By Miriam Raftery
October 28, 2016 (Santee) - Backers of city council and mayoral candidate in Santee are trading barbs over the use of fire trucks in campaign ads.
Van Collinsworth questions why the Santee Firefighter’s Association has been posting signs supporting mayoral candidate John Minto and city council candidate Mason Herron atop a fire truck parked on public property at West Hills High School. In a letter sent to the current mayor and council, Collinsworth called the practice ”unethical.”
He asked who owns the fire truck and suggests the electioneering gives the impression that the vehicle is a city vehicle. He also asked whether the firefighters’ union disclosed any costs on their FPPC filing and called on the city to establish an “ethical code of behavior” for city employees in regard to electioneering.
Chris Thompson, president of the Santee Firefighter’s Association, responded to our inquiry. He says the vehicle is owned by a member of the association, not by the city or the union. He adds that money for fuel, signs or other associated costs are listed in the union’s FPPC filings under schedule E and that use of the vehicle is listed as a nonmonetary contribution under schedule C.
“We do not believe our actions to be deceptive or unethical,” Thompson adds, noting that the union has a political action committee (PAC) similar to other firefighting unions.
Collinsworth has faulted the association’s involvement in Santee politics, noting that 82% of members live outside of Santee. But Thompson counters, ”Our firefighters spend a minimum of 30% of our time, 120 days a year at the fire stations in Santee. We absolutely have a vested interest in who gets elected, as local politicians control our hours, wages, benefits and working conditions, as well as our ability to provide adequate safety to the citizens of Santee through policy decisions.”
Collinsworth, an environmentalist who heads up Preserve Wild Santee, is backing Stephen Houlahan, a candidate who led efforts to block the Quail Brush power plant near Mission Trails Regional Park and who has taken no money from developers, in contrast to Herron, who received significant funds from developers.
But Thompson notes irony in Collinsworth’s criticism of the firefighters’ union, noting that Houlahan’s campaign page on Facebook has a post from Preserve Wild Santee that shows a photo which reads “Don’t let traffic gridlock delay emergency response. Vote Houlahan!” The image includes firefighters (not from Santee) along with an unmarked fire engine and police car.
“This picture sure looks like they want people to believe the Santee Firefighter’s Association and Deputy Sheriffs Association supports them, Thompson observes.