The City Council on a 3-2 vote approved the official agreement Tuesday for shared management of fire services with UC Davis, an arrangement that will place both the city and university fire departments under leadership of the same fire chief.
Adopted, essentially, as a one-year pilot program, under the new structure the two jurisdictions will share a chief, two deputy chiefs and three division chiefs, who will run the day-to-day operations of the fire departments.
City Manager Steve Pinkerton said Tuesday that this structure will not strip the city or the university of their legislative authorities over their respective fire departments. The chief will report individually to both Pinkerton and John Meyer, UCD vice chancellor of administrative and resource management.
“While we’re sharing services, we’re still completely autonomous organizations. Nobody is taking over anybody in this operation,” Pinkerton said. “We’re just, for our mutual benefit, sharing a service that benefits both the university community and the community as a whole.”
But with the city’s firefighters voicing serious concerns about the change — and Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk and Councilman Lucas Frerichs voting against the motion — Mayor Joe Krovoza and Council members Brett Lee and Rochelle Swanson decided to tack on several check-ins to the agreement to make sure the new structure is working properly.
Staff was directed to bring back a set of metrics by which the city will evaluate the agreement no later than Jan. 31 and also provide a quarterly check-in on the progress of the structure.
“It carries a lot of weight when (the firefighters) express their concern,” Lee said. “Having said that, we’ve had to make some tough decisions and I truly believe the fiscal situation facing the city is very severe, and so I believe this is a step in the right direction.”
Pinkerton estimates the deal will save the city about $88,000 per year. That number could climb to about $230,000 if the city and the university can shift all three division chief positions onto UCD’s less-costly compensation package. The agreement, which officially kicks in Jan. 1, automatically renews on June 30 if neither the city nor the university wish to withdraw.
The council, meanwhile, was far from unanimous on this decision.
Frerichs said that, as far as he’s concerned, one of his principal roles as a council member is to ensure public safety and he does not believe the city can guarantee that safety by yielding accountability and management to UC Davis.
“I’m still not convinced,” Frerichs said. “I voted against it previously and I’m still not supportive. I’m definitely not interested in creating a new bureaucracy that parcels out key city services, particularly those relating to public safety.”
Both Frerichs and Wolk called the oversight of management into question, pointing to the fact that key personnel already had acted without authority from Pinkerton, as someone had advertised a deputy chief job opening for the “West Valley Fire and Medical” management team without consulting the city manager.
The council was unanimous that this was not a great start to the agreement and that the name should not be considered for the new shared-management team.
“It’s frankly a bit ridiculous that that was allowed to happen,” Wolk said. “Not only does it exacerbate the sensitivity of this issue, but it lends itself to being this separate entity, and it’s not.”
Krovoza acknowledged the fact that there may be bumps along the way, but said in the end this will benefit both the city and the university.
“If you take a deep breath, and as John (Meyer) said, you buckle your seatbelt and keep your eye on the prize we can get to something that’s very good,” Mayor Joe Krovoza said. “This is happening all over the region as we work toward shared services.
“I want to thank our firefighters, very sincerely, for the work they do in the community and for highlighting a lot of these issues. This isn’t going to be easy as we go forward.”
Members of the Davis Professional Firefighters Association Local 3494, who make up the large majority of the city’s rank-and-file firefighters and who were in full attendance Tuesday, worried about what will happen if all the management positions are switched to UCD.
“Once our people, our management, start to retire, (their replacements) will all be pensioned at the university, they will all be university employees,” said Bobby Weist, fire union president. “You will no longer have a management team here.”
Meyer and Pinkerton assured the council, however, that upon retirement of management personnel, the council would be able to set policy that would lay out a process that determines whether the new hire would be employed by the university or the city.
Davis firefighters have objected to several of the changes city leaders have recommended and that the city’s elected officials have approved over the past few months.
Those changes include a reduction in staffing levels at all three of the city’s fire stations, a change that in effect reworks the way firefighters respond to calls.
Meanwhile, the firefighters are the only employee group with which the city has yet to secure a new labor contract.
While the details of what the council is asking for from its firefighters are not yet public, if the terms are similar to what the city has asked for from its other employee groups, it likely would mean a substantial cut to take-home pay and benefits.
— Reach Tom Sakash at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash