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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.”

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Lakeside First Recall

Wow, what a bunch of misinformation and obfuscation one can spout when not using one's true name.

Well I'm done listening to the pathetic union rhetoric, let's get to the facts.

As an officer in my local union, I stood up and asked a few questions when I thought I noticed some things that weren't being done quite like the the bylaws and the LMRDA (Labor-Management Disclosure Act) of 1959 called for. I also fought to keep the Financial Secretary Treasurer and the Business Manager position separate so that there would be some semblance of internal controls over the member's money, as per the Sarbanes-Oxly Act. Silly me. I thought they just didn't understand about internal controls. But, Oh, then I found out the hard way...they understood just fine.

In fact, when it was all said and done, there was found $11 BILLION dollars of the MEMBER'S pension money had gone bye-bye. Of course the UA international president and a few of the international E-board members took the fall. But I stood up for the MEMBERS when all the rest of them bashed me, removed me from teaching, talked to my employer behind my back and ran a smear campaign against me. If I and people like me had not stood against the grain, not spoken up and just did what my union bosses told me to do, it could have been calamitous. That was six years ago. They still haven't caught up.

Now, just as then, I WILL NOT step down in the face of adversity when I feel there is a wrong being committed in my field of view. I will do the right thing even when it's hard.

And the wrong I see here is that the UNION PAID to get UNION members on the VERY SAME board that votes for the UNION'S Pay and benefits. HOW COZY IS THAT?

$21,000+ for a position that has never cost more than $1,000 in its history for a campaign?

Then another (judging by the quality, union print shops aren't cheap) $30,000 - perhaps $50,000 for 8-1/2x11 color, glossy heavy stock mailers for a propaganda campaign. All paid for by the UNION. What we have here it seems to me,is a legal form of quasi-money laundering and influence peddling.

The taxpayers of Lakeside pay their firefighters very well; second highest rates in the county by some reports. The firefighters then give their money to the union who in turn uses that same money to fund other union firefighters to come sit on the very board that is supposed to be the bargaining unit for the taxpaying citizens. Hmmmmmm?

And because a large group of citizens want some oversight to this situation, we are, according to the UNION, against our heroic firefighters? Sorry, pal, we're against a conflict of interest on our fire board and that is where it stops.

Now you can squander the heroism and goodwill of the firefighters all you want in your smear campaign. But the fact remains that these board members in question appear to be backed, funded and run by the UNION. And I have a pretty good feeling what the union's goal is. It is to garner the most pay, the biggest benefit packages, the most retirement and the perpetuity of ITSELF. I know, I've been there.

But, all that aside, one thing Lakeside First has done is, once realizing that this was probably going to go into a special election, which could have cost the Lakeside Fire District more than $360,000.00 by some counts, we have suspended the recall for the best interests of the taxpaying citizens of Lakeside.

That, in no way, relieves the burden upon our board members to act responsibly with the taxpayer's money and to behave in a manner so as not to generate a conflict of interest. This district will suffer an $800,000 shortfall this year. Baker's plan was to ask for a measly 5% pay decrease across the board. In three years, we would have all been fine. Baker's plan would have not reduced the service level of any part of the fire district in any way. The new regime's plan appears to get rid of the fire prevention department. Ya, that's what we need in Lakeside, less fire prevention. Oh, and correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't the fire prevention personnel Baker installed actually firefighters too?

I wish we had as much of the, by proxy, taxpayer's money as the UNION does. Then we, the taxpayers, might have a fighting chance.

As far as us being a bunch of Mark Baker cronies? The first time I ever talked to him was after I'd been asked to be the chairman of the board, and have only spoken with him a few times since. This recall was about the improper handling of personnel who were in the employ of the fire district of Lakeside. And looking forward, it is not unreasonable to predict that the actions of these board members could possibly cost the district hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars in wrongful termination suits if this "management style" continues.

