Almanac

News - November 13, 2013

Carpenter slate claims seats on fire board

by Sandy Brundage

A last-minute candidate's move to avoid having a majority of union-endorsed members on the Menlo Park Fire Protection District's board of directors worked, judging by the outcome of the Nov. 5 election. The fire district serves Atherton, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and nearby unincorporated areas.

The district and firefighters have been embroiled in a years-long impasse over their contract, with the two parties fighting over how much of a salary increase the firefighters should get. The issue came to a head during this year's election when former director Peter Carpenter jumped into the race 24 hours before the deadline to run as a slate with newcomer Chuck Bernstein and incumbent Rex Ianson; all three candidates said they would not accept any labor union endorsement or campaign assistance.

The other two candidates, newcomer Carolyn Clarke and incumbent Jack Nelson, said they did not foresee any conflict of interest in accepting the union's endorsement when they would later be voting on contracts, and accepted campaign support.

The county elections office reported Mr. Carpenter had received 4,395 votes, Mr. Bernstein, 4,096, and Mr. Ianson, 3,950. Out of the running were Mr. Nelson with 3,534 votes and Ms. Clarke with 3,226.

Mr. Bernstein, who was still knocking on doors in Menlo Park and East Palo Alto the night of the election, attributed his win to hard work, endorsements and being on the right side of the union issue.

"The union already has one side of the table and, for them to try to dominate the residents' side, is asking for too much," Mr. Bernstein said. "I think people who are deeply involved as well as people who are uninvolved can see the problem with this."

Mr. Carpenter said he'd already received congratulations from union members the morning after the election, and that he was "optimistic that we can move to rebuild trust and mutual respect."

When asked for their thoughts on the outcome, Ms. Clarke said she had no comment and Mr. Nelson did not respond.

Aside from the question of union endorsement, the candidates have broad goals in common and somewhat similar backgrounds. All want to keep the district's financial stability and high level of service, and settle the contract dispute. With the exception of Ms. Clarke, the candidates have extensive experience, whether professional or volunteer, in emergency preparedness.

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