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HEMET: Ignoring expensive consultant’s fire department advice : Bob Pratte

By   /   March 22, 2013  /   Comments Off

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Photo by Bob Pratte

The fractured Hemet City Council might take a look at recent history before voting to discard the town’s fire department.

Just a little over a year ago, Andy Hall, the city’s handsomely paid consulting public safety director, examined contracting with Riverside County for fire services and took the opposite tack by recommending hiring a new fire chief.

Then City Manager Brian Nakamura, who now manages Chico, said at the time that it was a sign the city would move forward with its own fire department.

Time changed council politics. With the November election of Shellie Milne, a proponent of spare, efficient government, Mayor Robert Youssef seems to have gained the vote he needs to contract with Riverside County.

I think the issue has been so divisive that it would be prudent to put off the consideration of a change for at least a year to let heated emotions settle down and calmly make a smart choice.

Demonstrators regularly protest in opposition to dumping the Hemet Fire Department, which was founded in 1908. The signs they carry accuse Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone of pushing to switch to county services.

Stone is involved at least to some extent. He asked Jeff Comerchero, a friend on the Temecula City Council, to speak on a video in favor of Riverside County fire services. Mayor Youssef delivered the video on a flash drive so that it could be shown during the public comments portion of a council meeting.Hemet protest 2

The city is getting by under the temporary direction of Interim City Manager Ron Bradley, who Stone worked with in Temecula. Mark Orme, a no-nonsense assistant city manager, is departing with his considerable institutional knowledge to join Nakamura’s staff in Chico.

The proposal shouldn’t be a political war. The city needs to make a measured decision when deciding if Hemet is better off contracting with Riverside County, which would create a unified agency for all of the San Jacinto Valley, or if it should keep its own respected department.

It’s odd that city paid lots of money for a consultant but does not seem to be following his lead.

Andy Hall, a former Westminster police chief, was hired in June of 2011 at $208,000 for part-time annual work to oversee the Hemet police and fire departments. He put much of his effort into reorganizing the fire department.

One option he examined was eliminating the Hemet Fire Department and contracting with Riverside County’s Cal Fire operation. Instead, he recommended in February, 2012, to hire a new fire chief and make organizational changes, which is what the city did. Joe Morris got the job.

Nakamura said at the time that the move likely tabled discussions of contraction with the county and that the city would not hire a new chief only to outsource fire protection.

The city extended Hall’s consulting contract in July. Hall was told in September that his services were no longer needed. His six-figure deal was terminated.

The current proposal to contract with Riverside County is contrary to the actions of Hall, the city’s expert consultant. Perhaps city officials should pay attention to the expensive advice.

Contact Bob Pratte at 951-763-3452, bpratte@pe.com or 3400 Wentworth Drive, Hemet CA 92545. Find Bob’s blog at blog.pe.com/bob-pratte and follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PE.BobPratte and Twitter: @bpratte

 

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