The following relates to an agenda item placed by Councilmembers Beckles and Martinez on the May 15 Agenda. This is the same Beckles who is asking you to support her move to be your AD 15 representative. She should learn to understand City government first before asking you to move her to state government.
Mayor Butt and Members of the City Council:
As you may be aware, there is an item on the May 15th City Council meeting entitled,
“CAST a vote of no confidence in the Fire Chief serving as the Fire Marshal and direct the City Manager and the Human Resources Director to address the outdated job specification for Fire Marshal, staffing level in the Fire Prevention Division and the Permit to Operate inspections.”
The item was placed on the agenda by Councilmembers Beckles and Martinez.
The City Council rules are very clear that an item may be placed on the City Council agenda at any time by any Councilmember. Thus, purely from the perspective of authority and legitimacy, it is appropriate that these items be considered by the City Council. However, I recommend that these items be tabled indefinitely by the City Council before discussion even begins, for the reasons outlined in this email/memorandum.
Some of you may recall that, in March of 2012, I made a similar request to the City Council. In that instance, then-Councilmember Corky Boozé placed an item on the agenda regarding the Office of Neighborhood Safety. In recommending to the Council that the item be tabled, I stated that “the City Council discussion, and discourse by members of the public…would not lead to informed policymaking.” In my view, such is the case here.
First, let me state that there are important underlying policy issues that are contained in the agenda item put forth by Councilmembers Beckles and Martinez. Because these issues are important, it is most unfortunate that they have been framed as an unfounded personal attack on the Fire Chief.
When I learned that Councilmember Beckles was placing the item on the agenda on Wednesday, May 9th, I sent her the following email expressing my concern:
I was informed by the City Clerk’s office that you are placing the following item on the May 15, 2018 City Council agenda:
Vote of no confidence in Chevron being transparent in reports of Level 1 flaring incidents at the Richmond refinery and 2) a vote of no confidence in the Fire Chief serving as the Fire Marshall - City Council Office (Councilmember Jovanka Beckles 620-6568)
I am hoping that you will provide me with the foundation for item (2) above, relating to the vote of no confidence for the fire chief. I can surmise that it is related to concerns with his specific job performance, but beyond that, I have no background on this as it has not been discussed with me.
In sum, I was surprised to see this topic on the agenda for several reasons:
- The City Council has discussed the matter of the fire marshal position and determined, as a policy matter, that there should be a stand-alone fire marshal position, separate and distinct from the fire chief position. Based on this policy direction, the Human Resources Department initiated the process to recruit for a fire marshal, and testing for that position is scheduled for next week. In essence, this immediate policy issue was addressed by the Council, and, in a matter of weeks, a new fire marshal will be retained.
- If any Councilmember has a concern regarding the performance of any member of City staff, I believe that it is imperative that the matter be brought to the attention of the city manager, as s/he is the supervisor and appointing authority of the staff member, and has the ultimate responsibility for efficient and effective implementation of City Council policy and municipal operations. No Councilmember has raised any recent concern over Fire Chief Sheppard’s job performance that would give rise to a “no confidence” vote by the Council.
- If the “no confidence” matter relating to the Fire Chief is related to the first issue associated with the agenda item (Level 1 flaring incidents at the Richmond refinery), then I would ask that the Council address the activities of the fire prevention bureau through the city manager as a policy matter (e.g., “direct the city manager to implement a process to investigate all Level 1 and more severe flaring incidents at the Chevron Richmond Refinery”), and not as a personnel matter.
- With respect to provisions of the Richmond Charter relating to personnel administration, personnel rules have been established relating to “removals, demotions, decreases in pay, suspensions without pay and other forms of discipline of employees whose services are not satisfactory.” A vote of “no confidence” by the City Council, relating to any City employee, undermines the proper administration of the personnel system of rules contemplated by City Charter.
