With a contract dispute unresolved and an election looming, the union that represents 93 firefighters in the Menlo Park Fire Protection District has provoked the ire of one board member by launching what he views as a misleading election campaign.
Lawn signs and print advertisements produced by the union announce that "Menlo Park Firefighters support" Jack Nelson, Robert Silano and Jon Mosby for seats on the five-person fire board.
In failing to specify that it's the Menlo Park Firefighers Association that supports the candidates -- rather than all firefighters -- the union purports to speak for the entire district, outgoing board member Peter Carpenter asserted in a string of e-mails last week.
"I am appalled by the arrogance of the union that it feels it can speak in the name of the District, or even in the name of all of the firefighters, given that many of our leading firefighters are chiefs and not members of the union," he wrote in one e-mail. He has asked for a public apology from the union, and has asked the three candidates to "repudiate these illegal actions (that were carried out) on their behalf."
Negotiations between the union and the district are at an impasse; union members are working under a contract that expired in July 2008. Six candidates are running for three seats in the Nov. 3 election.
Jack Nelson, one of the three candidates endorsed by the union, said he didn't see an issue with the advertisements. "They are Menlo Park firefighters," he said. "I really don't see it as misleading."
"This district has more important issues and challenges than to spend a great deal of time on a distraction to voters about the signs," Mr. Silano wrote in a statement, noting that the ads refer people to the association's Web site. "I am honored to have their support."
"I'm gonna have to go across the street and look at it, I hadn't noticed that," Mr. Mosby said when told of Mr. Carpenter's concern about the signs' wording. "They are backing us, and I don't see a big conflict."
The firefighters' union did not respond to a request for comment.
Noting that Mr. Carpenter was endorsed by the union in 2001, Mr. Nelson said: "Everybody's trying to figure out why he's on his high horse." He went on to commend Mr. Carpenter's service to the district, and said he was disappointed when he heard that Mr. Carpenter would not seek re-election.
Union endorsements are always a quid pro quo bargain, according to Mr. Carpenter -- something he said he learned firsthand when the union asked him to "repay the debt" in contract negotiations after it endorsed him. "Been there, done that," he wrote.
He has asked the board to consider referring the matter to the district attorney. "This makes a travesty of our electoral process," he wrote.
The board will take the subject up at its Oct. 20 meeting, scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. in the fire station at 300 Middlefield Road.
In e-mails, Mr. Carpenter went far beyond his concerns over the campaign materials, maintaining that it's a violation of California law to "accept" any endorsement from a union, and a further violation to vote on contract negotiations after accepting an endorsement.
"The union's been endorsing people for decades," Mr. Nelson said, noting that candidates aren't involved in the union's decision-making process.