New fire board president: District should look to 'the next 100 years' | January 31, 2018 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

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News - January 31, 2018

New fire board president: District should look to 'the next 100 years'

by Barbara Wood

Entering his fifth year on the Menlo Park Fire Protection District's board, Chuck Bernstein — who many times has been on the losing end of 4-1 board votes — was sworn in as board president on Jan. 16. He suggested that the board spend the year looking forward to its next century.

Four years ago, Mr. Bernstein ran for a seat on the district's board as part of a slate with Peter Carpenter and Rex Ianson. The three slate members were elected, but the coalition has been far from a voting bloc. Since his election, Mr. Bernstein has often proved to be the lone wolf on the fire board, finding himself on the losing end of many 4-1 votes.

Mr. Bernstein's relationship with fellow slate member Peter Carpenter has often been particularly contentious. At the December meeting in which Mr. Bernstein was elected board president, Mr. Carpenter early in the process nominated Rob Silano, who had just served as board president in 2016. The nomination received the support of only Mr. Carpenter and Mr. Silano, with Mr. Silano having to second his own nomination.

"I have not infrequently had opinions that differ from some of my colleagues," Mr. Bernstein said soon after he was sworn in on Jan. 16. "But I have pledged to do my best to be sure that does not interfere with any of the procedural things we do," he said.

Mr. Bernstein did suggest procedural changes in board meetings, but said he'd make them only if he had his fellow board members' consensus.

He proposed that the board adopt as its 2018 theme, "The Next 100 Years." "Having just completed the celebration of our 100th anniversary, I think it is time to define our new horizon," he wrote in a report to the board.

It's a time of many firsts, he said. For the first time in a number of years, the majority of board members are not former fire service or public safety employees. The board now has representatives from all four communities it covers (Atherton, Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and unincorporated San Mateo County), "and more gender and ethnic diversity than ever before in our history," he said.

"We have mobility and environmental challenges that we have never before faced," he said, and "potential technology tools" such as drones and robots that did not previously exist.

"Despite the name of our agency, the vast majority of our calls are medical, not fire-related," he wrote. He also advocated that the district "establish an effective first response involving volunteer residents and employees" that will be ready in a major disaster.

"This will be the first year of establishing a new vision of our future capabilities," he said.

Board members assented to that and several other of Mr. Bernstein's proposals: sending more items to committees for discussion before the board considers them, a report from the district's Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) at each meeting, and sending all spending and budget items to the Finance Committee before they reach the full board.

One objective Mr. Bernstein had for his first meeting, having board members vote on their priorities for the coming year, was shot down. Mr. Carpenter said the item wasn't specifically on the agenda, and board member Robert Jones said the board needed more time for such a discussion, maybe even a separate meeting.

At the meeting's end, Mr. Bernstein announced with a chuckle, "I realize I often play the part of Scrooge on this board" because of his votes against district spending, but he had played the Scrooge's nemesis, Santa, at a holiday toy giveaway at St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room in Menlo Park.

"I sat in one place without moving for six and a half hours," he said.

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