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Update May 6:  Staff has now recommended that Chief Ghio be kept on at up to 40-hours a week (maximum of 960 hours through Dec. 31), which the District refers to as "part-time."  Under the plan he would be paid his existing hourly contract rate as an annuitant in addition to his pensions.  The Board next meets on Wednesday, May 9 with public session at 6:30 p.m.

By Miriam Raftery

May 5, 2012 (Spring Valley) – In a letter submitted to the San Miguel Consolidated Fire District board, Fire Chief August”Augie” Ghio has announced he will retire May 16th. His letter leaves open the possibility of being rehired as Interim Fire Chief while the District weighs whether or not to outsource its fire services to the state through Cal-Fire.

The prospect has led to some heated commentary.

“I guess a full retirement from San Diego City, plus retirement and lifetime medical from San Miguel just is not enough to live on,” stated a firefighter in an e-mail to ECM.  Cal-Fire's proposal to the District calls for firefighters, by contrast, to extend their work hours from 56 to 72 hours a week with no extra pay.

“If Fire Chief Ghio is hired back, he essentially will be `triple dipping’,” Mary Moran, a firefighter’s wife, suggested. She suggested that Ghio would receive compensation in addition to his two pensions from San Miguel and from the City of San Diego, where he previously served for 29 years before joining San Miguel.

Leonard Villareal, public information officer for San Miguel, said the triple dipping is a “false” characterization because Ghio would receive no new pension if hired back to serve part-time.
“Chief Ghio has been planning his retirement for quite a while,” he said. “What that does is to give the Board the opportunity to have flexibility to take care of that position –either eliminate it completely in a contract with Cal-Fire, or provide the Board with sufficient time to find a replacement Chief if they don’t go with Cal-Fire.”

The District could save money by paying out a part-time salary instead of a full-time salary during the transitional period. Asked however if the total that Ghio would be paid each month with his District retirement pension plus the part-time salary would be less or more than he currently receives, Villareal said he didn’t yet know.

Finding a new Chief could be a challenge given that the District could eliminate the position if it outsources fire services to Cal-Fire. Last week, the District voted to move forward with negotiations to explore the Cal-Fire option further.

Having Ghio continue to manage the district as a part-time Chief would “help maintain stability in the district during this difficult time,” Villareal added. “The goal would be, at the will and discretion of the board, to maintain that part-time annuitant contract and provide some stability until we’ve moved out of troubled waters. Someone needs to stay at the helm.”

The District is considering a Request for Proposal from Cal-Fire to take over fire protection services from San Miguel as a means of stemming a growing budget deficit and restoring firefighting services on Dehesa, which lost an engine in November due to the budget shortfall.  Ghio has warned that Mount Helix and other areas could lose services next if a budget solution is not found.

The firefighters' union has put forth its own series of proposals, but thus far the District and union remain at an impasse.

Should the District opt against contracting with Cal-Fire, Ghio’s retirement provides an opportunity to potentially save some money by hiring a new chief at a lower salary. Ghio was reportedly among the highest paid fire chiefs in San Diego County.

Moran suggested another option. “Many SMFD residents feel there are enough Battalion Chiefs and Division Chiefs in SMFD to handle Chief Ghio’s responsibilities.” She suggested that other chiefs could “switch off responsibilities to help run the District.”

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Should work for free!

Many of us do community service in retirement. Considering Ghio's 2 retirement checks and that, under his leadership, the district went broke Chief Ghio should come back as a volunteer!