The city of Davis has finally concluded an internal investigation into allegations that city firefighters were misusing fire department facilities.
The investigation clarified findings from a Yolo County grand jury report released last summer.
The original grand jury report found that some off-duty fire personnel were sleeping at the firehouse after drinking. It also found that some fire personnel were concerned about favoritism, promotional practices and a strong union influence on the department’s operations.
City manager Bill Emlen told the Davis City Council at last week’s meeting that the city’s own investigation made it clear that none of the allegations were affecting the department’s ability to serve the public and that all issues were being addressed appropriately.
“The investigation has confirmed my confidence in the department and its management,” he said.
Emlen pointed out that many of the complaints that sparked the initial grand jury investigation were related to incidents that occurred five to 10 years ago.
“Any time you put a department under a microscope for an extended period of time there are going to be issues that arise,” he said.
Bob Aaronson, who also serves as the city’s ombudsman for the Davis Police Department, conducted the city’s internal investigation. The city paid Aaronson $35,000 to interview fire personnel, review related documents, and prepare a report detailing his investigation. Emlen is not releasing the report publicly because of confidential personnel matters discussed in it.
The city council only received a summary of Aaronson’s report prepared by Emlen. Aaronson said the summary was generally reflective of what the report said, but that it obviously excluded important details.
“Bill [Emlen] is sort of a glass half full sort of guy when it comes to city operations – that’s my impression – and I tend to be a glass half empty sort of guy,” Aaronson said. “There are some differences.“
Aaronson’s investigation found that “on an infrequent basis, inebriated, off-duty firefighters utilized their assigned beds in fire stations to sober up” instead of driving under the influence. Emlen emphasized that this was not a common practice and that public perception had been influenced by newspaper articles focusing on this aspect.
“It wasn’t something that should have happened, but it was not a significant problem,” he said.
Aaronson’s investigation did not find evidence of overt favoritism or the establishment of hostile work environment, but the investigation was not conclusive and Aaronson noted that there is still a group of employees “who could reasonably be described as disgruntled.” There are no pending complaints or grievances with the city regarding retaliation.
The report and presentation were informational and the Davis City Council took no further action.
JEREMY OGUL can be reached at email@example.com.