Sparks Fly Between Anaheim Mayor and Councilwoman Over Fire Fighter Outsourcing Inquiry

JEFF ANTENORE, Voice of OC Contributing Photographer

Anaheim City Council Members Kris Murray, Lucille Kring, Dr. Jose F. Moreno, Mayor Tom Tait, Denise Barnes and Stephen J. Faessel, from left, (Councilmember James Vanderbilt absent) conduct a City Council meeting in their chambers at City Hall on Tuesday, June 20, 2017.

Anaheim City Councilwoman Kris Murray publicly criticized Mayor Tom Tait at a city council meeting Tuesday over a phone call he had with Orange County Fire Authority Chief Jeff Bowman exploring the possibility of outsourcing the city’s fire department.

Murray questioned why Tait would talk to Bowman without notifying the city’s fire chief, employee unions and city manager.

Tait said he was driving down the highway, contemplating the city’s recent tax subsidy deals for luxury hotels and Disneyland. He said he recalled Santa Ana’s decision in 2012 to outsource its fire department to the county Fire Authority and wondered whether Anaheim would save money by doing the same.

So he called Bowman, a friend, and asked him about how much Anaheim would save.

“And I said, ‘do you think the firefighters would be interested?’ and he says, ‘I don’t know, I’ll ask,’” Tait said at the city council meeting. “So he put out a call, and I said, ‘if they’re not, I’m not interested.’”

According to Tait, Bowman reached out to the city firefighters’ union to gauge their level of interest in a preliminary study.

Murray, who put a discussion of Tait’s conversation on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting, said Tait’s phone call and Bowman’s outreach to the fire union caused a “firestorm” of speculation and concern about whether the mayor is interested in outsourcing the whole department.

“It’s quite disappointing that both our fire chief, city manager and your colleagues had to hear about not just a discussion of ‘would this be feasible’ but literal instruction of another agency to reach out to one of our departments, and instruct them to vote on an executive level whether they would consider moving forward,” Murray said.

Complicating matters further is the fact the city is in the middle of negotiations with its fire union.

According to a city staff report, the city is “obligated to provide any impacted labor group notice and the opportunity to bargain the effects of any decision made,” and that has historically included conversations about contracting out services.

The website Anaheim Blog obtained copies, via a public records requests, of text messages between Tait and Bowman on April 5 and 6. http://www.anaheimblog.net/2017/07/08/city-council-to-discuss-tait-
conversations-with-ocfa-about-take-over-of-anaheim-fire-department/

“I think you should notify Emery/Bruegman before this gets public. Call if you disagree,” Bowman texted the morning of April 5th
.
“Are you still up?” Tait replied that evening.

The next day Bowman responded.

“Union board voted 7-0 to do the study but after negotiations conclude. They will contact you when ready so a formal request may be made. I asked Eva to schedule a mtg for u and Rick Cheatham. So far, all talks were informal to determine interests only.”

Tait said the conversation was the exploration of an idea, and once he realized negotiations were underway he stopped the conversation.

“When I realized we were in negotiations, I said ‘no more’, and chief Bowman agreed with that,” Tait said. “So literally, nothing has happened. And it wasn’t anything to report or to share with colleagues whatsoever.”

Tait defended his action, saying he was “doing my job as an elected official” by asking questions about the city’s financial stability and the cost of services.

“We should have a deliberation and involve city staff before we ask other officials to intercede in city business and end-run our city staff,” Murray said.

Councilman Steve Faessel agreed with Murray.
“Because of the fact that we are a city manager form of government, I’m very sensitive to going outside the city manager’s seventh floor offices and contacting anybody,” Faessel said.

“If this had gone anywhere further, I would have done it,” Tait said, meaning he would have contacted the city manager. “I’m proud of what I did and if I were going to do it again I’d do the exact same thing.”

Councilman Jose Moreno, meanwhile, said Murray’s agenda item was “simply to create political mischief.”

The discussion was emblematic of a confrontational and often bitter dynamic between Tait and Murray, who have butted heads for years over various issues, primarily the city’s financial support for the Anaheim Resort, the economic district that includes Disneyland, Angel Stadium and nearby hotels.

Although Tait was an outspoken minority voice on the council for years, often opposing proposals supported by the council majority, the most recent election tipped the balance of power in Tait’s favor, and now Murray has taken on the adversarial role.

The heated discussion occurred just after the city council voted 4-3, with Murray and councilmembers Steve Faessel and Lucille Kring voting against, to request and accept City Manager Paul Emery’s resignation.

“Do you always tell the city manager everything you talk about?” Tait said.

“I have a very open relationship with the city manager,” Murray replied. “I’m sorry that you haven’t,”

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

  • LFOldTimer

    Of interest, OCFA is in big trouble since Irvine is considering not renewing their contract as a result of being forced to pay disproportionately high fees for fire and EMT services as compared to the other OCFA contract cities. If Irvine pulls the plug OCFA gets flushed. If lower fees are successfully negotiated precluding an Irvine pullout – it implies that higher fees would be imposed on the other contract cities to maintain a revenue equilibrium – which would result in rumblings from the other side.

    The reason for all these financial potholes in the road? Outrageous pay and benefits for firefighters who work 2-3 day workweeks and sleep for a third of their 24 hour shifts.

    Plus, the OCFA pension program is financially unsustainable. It’s sort of like an upside-down mortgage right before the homeowner throws the house keys in the mail box and walks away.

    I applaud Tait for his inquiry since he appears from a distance to be using a sly negotiating tactic during current city collective bargaining negotiations with Anaheim FD. Smart. He shouldn’t be criticized. He should be given an “A” for his ingenious preemptive strike against the greedy public union.

    I don’t agree with Tait on all his positions. But he nailed this one.

    Touché!

  • Pingback: Sparks Fly Between Anaheim Mayor and Councilwoman Over Fire Fighter Outsourcing Inquiry – EcoGreen()

  • #Respect USA ??

    Let him do his job, Kris. You’re just angry because you’re on the council minority now. At least he cares about Anaheim’s finances and not giving away the store like you with Disney. Go away.

  • westminster_guy

    “Friend” or not, it shows some basic ignorance (if not stupidity) on the Mayor’s part to think that discussing the elimination of the city FD with another agency, and to authorize contact between the two, wouldn’t result in a big controversy. If he thinks this would be something worth exploring, then that’s worth discussion w/ the council and city manager and taking things from there.

  • kburgoyne

    Certainly reasonable to have the initial “is this even something worth considering pursuing” conversation, but once any “pursuing” actually starts happening it needs to become open and transparent.

  • astar2b

    Is Murray running for Mayor?

    • #Respect USA ??

      Hope not!

  • RyanCantor

    Great. Can’t wait for Murray to apply the exact same standard to her dealings with Disney.

    And the Chamber.

    Et al.

    Cause, you know, she’s not raging hypocrite or anything . . . is she?

    • David Zenger

      Yeah, just like Murray and the City Manager kept Tait in the loop in the summer of 2013 when she and her pals colluded to give billionaire Arte Moreno all that publicly owned acreage for a buck a year for 60 years.

      • Mazzola Mazzola

        Did she tell all council members and Mayor that she had her Disney Vacay paid for by the Big Mouse.

        She wants to be on top of all decisions,

    • Kim Hale Marinelli

      No kidding!

  • David Zenger

    “I have a very open relationship with the city manager,” Murray replied.

    Oh, dear me. Now that’s funny.