union member who was denied a retirement party or any recognition of service.
While union membership is not mandatory, all DFD firefighters currently are union members – something the grand jury believes might be the result of seeing how non-members are treated.
“One DFD firefighter was so fearful of retaliation that upon being summoned to testify before the grand jury, this individual parked blocks away and walked to the grand jury’s office so that no one would identify the car in the grand jury parking lot and report it to DFD or union management,” the report states.
The grand jury also alleges the misuse of DFD facilities by off-duty personnel.
“It appears that the off-duty DFD firefighters, after drinking in downtown Davis, sometime ‘sleep it off’ at the firehouse rather than drive home, a practice actively supported by the fire chief,” the report states.
The city hopes to announce the name of the investigator in the next week. The first-choice candidate is police ombudsman Bob Aaronson, because as the independent investigator of Davis Police Department matters, he is already familiar with city government policies and procedures, Emlen said.
“The allegations about activities by some in the Davis Fire Department need to be investigated by an independent source like the ombudsman to substantiate or exonerate those individuals,” said Councilmember Stephen Souza. “I am very pleased that the city manager has initiated the hiring of an independent investigator and a report to the council will follow.”
ALYSOUN BONDE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.