It is clear from the nature of the proposed agenda item that you have concerns (1) over the underlying cause of flaring incidents at the Chevron Richmond Refinery, and (2) the City’s response to these flaring incidents. I would invite you to share these concerns with me so that I may address them effectively. Beyond these policy issues, if you have personnel concerns related to staff members, please discuss them with me.
Thank you for considering my thoughts in this matter.
In sum, I indicated to Councilmember Beckles that the recruitment for the Fire Marshal position is well underway (the promotional test/interview is May 22nd), and that policy matters (such as City involvement in Chevron flaring incidents) can and should be addressed as policy matters and not as personnel matters. I also invited Councilmember Beckles to share her concerns with me so that I can address them.
Councilmember Beckles responded to my email on Wednesday, May 9th as follows:
I can call you as soon as I can, likely tomorrow.
I am concerned however, because the last time I shared info with you in confidence, you shared my email with him and he not only showed up to the meeting prepared, he was the only staff I’ve witnessed, who has publicly insulted a cm and you did nothing about it (as if it was okay).
I was somewhat surprised by the response because:
- Agenda items are not shared “in confidence,” and in fact, by law, must be made public;
- In any event, I did not share the referenced information with Chief Sheppard, but he did receive it from other sources;
- All staff members should show up to meetings prepared; and
- I believe in the management adage to “praise publicly, criticize privately;” my counsel to the Fire Chief followed this axiom.
My email in response to Councilmember Beckles was, “Thank you. I look forward to your call.” Unfortunately, her schedule must not have afforded her the time to contact me further.
As noted in my email response to Councilmember Beckles, the City Council previously discussed the matter of the fire marshal position and determined, as a policy matter, that there should be a stand-alone fire marshal position, separate and distinct from the fire chief position. This process is well underway. At the suggestion of Councilmember Recinos, the Council also determined to have a study session concerning the City’s Fire Prevention program, for which Chief Sheppard is finalizing preparation. I firmly believe that policy decisions regarding this program should be made in the context of such a study session.
With respect to the specific recommendations proposed by Councilmembers Beckles and Martinez in their agenda report:
- “Cast a vote of no confidence in the Fire Chief serving as Fire Marshal” – The City Council has already directed that the duties of the Fire Chief and Fire Marshal be separated. The interview for the Fire Marshal position is May 22nd. The Council can draw its own conclusions about the underlying purpose of a “no confidence” vote. My recommendation is that this action be tabled.
- “Direct the City Manager and the Human Resources Director to address the outdated job specification for Fire Marshal” – This process can be initiated.
- “Direct the City Manager … to address the staffing level in the Fire Prevention division” – The City Council has begun the process to review the FY 2018-19 budget. This budget process represents an excellent opportunity to review staffing levels in the Fire Prevention division. Moreover, it would be helpful to the Council to make an informed decision following the previously-directed study session. There is no immediate action required, and I recommend that the Council table this separate discussion regarding staffing levels as there has not been any proper context.
- “Direct the City Manager … to address the … Permit to Operate inspections” - Permit to Operate inspections are nowhere addressed in the agenda report, so it is unclear what policy issue is being raised by Councilmembers Beckles and Martinez. In any case, an informed discussion of this issue should be part of the previously-directed study session.
Please note that the agenda report is filled with misinformation and cannot be relied upon to make sound policy decisions. Because my recommendation is to table the item in its entirety, I will not address in this email the many inaccuracies in the report. Staff is prepared to do so, however, should the Council decide to hear the matter. Please also note that Fire Chief Sheppard has prepared a report on Chevron Refinery flaring that I have attached to this email.
In sum, the policy issues raised in the item placed on the agenda are important, and because of that, they should be discussed in the context of factual information. Moreover, I am deeply troubled that such important issues have been framed as an unfounded personal attack on the Fire Chief. For these reasons, I respectfully request that the City Council table item L-2 on the May 15th City Council agenda.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or require any additional information.
City of Richmond, California