February 25, 2010 (Lakeside) – Lakeside residents who say they feel “burned” by several elected fire board directors who terminated Fire Chief Mark Baker have launched a recall election to oust two of those members.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, Cynthia Smith, vice-chair of the Lakeside First Community Oversight Committee, read a letter requesting the three Lakeside Fire Protection District board directors (Nick Johnson, Jim Bingham and Pete Liebig) resign their positions. The letter cited a breach of trust with the public and conflicts of interest as reasons.
The directors each stated that they do not intend to resign. So Michelle Dimsey, another member of Lakeside First, served directors Johnson and Bingham signed voter recall notices. (Liebig is up for reelection in November, so the group opted not to expend money on his recall.)
Petitions have been filed with the registrar and signatures have been validated, Lakeside First chair Milton Cyphert informed ECM. Organizers are now awaiting a seven-day rebuttal period, after which the petition will be filed with the state. “We have garnered a few web domains and have begun to create our matrix,” he said. “We are serious and if they don’t take us seriously, they are in for a shock.”
The Fire Board terminated Baker’s contract on January 16 at a meeting called with just 24 hours notice, over the objections of numerous citizens who objected. The board cited “loss of confidence and incompatability of management style” but has declined to provide details, citing employee confidentiality requirements and advice of legal counsel. Lakeside First supporters note that Baker never had a negative performance review by the board.
Director Bingham was not available for comment by press deadline.
Director Johnson, an in interview today with ECM, expressed disappointment at the group’s action, and with the legal counsel’s advice which prevents him from discussing personnel detail that he believes justified the contract termination.
“Our position of not being able to say anything frustrates me,” he said, adding that the Board followed the law. He encouraged members of the public to look up Baker’s contract and see that he was “very well compensated” in his termination terms. He justified support for the new Fire Chief, Andy Parr. “Chief Parr has some really good ideas and we hope he can implement them.”
“I don’t think anybody has brought up the fact that people who are making a really big deal about this are his friends,” he said, citing Fred Daskowski, a former board member, specifically.
Johnson also expressed dismay at having been accused by some of selling out to union interests. “This is my first venture into public office,” said Johnson, a firefighter with the San Miguel district. “I know a lot about firefighting. Lakeside is very similar to the organization I work for,” he said, adding that he was motivated largely as a community service to Lakeside.
“I get paid $131 for meetings,” he said, noting that board directors are not paid anything for budget and negotiating sessions . “There is this big misconception that I’m being compensated by the union,” he said, acknowledging that the union supported his campaign. “In the middle of the night there aren’t Cadillacs showing up at my house with steaks and fur coats. It just amazes me what people are saying. I am a union member. We took a 9% pay cut in my district…is that the kind of union kickback I got?” He added that opponents have suggested he had a “secret agenda” to merge Lakeside Fire with San Miguel. “That never happened.”
Johnson pointed out that he and Bingham received 25,000 of 30,000 votes cast. “The people of Lakeside First are saying `We are the people,’ but 25,000 people put us there to make decisions. We make one decision that they don’t like and all of a sudden, they want to remove us from office.”