SAN MIGUEL FIRE BOARD ELECTIONS COULD IMPACT BALANCE OF POWER IN NEWLY INDEPENDENT DISTRICT

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By Miriam Raftery

Photos: Ek, McKenna and Vacio billboard; Kiel image via Facebook

September 23, 2018 (San Diego’s East County) – The November election could have high stakes in the San Miguel Fire Protection District.  A slate of three incumbents who voted to return the district to local control and axe a contract with Cal-Fire are running for reelection: Theresa McKenna, Jim Ek and Mike Vacio. All are backed by the district’s firefighters. Also in the race is William A. Kiel, son of board member William Kiel, who voted against ending the contract with Cal Fire.

Since the San Miguel Fire District board voted in July 2016 by a slim one-vote margin to return to local control and end a contract with Cal Fire effective July 2017, the district has improved its financial stability. Chief Brainard reported in July that the district’s fiscal year 2017-18 year ended at an impressive $5.5 million under budget—even more than the $2.2 million projected. All stations are open and staffed, with response times averaging 9 minutes, according to a recent presentation made to district homeowners.

The outsourcing of firefighting with Cal Fire was done at a time when the board had a budget shortfall during the recession, when property tax revenues had fallen, and a prior board had run up expenses such as building a training center it couldn’t afford to finish. That forced closure of a fire station in Dehesa. But after the Cal Fire partnership, San Miguel’s long-time firefighters complained of longer shifts and contended public safety was compromised, though the closed station was reopened.  Since returning to independence, the board majority has worked to strengthen the district’s finances.

On the San Miguel Firefighters’ Facebook page, this message is posted:  “Please help us in supporting those who brought local control and fiscal strength back to the citizens we serve!!! #sanmiguelfirefighters #local1434 #sanmiguelboardfireboard #mckenna #vacio #ek

McKenna brought a suit contending candidate Kiel attempted to deceive voters by failing to distinguish himself from his father, also known as William A. Kiel, on his ballot listing.  The court ordered the younger Kiel (photo right) to use his legal name on the ballot, which includes the Roman numeral II.  A civil engineering student at Cuyamaca College who also sells trading cards, he was also ordered to change his occupation from businessman to entrepreneur and to pay court costs of approximately $850, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

The court denied a request to force Kiel (photo, right) to list his age (22) and also denied a request to remove language critical of “wasteful spending” and a claim that he wants to put the district on “sound financial footing.”  Kiel, in his response and in a statement sent to ECM, disputes claims by his opponents about the amount of budget surplus but says “I didn’t believe it was important enough to sue my opponents over.”

McKenna is a retired fire captain in the district, where she served for 22 years. Ek has also served as a fire captain. Vacio, currently also a fire captain in the  Alpine Fire Protection District, is back on the job after suffering injuries battling the West Fire in Alpine.