Fire board to appoint Ohtaki successor

Also decides to pass on San Carlos bid

With Peter Ohtaki departing the Menlo Park fire district board to take a seat on the Menlo Park City Council, the fire board is working on appointing his successor.

The board chose to appoint because it didn't want the expense of a special election, said Chief Harold Schapelhouman of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District. Four people have shown an interest in the position. The board plans to conduct interviews Thursday, Dec. 9, and then make a decision.

"I'm sad to see Director Ohtaki leave, because he provided real service and was a great benefactor for the district," said Chief Schapelhouman. "But it will be good to have someone familiar with the fire protection district on the council, because sometimes it feels like they're not paying attention to our issues."

San Carlos a no-go

The board also decided to not pursue a contract to provide fire services to San Carlos, given the challenges of the economy.

"We didn't want to weaken or disadvantage our district while helping San Carlos save money," Chief Schapelhouman said.

He described emergency services in the county as a quilt, thanks to automatic aid agreements between jurisdictions, and said that when one piece acts independently -- as San Carlos did in October when that city's council voted to outsource its fire department -- the structure of the entire network weakens.

Randy Royce, mayor of San Carlos, said change, through competition, doesn't have to weaken services.

"I come from high-tech in Silicon Valley, and many times, change un-weakens. Sometimes when there's change it's a tense moment, but if you operate a city more like a business -- we changed our parks and recreation maintenance, for example, which was costing us $744,000, and we're now doing it for $281,000," he said. "A lot of people used the word 'weaken.' But if you go through city hall right now the grass looks pretty good and it's costing us one-third as much.

Mr. Royce remains optimistic about the city's options for fire services, with more than a month left before the request for proposals expires.

The state's Cal Fire also decided to not bid on the contract, but Redwood City and San Mateo remain options for San Carlos, among others. Chief Schapelhouman said the other departments are already challenged; Redwood City in particular is using a ladder truck on medical calls instead of reserving the specialized equipment for fires.

"We won't be negatively impacted by neighboring agencies who need to reduce services. That's a real key thing for us," the chief said. "We're one of the largest fire agencies in the county. We can fully staff a first-alarm assignment, so we're big enough to handle not only our own emergencies, but also big enough to help our neighbors and we're happy to do it. But San Carlos has myopically done an analysis of their own response area. You have to consider the impact on everyone, not just San Carlos."

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Like this comment
Posted by W Patterson
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 30, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Is it in the public interest to have the Fire Chief express his support of an appointment to the Board? Who will be the gate keeper of the public funds that suport the fire department personnel?
Surely not one that is appointed in this economic enviornment.
We need an election to continue to monitor the spiralling costs associated with personnel.

Like this comment
Posted by sandy
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 30, 2010 at 3:47 pm

The Chief does not select the incoming member. The applicants are interviewed by the entire board and than board decided. Then the appointee has to rerun for the position at election time in Nov.

Like this comment
Posted by concerned
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Nov 30, 2010 at 4:46 pm

The chief cannot support or oppose whom the boards chooses to fill a seat. The board voted to appoint from interested and only qualified applicants as opposed to spending another $120K or more for an election, of course this includes your money W Patterson as well. The residents have a really good and smart board working in their behalf, especially in these troubled times. Each one brings a full understanding of finances, operations, adminstration etc to their elected positions, after all they are tax payers as well. As far as finances go, everything has to have board approval, no one enity has control over any revenues. Thank you for your concerns

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 30, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Well said "concerned".

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

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