Garden Grove City Manager Takes Over Fire Department

Matt Fertal
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Two weeks after the resignation of Garden Grove fire chief David Barlag, City Manager Matthew Fertal is now acting as interim chief himself until a replacement is found.

At Tuesday evening’s council meeting, city staff are expected to present council members with a highly-anticipated report about an independent probe into management issues at the Fire Department, which was initiated after Barlag was given a unanimous vote of no confidence by the firefighters’ union.

City officials have declined to answer questions about the department’s transition and have not given details about how much of the report will be made public. When approached at his office Tuesday afternoon, Fertal drummed his fingers on a table before turning around and walking away from a reporter.

Among the management decisions Fertal has made so far is the transfer of firefighter Jeremy Broadwater to a desk position, according an Oct. 7 memo obtained by the Orange County Register, just as he is scheduled to come up for his first-year probation interview.

Jeremy Broadwater, the 37-year-old son of Mayor Bruce Broadwater, was hired last October despite allegedly failing crucial interviews with battalion chiefs and series of past misdemeanor arrests. It’s unclear whether that probation interview has occurred.

In his new position, Broadwater is eligible to receive a 10 percent raise, the Register reported.

According to a source within the fire department, Fertal is reluctant to be in charge of the embroiled department and is “aggressively searching for a new chief.”

Broadwater’s new role will likely be a desk job in fire prevention, where he was previously an intern. The 10 percent raise is an incentive offered to sworn staff returning to office positions, according to the source.

“He did very well at it,” the source said of Broadwater’s work for fire prevention.

Garden Grove City Clerk Kathy Bailor on Tuesday delayed a reporter’s public records request for information that included Broadwater’s job title, job description and compensation.

Bailor said that kind of information would be subject to the maximum delay allowed by state law, 10 days, typically encountered when agencies have to figure out whether complex documents are indeed public record.

Under the California Public Records Act, members of the public can request public records during normal business hours and local agencies must “make the records promptly available” without obstruction or delay.

Terry Francke, general counsel for CalAware and open records consultant for Voice of OC, says that the 10-day period is a maximum allowance.

Asked for the information, Human Resources director Laura Stover said she was “not comfortable” providing the information without first consulting the city manager or city attorney, who were at off-site meetings at the time.

Records clerk Denise Kehn told a reporter that because she can’t access the computer records in the Human Resources Department, she is only able to provide the information as staff is available.

“Right now we are not a centralized filing system and we have ten days to respond,” said city clerk Kathy Bailor.

When asked again, Stover told the reporter through her assistant that she would not be answering any questions or providing the information that day.

Deputy City Attorney James Eggert also would not speak to a reporter Tuesday.

“He doesn’t want to debate the law with you and end up in a news story,” Bailor said.

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