Now, don't get me wrong, here, I think unions are a good thing for the working class. I support them. I use union labor in my business. I believe in fair pay and benefits for a fair days work. And I believe in supporting the education and training of my workforce.

But sometimes the union pushes its way into areas it does not belong. I know they are only doing what they think is right in order to garner the best for their members. But sometimes I think that they are also trying really hard for themselves. You, know, the "Brass" or "White hats" within the union. Don't tell me they don't drive some nice cars, too.

And by the way, at least I can sign my own name to my comments and not "hide behind the skirts" of a pseudonym.

I'm not saying I'm perfect, here. No one is. But I'm not what you say.

Good day.


Thank you Lakeside First

As a citizen, I am happy to know that our community is active and responsive to these situations. I will be contacting Lakeside First to see how I can help.

An interesting link

How nice to have access to factual information.
This seems like something that someone who would consider themselves a journalist would be able to come up with.
Thank goodness some groups in our community commit to Trust, Integrity and Professionalism.

If you are looking for the facts you won't find them there

Although some of the information is acurate they leave out some very important points. For example, the good things accomplished in the references they made were actually under Chief Baker's watch. Or how about the fact that Mr. Johnson and Mr. Bingham were not even on the BOD when many of those things were implemented. Interested in why Lakeside First asked them to step down? It's not just what they did it's how they did it!!! And what about the "Special Meeting?" Where was the "fire?" The only notices were at the LFPD admin building. Looks like they didn't want the citizens of Lakeside to know what they were up to doesn't it? And this was followed by mis-information. Their legal counsel is on video saying it was posted at the post office as well. That is simply not true. Go to the post office and ask. Looks like covering up doesn't it? No performance review was given before CHIEF Baker's dismissal (even though it was on the public agenda as a closed session item TWICE!!!)Looks like NO due process doesn't it? So if you want to talk facts, here's a FACT...when you are elected by the people for the people you have a duty to be certain that the actions you take do not look like they are intended to decieve those people and doesn't expose their district to possible litigation! If you can't then you are either trying to deceive or you are incompetent!!! Either way YOU CAN NOT BE TRUSTED TO SIT ON OUR FPD BOD's!!!If you are looking for Trust, Integrity, Professionalism or FACTS come check out Lakeside First! You certainly won't find many at the above referenced website!


How about Milt explaining himself instead of hiding behind his wife's skirt? Having elected him as chairperson, "Lakeside First" is being represented by what he says and needs to take ownership of it as long as he is their leader. As far as the majority of the Lakeside fire board's decision to get rid of Chief Baker, they did make the right decision on behalf of the people of Lakeside. Baker cut the number of firefighters and equipment that responds to emergencies and built an administration that was 30% fatter than ever before. He engaged in "back room" deals that gave raises without board approval. He refused to cut overhead in the face of an economic meltdown. The people of Lakeside deserve a fire department that spends its tax money frugally and still provides its core service. How about Baker's talk of "browning out" the Blossom Valley fire station? Don't the citizens in that part of the district deserve the same level of service as those in the other? Sounds like the decision to not continue Baker's contract was the best financial decision he's ever been part of.

It sure is easy to throw out innuendo

It seems that Milt is loose and easy with the non-fact checked innuendo. It seems to me that he will throw anybody he can out in front of an issue to keep the powerlink from going through his backyard.
I suggest anyone that wants to understand Milt a little better call the Steamfitters to see what they say about his impulsiveness with unfounded statements.
I salute any community group that wants to be involved in local issues. That is the foundation of our country.
If people would attend their local board meetings more consistently rather than using a very narrow time-frame of attendance to form opinions then maybe decisions made by a majority of the board and board members that follow their campaign statements would be appreciated rather than vilified.
Of course, it is much easier to lash out with lies and unfounded accusations.
I sure would like to see Milt issue a justification for stating his untruths about campaign contributions. Maybe it takes too much effort to pay a visit to the County Registrars office.

