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After nearly two years of turmoil in the Garden Grove Fire Department, the city has picked Tom Schultz, the deputy chief of operations for the Fullerton and Brea Fire departments, to replace its embattled former fire chief David Barlag.
Schultz will assume his new position April 29, according to a city announcement released late Thursday.
Schultz, who began his 30-year career in Fullerton and has been an instructor at Santa Ana College’s fire academy, facilitated the integration of management between the Fullerton and Brea fire departments. He has also served as acting chief of the combined departments, according to a city press release.
Garden Grove officials hope the selection of Schultz as chief will allow the city to begin to move on from a very public dispute between members of its fire union and management, which forced Barlag’s resignation last October.
The union, which gave Barlag a vote of no confidence in June 2013, sought his removal based on complaints about his management and his role in the hiring of former mayor Bruce Broadwater’s son Jeremy as a city fireman.
Whether the union’s concerns about Jeremy Broadwater were valid — or, as some have opined, merely a political campaign by the union to get rid of Barlag — it ultimately contributed to major executive turnover and changes in city leadership. City Manager Matthew Fertal departed shortly after Barlag’s resignation; and then in November, Bruce Broadwater lost a close election to current Mayor Bao Nguyen.
Union president Scott Kuhlman, who was included in the selection process, complimented city officials on their efforts to address the union’s concerns.
“We are very excited about this pick,” said Kuhlman of Schultz. “He’s a guy who lives, eats, breathes the [fire service].
Kuhlman added: “If it had been the two other candidates, we’d be having a totally different conversation.”
Schultz’s hiring, however, does not mean an end to the department’s troubles. The Orange County District Attorney’s Office continues to investigate Jeremy Broadwater’s hiring and the circumstances surrounding Barlag’s resignation and continued employment with the city.
Before publicly announcing his resignation, Barlag negotiated a deal with city officials in which he was granted two years of additional employment as “public safety administrator,” a position created exclusively for him, in exchange for dropping any legal claims against the city.
Kuhlman said morale has improved but the department has been at a standstill. Former fire chief Warren Hartley has served as interim chief in the meantime.
“Right now, since the departure of Fire Chief Barlag, overwhelmingly morale has gone up,” Kuhlman said. “But it’s stagnated. We still feel we have some areas to improve with our current management staff.”
The city is also awaiting a permanent city manager. In the meantime, Interim City Manager Allan Roeder has led the city, and the selection process for Schultz and the permanent city manager.
“With the challenges the City and its fire department faced over the past year as backdrop, we could not have accomplished this without the participation of the City Council, the Firefighter’s Union, our executive personnel, and the diligence of our Human Resources team supported by executive recruiter Bob Murray & Associates,”
said Roeder said in the city’s press release.