Garden Grove Mayor Remains Mum on Son’s Hiring, But Others Voice Anger

Bruce and Jeremy Broadwater
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Last August, Garden Grove Mayor Bruce Broadwater told a Voice of OC reporter that he disapproved of nepotism at City Hall and that he was working to bring back the city’s anti-nepotism policy by the end of 2013.

A month after Broadwater made those remarks, Voice of OC reported that his son, Jeremy Broadwater, was selected for hiring by the city’s fire department despite failing a crucial interview with battalion chiefs. 

And since being sworn in last November, Jeremy Broadwater has made a number of “potentially life-threatening mistakes on medical calls,” drawing concern from his superiors and prompting one captain to call for his termination, The Orange County Register reported last week. 

But Broadwater, who works for the California Division of Labor Standards as a deputy labor commissioner, has yet to bring the anti-nepotism policy before the City Council.

Approached after the council’s regular meeting Tuesday night, the elder Broadwater refused to comment on both his son’s job performance and his previous pledge to address the nepotism policy.

Other city residents, however, were quick to voice their concern during the meeting.

“I’m not happy that our city has become so much of a laughingstock,” said Garden Grove resident Rodney Powell. “We’ve got a big situation, and it’s embarrassing to our city.”

Tony Flores, a former policeman, asked the council whether an independent investigation into the Fire department by the firm Management Partners, which city manager Matthew Fertal approved August 3, will be publicly disclosed.

“What’s going to happen with this investigation? Is the public going to see [the report]? Is it going to be whitewashed? The citizens need to know,” Flores said.

Then, referring to recent council resolution in support of sanctions on human rights abusers in Vietnam, Flores said: “If we’re going to worry about what’s happening in Vietnam we need to make sure we take care of what’s happening in Garden Grove.”

Paul Marsden, a first-time council candidate who is running on a promise to eliminate city hall nepotism, sat outside the community meeting center with a ten-foot “No More Nepotism” campaign banner.

“We should be thankful to the media for reporting on it but if we don’t do anything about it, then shame on us,” Marsden said. “This is by far the most important election in my 20 years in the city — the first election after some important revelations about nepotism. I don’t think we should be the Vernon or Bell of Orange County.”

 According to internal reports obtained by The Register, Jeremy Broadwater has made numerous mistakes in the field, including misreading a patient’s vital signs, failing to wear gloves while testing blood and attempting to move a fall victim without checking for spinal injuries. 

Last August, fire union president Scott Kuhlman raised concern about “hiring practices” in a letter to chief David Barlag. The city denied a Voice of OC Public Records Act request for the letter, because fire membership directed Kuhlman to send it as “personal” correspondence to exempt it from public disclosure. 

Department veterans also told The Register that Jeremy Broadwater’s criminal history, which includes 10 arrests between 1996 and 2000, should have disqualified him in such a competitive pool of applicants. 

Prior to the meeting, Councilmember Kris Beard said that, while he doesn’t have any additional knowledge about Jeremy Broadwater’s performance, if the media reports are true he should not remain a firefighter. Beard has requested a report into the hiring process from the city manager.

 “[The Register] story clearly raises some suspicions…if his performance is substandard, then yeah, we have to take appropriate action,” Beard said. “My primary interest is safety and I want to assure citizens that they have a competent fire department.”

Some have questioned whether recent reports about Jeremy Broadwater’s performance are part of attempts by the fire union to get rid of Barlag.

Fertal wrote in an email to The Register that some captains’ evaluations were “prepared with prejudice against Jeremy Broadwater.” 

“I don’t know if this is an effort to smear [Jeremy] or if he’s a poor performer. I’m hoping this investigation will shed some more light about what is happening,” said councilmember Chris Phan.

Jeremy Broadwater could ultimately be let go, as many new firefighters are, by the end of his first year. His probation period is up October 13.

The younger Broadwater’s hiring and job performance will be part of an independent probe into the department.

 Fertal approved a $15,000 contract with Management Partners to conduct the investigation on August 3rd, according to his office, later adding another $9,000 to the deal. The council was notified of the move in closed session at their August 12 meeting, Phan said.

 The city manager can authorize contracts up to $50,000 without the approval of city council.

 Barlag has been under additional scrutiny since Jeremy Broadwater’s hiring last year. In June, the fire union voted unanimously to give Barlag a vote of no confidence, citing hiring and management practices.

The following month, The Register reported that the Garden Grove fire department failed to conduct hazardous materials inspections in 2012, despite charging businesses and filling records indicating that the inspections were done.

Tuesday, Barlag notified a reporter through his secretary that he would not be speaking to the media.

Voice of OC’s article last August revealed that eight relatives of high-ranking city officials work for the city of Garden Grove, including Jeremy Broadwater, the city manager’s three sons and the finance director’s two daughters. 

A 2000 city ordinance prohibited the relatives of any top official from receiving a city paycheck. That policy was later changed to prohibit relatives of top-level employees from working within the same department or under the supervision of a relative.

It also says individuals can’t be given special consideration — whether in favor or against their hiring — based on the fact that they are related to a city official.

Mayor Broadwater points out that he was not a member of the city council in 2005 that voted to change the policy to allow relatives.

Beard said if the investigation shows misconduct occurred, he would bring the nepotism policy before the council.

“I would be in favor of…going back to the old policy, but we have to look at it and discuss it and see what is best for the city,” Beard said.

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