Sunrise Powerlink

I agree that it is unlikely that the firefighters would support the Sunrise Powerlink, and I do know the full board voted in support of formally requesting that the Sunrise Powerlink should be undergrounded in order to address the Class 1 fire risk that it presents if not undergrounded (the highest level of threat a project can have). I do not think that Milt was talking on behalf of the board of Lakeside First when questioning the motives. He was speaking on behalf of himself as to what he suspects are the possible underlying motivations to further explain their actions. After all, it looked very odd that they insisted on a special closed meeting with minimal public notice, on a weekend, and took such a controversial action despite two directors voting against the termination. That aside, the large group of community members who are a part of Lakeside First are there due to different reasons, but for their shared sense of betrayal... that these directors would remove a valued fire chief without explanation, and despite a large community show of support. Both Bingham and Johnson work for fire districts other than Lakeside, and they appear to not be representing Lakeside first. Bottom line, we all have our different reasons for losing confidence in Bingham and Johnson. Milt has presented his possible explanation for their rash behavior, but there are many other Lakeside citizens who have other reasons for their lack of confidence. Some believe they are passionate union supporters, that take their orders from the union, over the interests of the Lakeside community. Some believe they are merely inexperienced, and are making poor decisons. Bottom line, Lakeside First is a DIVERSE citizen group brought together for a common cause. We are founded by the people, for the people of Lakeside. All are welcome. All are encouraged to attend our meetings and get involved. Please email and you will be added to the email list of upcoming meetings.

compelling story

Where & when does Lakeside First meet? I'd like to better understand this & other local issues.

Lakeside First Oversight Committee Meeting Information

To add your name to the notification list upcoming meetings and newsletters, you can email

Please note that although this issue was the catalyst for the formation of an oversight group, the bigger vision for Lakeside First is to have a sustained presence in our community, and monitor the actions of all of Lakeside's governing boards.

Here is the group's mission statement as presented at the last general meeting:

Lakeside First Community Oversight Committee was founded by citizens, for the citizens, and is comprised of volunteer members from the community of Lakeside.

Our mission is to foster transparency, create accountability and preserve the integrity of our governing boards, its members and our community leaders and officials.

We are an all-inclusive and self-sustaining groups whose goal is to create and maintain an open forum where the voices of each and every member of the community can be heard and affect the subjects and decisions which impact their lives locally on a social, legislative and economic level.

Recall of Johnson and Bingham

Let's just time-line this, shall we.

SDG$E gives large grant to San Miguel Fire department.

San Miguel Fire Dept, comes out in favor of SDG$E's Sunrise (FIRE) Power Link.

Chief Baker, of the LAKESIDE Fire Dept. comes out strongly opposed to the project, citing that the fire board and dept. were never consulted, and that fire fighting capabilities in any area where the "Fire Link" ran would be indefensible.

San Miguel Fire Dept, in next election cycle, puts $21,000.00+ into the campaigns of two firemen.

These two win the election. Go figure. It's a small town.

After a one-year waiting period, they request a secret motion for a "special" meeting to have Chief Baker evaluated and Fired at the same time.

The chief and the public never saw it coming.

Every eval was BZ, 4.0, until then.

In fact, this NEW board had never evaluated him at all.

So, now, we have a NEW chief. A chief who says that the Lakeside Fire Dept. does NOT take a stance on the Sunrise (FIRE) Power link.

And, in fact, the NEW chief, Andy Parr, declared, in folly, that the BOARD does NOT take a stance on the Sunrise (FIRE) Power Link.

When, in fact, the East County Community Action Coalition had gone before the Board to request a position and had attained a position of non-support for the Power (fire) link.

So let's put it in order, then.

SDG$E gives money to San Miguel.
San Miguel approves SDG$E's project.
Chief Baker rocks the boat, citing fire concerns.
All the sudden, $21,000.00 goes to a small town's fire board election.
The BIG MONEY backed candidates win.
They wait their one-year period.
Oust our Chief.
They install a new chief, who they have hand-picked.
The new chief is a without a clue chief and says Power(fire)m link, What Power(fire)link?
Follow the money.

Milt - Please send me these documents.

That's quite a story - I'd wondered who gave all the money to the Lakeside firefighters union- a large anonymous donation according to the firefighter union's docs. Why wouldn't the donor want people to know its identity.


Does anyone have proof that San Miguel gave the money to Lakeside's firefighters? Millt, did you pull docs from the FPPC or some other source?


Also need the docs showing San Miguel got so much $$$ from SDG&E, and I will gladly post them here as proof. 

Actually, San Miguel gave

Actually, San Miguel gave $250 each to Johnson and Bingham. Lakeside Union gave $100 each, but there was the $20,000.00+/- that was put into their election that was not reported as to where it came from.

The info about SDG$E giving either money, equipment, whatever to San Miguel came out when we were fighting against the shutoff plan. Because San Miguel was backing the plan when other fire departments in the back country were fighting it.

Lakeside Residents Launch Recall

Nick Johnson acknowledges, in this article that the San Miguel Fire Dept. received 9% pay cuts as concessions due to the loss of tax base there. That must sting a little. I know it did when I had to lower the rates for my business 15% just to keep customers calling. However, what Nick Johnson must remember is that he is not representing the firefighters anymore. He is to represent the best interests of Lakeside. He was publicly overheard, by more than two citizens, "coaching" Lakeside firefighters on how to best negotiate for their upcoming contracts. That, in itself, is a conflict of interest.

He spoke, at the public meeting, about how, "WE had to take concessions at San Miguel", and "WE don't want to see the same thing happen to the Lakeside firefighters".

I'm sorry, but he is obviously conflicted as to whom he is to represent as a LAKESIDE Fire BOARD member.

The "WE" he should be concerned with are the tax payers who do not have the money to continue business as usual at this time. Everyone else is taking concessions, having layoffs, etc. It is the sign of the times.

These two, "brand new", Fire Board members acted against the wishes of a packed meeting hall full of citizens who dearly loved their Fire Chief, Mark Baker. Once in office, they SQUANDERED the large vote base they received in the election. He says he received 25,000 votes. Well,who wouldn't vote for a fireman to be on the Fire Board? Seems like it goes without saying. But one of the underlying points about their "popularity" that does not so much square with the facts is that there was almost $21,000.00 of union PAC money that was spent to get them into office. Seems like a lot of money to spend for a job that only pays $131 per meeting. Does it not?

Which then brings to mind, a question; what else, besides "kickbacks", you know, "Cadillacs showing up at my house with steaks and fur coats" could be the reason for that much money being spent for such a position. "INFLUENCE", perhaps? The ability to control who makes the decisions that would affect the rank and file, down the road? Hmmmm. One does begin to wonder.

Exactly whose side does Nick Johnson serve? The public, who he has sworn an oath to represent?

Or a bargaining unit who would be asked to take some temporary concessions for a hurting district during a bad economy?

The voters are about to reconsider.

Nick has always beeen for Nick

Nick only thinks of Nick, ask those that worked with him in Ramona, that is, when he didn't call in sick.

Lakeside - Time to Take Back our Fire Board

I applaud the recall and Lakeside First. This community led movement is about the citizens of Lakeside taking back their fireboard. The members of Lakeside First are citizens who care deeply about Lakeside and our firefigheters, and object to those who would put their personal political motives over the interests of the community. Nick is right when he said 25,000 of us put him there. We only wished he remembered that when he and Bingham decided to put their personal agenda above the interests of the community.

Time to take back our Fire Board

Your desire to take back the Fire Board is ill founded. It was never lost if you really had concern for the Fire district and the community it serves. The board members who voted to dismiss Mark Baker has the best interests of the fire department and community in mind. Mark Baker was a poor leader, a liar to all those he came in contact with, and an irresponsible manager of public funds. Take the time to look at the changes he made to the department during his time in office. He was hired with an express duty to save the fire service contract with the Viejas Tribe, that failed. When faced with having to lay off several employees due to the loss of the contract it was the Lakeside Firefighters Association that elected to fore go any raises or benefits in order to not lay off anyone. Do you get that, Mark Baker was willing to lay off fire fighters and take a pay raise, the fire fighters chose to keep people employed. Just one example of poor leadership. Later he proposed and sold the idea of eliminating a firefighter position on one of your fire trucks (one that services this community) so he could create another staff position (Battalion Chief). There were six chief officers for a four station fire department that is unnecessary, and this current board of directors corrected that by dismissing the person responsible, Mark Baker. Or how about purchasing four new Dodge ram trucks so all the chief officers had vehicles to drive (that's your money). The list can go on and on and on. That is why the Board did what they did, and it's unfortunate that your friendship with Mark Baker has clouded your mind.

Local firefighter? or member of the LFPD BOD's?

Interesting take!!! But totaly irrelivant! If any of what you say is actually true than Johnson, Bingham, and Liebig had a duty as elected officials to follow due process! If in fact any of that is true they (you) had a responsibility to the district to the board to Chief Baker and to Lakeside to document these thing and direct Baker in a more appropriate manner. That's the whole purpose of a performance review...Something no one bothered to do. If they had we would not now be facing the probable litigation which I'm sure resulted in the "gag order" imposed by LFPD's own legal council! What do you think "local firefighter" will that cost us more or less than those 4 Dodge Ram's? And how did he divide those up between the 6 chief officers? Just curious on that one. So who is this really? Johnson or Liebig? We all know Bingham couldn't be bothered with caring about what any of us has to say!

Milt and the Powerlink

This is quite a story, but shouldn't a "time-line" include dates and maybe some sources? Are the 45 members of the Lakeside Firefighter's Assoc. really supporters of the Powerlink? I looked on the SDG&E Powerlink website and didn't see the Lakeside Firefighters listed on the list of the many groups and organizations that support it. Bingham and Johnson were elected in the Nov. 2008 elections, obviously the money trail and San Miguel Fire Dept. connection would had to have been months before then. In Milt's "time-line" Chief Baker "comes out strongly opposed to the project" well before "San Miguel Fire Dept, in next election cycle, puts $21,000.00+ into the campaigns of two firemen". When and where was this support by Baker? The earliest I could find mention of the Powerlink at a Lakeside Fire Board meeting was on Feb.24,2009. According to the minutes of that meeting a motion (item 10-C, added as an emergency item) was made by Director Liebig and seconded by Director Johnson to direct Chief Baker to attend the (SDG&E Powerlink) community meeting. Now if Liebig, Johnson, and Bingham were in support of the Powerlink and Baker was on the record for strongly opposing it, why did they vote to send him to this community meeting? Milt's wife Laura is quoted in a Jan. 20, 2010 East County Magazine article as saying "It was Chief Baker that spoke up at a Lakeside Planning Group meeting back in February 2009 and first alerted our community that the Sunrise Powerlink was.." So, according to the Cypherts, Baker was "strongly opposed to the Powerlink" well before the 2008 elections but didn't mention it to the community until Feb. 2009. In fact, the California Public Utilities Commission did not approve the Powerlink project until Dec. 18, 2008 and the Bureau of Land Management didn't approve the project until January 20, 2009. I found this information on the East County Community Action Coalition website. A common theme expressed on this website is that SDG&E kept everyone in the dark about where this project was going to go. In a March 7, 2009 letter to the UT (available on the ECCAC website) Laura Cyphert says " One must wonder how an entire community, including the Lakeside Planning Group, could not know that the Sunrise Powerlink was going to be placed in front of the community's landmark, El Cajon Mountain.." How does Milt account for this? Has the Lakeside Firefighter's Assoc. ever claimed support for the Powerlink? How would those involved have known about the Powerlink so much sooner than everyone else and why would they want to support it so badly? Like "miriamg" above, I too would like to see any documents and proof posted here.