The following letter was provided by Stephen Smith, a Brentwood resident and former Board of Director on the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District.
This Board is now faced with determining the District’s next actions in response to a situation which has deteriorated into a shambles. I wish to discuss certain key aspects of the situation.
A good deal of nonsense has been put forth, even by some public officials, about the Fire District budget. On my first night as a Fire Board member in January 2013, I asked for the Agenda item that resulted in the current committee structure, and served as the first Finance Committee Chair during my term of office. Let me make one thing clear; only the fire District Board and Staff can properly interpret the Budget and the dynamics of hiring and retaining firefighters, and come to appropriate policy decisions.
This Board is now faced with starting over to work toward resolution of funding issues. Unfortunately, we begin this process in an utterly poisonous atmosphere of mistrust, finger-pointing, and recrimination. There are several reasons for this, and certain actions by previous Brentwood Councils have contributed to the problem.
After the failure of the Parcel Tax in 2012, the process was begun to turn the Fire Board over to appointed members other than elected officials. It was anticipated that this would be fully completed after one year. It never was, as Brentwood Council Member Bryant stayed on after all other Council Members had left. Instead, in a stunning reversal at the end of 2015, Council Member Bryant participated in the selection of two Brentwood Council members to join him on the Fire Board, replacing two experienced citizen members. I have watched carefully, and have seen no discernible improvement in the quality of District governance as a result to offset the great harm done to regional cooperation and public perception.
We are now faced with a situation where the District must negotiate—at arms length—with several other Public bodies, including the City of Brentwood, as an independent entity. Given this situation, the continued service of Brentwood Council Member Joel Bryant on this Board is an impermissible conflict of interest, which must cease. I call on President Bryant to leave this Board forthwith.
Given that, where do we begin? We can’t wait for an elected Board. Brentwood, Oakley, the County, the District, the Firefighters, and the public must be part of an ongoing process, starting now.
I propose several principles for this process:
- It must be conducted completely in public.
- It should include members of the public as well as representatives of the various organizations.
- It should have a structure and a clear agenda.
- It should begin with a District presentation of the District budget in a way that maximizes understanding.
- It should ask for and receive a realistic assessment of possible actions at the State level.
- All information developed by this process should be Web-accessible.
I also suggest several questions to be considered:
- Given the statutory responsibility of Cities to provide for fire protection, what is the proper role of each City in helping to augment the District’s revenues?
- At what point should the current efforts to have the State Legislature enforce a property tax reallocation be acknowledged as not bearing fruit?
- Is it even possible for the District to augment its revenues in any straightforward way as long as one third of the voters have an effective veto over Public Safety for all?
- What is the possibility of reversing recent decisions to not provide for fire protection CFDs in recent development approvals?
Resident of Brentwood