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-
“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 email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.
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