By Miriam Raftery
February 1, 2018 (Julian) – Julian-Cuyamaca Fire Protection District’s Board of Directors has received two legal complaints alleging misconduct by Fire Chief Rick Marinelli, who has denied wrongdoing.
The Julian Volunteer Fire Company, through Attorney Marek Pienkos at the law firm Grady and Associates, has filed a claim alleging violations against free speech, intimidation, threats of retaliation, and other complaints. The volunteer firefighters’ board previously issued a vote of no confidence that it presented to the JCFPD board, which dismissed the matter as unreliable.
In addition, Karen Kiefer, Supervising Paramedic for JCFPD, has filed a sexual harassment claim--among other complaints—through Attorney Jessica Coronado. The complaint alleges that the chief asserted he could “convert” Kiefer, a lesbian, suggesting a sexual relationship. Her complaint also alleges that he discussed her pay in front of others and improperly banned Kiefer from speaking at board meetings on paramedic-related issues.
The JCFPD Board of Directors asked their legal counsel to do an independent investigation which former board member Patricia Landis claims is “a conflict of interest because legal counsel for JCFPD will be counsel for the defendants in these legal actions.” Pending a legal investigation involving depositions, affidavits and potentially a trial, Landis proposes, “Chief Marinelli should be placed on administrative leave. If he is found innocent, he will remain Chief. If he is found guilty of these charges he will be fired with cause. This is how our justice system works.”
East County Magazine contacted Chief Marinelli for comments. He sent the following response via e-mail: “They are actions against the district based on false allegations against me. I have been requested by our attorney not to comment. The one comment I will make is the allegations against me are not true. The volunteer firefighter association is lashing out against me because they feel like I am a threat to the volunteer organization. They must feel an incredible amount of fear and anxiety to make up such lies against me. I feel sorry for them and forgive them. I have always advocated I support the best level of service that can be provided to the public we serve. It's a unfortunate not everyone feels that way. The majority of our staff support me. These claims are being fabricated from a group of about six out of roughly forty community volunteers and reserve volunteers.”
The fire district has also been involved in a heated dispute over whether to remain independent or join the County Fire Authority. The board majority recently voted to remain independent and is now the only all-volunteer fire department remaining in San Diego County. Landis has advocated for independence, while board chair Jack Shelver backed joining the CFA. Advocates of an independent fire district have claimed Marinelli has not done enough to support the majority’s wishes, a claim Marinelli has disputed, as ECM previously reported.
Advocates of an independent district have voiced concerns that the Julian-Cuyamaca area might not be adequately prioritized through a countywide fire department that partners with Cal-Fire if a major fire occurred elsewhere. But opponents contend that not partnering with the county and Cal-Fire puts the communities at greater risk.
The decision to stay independent led to loss of a paramedic engine in January, as ECM reported. Supporters of a stand-alone district are planning a ballot measure in June to ask voters to support a fee hike to support a free-standing district, though opponents claim the amount won’t be enough to fully fund the district’s needs.