Fire board candidates respond to flap over ads


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.


1 person likes this
Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2009 at 10:45 am

So let me see if I have this correctly. The only person according to Peter Carpenter, that we KNOW to have broken the law (according to Peter Carpenter) is Peter Carpenter himself. The election have not taken place yet so clearly the candidates cannot have been involved in salary negotiations. Yet Mr. Carpenter has both received the union endorsement and been involved in salary negotiations. If Mr. Carpenter is correct, he is a self confessed criminal.

The fact is this whole issue is ridiculous. The issues facing the MPFPD are SERIOUS. It cannot go on paying the benefits it does. IT MUST find a way to establish a two tier benefit and salary system. The Union must be made to understand that the benefit bandwagon must come to a halt. It is right that we voters should give careful consideration to the candidates endorsed by the Union, but lets not forget that if such an endorsement were the only consideration, Peter Carpenter would not be on the District Board.

I wish I knew why Mr. Carpenter has chosen to spend so much energy on this issue when so many other serious matters need public discourse.

1 person likes this
Posted by Sean
a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2009 at 12:12 pm

Interested party: I don't think anyone that is running for the vacant 3 seats agreed that the fire fighters should get everything they want. All agreed, including the 3 endorsed by the union, that the current CALPERS Retirement System needs to be overhauled. Fact, the union endorsed candidates all stated that the 11% raise was out of line. I believe even one stated that a baseline would be around 6%.........over 3 years, way below the 11% and the current CPI used by other government salary groups. Compare the Menlo Park Fire Fighters with other salaries in the county, they are pretty close and sometimes below. Alot of those high salaries involve a great detail of overtime, where the fire departments or fire districts are reimbursed by federal or state funds. The money does not come directly out of their fire departments or district funds. Fire Departments and Districts need to be competive to retain their employees or so they don't loose them to other agencies. Good public safety services are costly!

This Peter Carpenter should turn himself in: since, if it was true and if he had the union endosement, sat on the board, he was in a position of influence........Boy, what a double standard......Did Carpenter ever vote on any benefits or salery increases for fire fighters? Can you answer that Mr. Carpenter?

1 person likes this
Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2009 at 12:59 pm

I want to make it clear that I have nothing but the utmost respect for Peter Carpenter, he has given many many hours, days, even years of service to the residents of the MPFPD.

While the decisions of the District Board may be questioned, I do not question his personal integrity. I have known him for many years, which makes his stance on the endorsement issue even more difficult to understand. My prior comments on this thread were not meant to suggest he has acted in any way inappropriately. They were only intended to point out the inconsistency in his statements. Gentlemen can disagree, and in my experience Mr. Carpenter is a gentleman. I simply believe him to be wrong.

Rather than concentrate on the endorsement issue we should be discussing the cost of running the district. For every dollar earned by a firefighter in the district, the district must pay 48 cents in pension benefits, plus medical, plus insurance, plus a myriad of other costs. In other words a $100,000 a year firefighter is a $20,000 a year employee....IT CANNOT CONTINUE....Every candidate for the District Board should address this issue and tell us how they intend to resolve it. It should be those responses that inform our decisions when voting....NOT a foolish red herring issue like endorsement.

1 person likes this
Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2009 at 1:09 pm


In other words a $100,000 a year firefighter is a $200,000 a year employee..

1 person likes this
Posted by One Bored Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Oct 21, 2009 at 3:10 pm

I think way too much time & energy is being spent on who endorses who and who got endorsed thru the years and decades. To me, this is just a way to vent to create an distraction of the real issues. I am sure that the sitting board is disappointed as well frustrated about the lack of ability to close the union's contract. How well did the Fire Board really & truly try for resolution, we as residents only hear what we are "told"; much like reading a news paper, we read what someone else wants us to read and hope it is factual and unbias ! There is way too much blame on the "other guy". How much accountibility or lack of can the board accept on their part ? Let's move forward,& stop looking at the past, let's get new board members in there and move forward. If they can't bring resoultion, peace, respect and forward momentum..Then..The next election is when !!!!!

1 person likes this
Posted by No double standard
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 21, 2009 at 3:40 pm

I am sure that this Mr. Carpenter only wants this candidate race to be fair and square ! Just like when he was endorsed by the same unions some years ago, I am sure he raised the same issues back then, to keep things on the up and up, nor did anyone else I suspect either. ! NOT ! The election is only a couple of weeks away for those
who haven't voted yet, so let's give the three union endorsed candidates the same support they gave Mr. Carpenter back then and hope they can be as successful, if not more as the present board.
We owe Mr. Carpenter a debt of gratitute for his time, dedication
and good accomplishments thru his years of tireless service. Thank
You Peter...

1 person likes this
Posted by Gunshow
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 21, 2009 at 9:05 pm

What if there really isn't a financial problem in Fire District and they are actually over funded with deep reserves how would this change the discussion? And all of this was just to scare the public. Look into it.

1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 22, 2009 at 1:20 pm

As the story points out I was endorsed by the union for my first term and I found that accepting that endorsement created the impression that the union had some right to then call on me to support them. Therefore, when I ran the second time I did so without union endorsement and received more votes than any other candidate. I therefore voted on the union's contract without the encumbrance of their endorsement.

The real problem is that the citizens don't care enough to make informed voting decisions. Voters don't do their homework. A few years ago we had a candidate running for the Fire Board who had had his Fire District credentials removed by court order due to abusive use ( he had been seated for a previous term because no one else ran and there wasn't even an election!). This individual still came within a few votes of getting elected to a later term due simply to the name recognition that resulted from the court action.

All of the independent, intelligent and careful evaluations of the six candidates for the Fire Board by local newspapers have resulted in the unanimous endorsement of the same three candidates - Harris, Ianson and Nachtsheim. None of these careful evaluations endorsed the three candidates endorsed by the union.

If the three union endorsed candidates do get elected, which I hope does not happen, then they will clearly owe their election to the union's massive campaign on their behalf. Will they feel some/any obligation to the union when the time comes to vote on a new labor contract? Or will they be totally committed to serving the best interests of the citizens?

Because of the voters' simplistic reliance on name recognition the big amounts of union money and manpower being spent by the firefighters' union can overwhelm the non endorsed candidates. Such a dominant role by the unions coupled with poor citizenship on the part of the voters in not doing their homework will make our elections a sham.

And when you get union dominated Councils and Boards watch out for very expensive labor contracts and then the real possibility of local governments going bankrupt.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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