He told the Almanac he'd returned from Colorado the day before the filing deadline, and discovered that incumbent Stephen Nachtsheim had decided not to run. Mr. Carpenter, 73, cited his nine years of prior service on the fire district board and long history of public service that included time as a volunteer firefighter and Air Force officer. Mr. Carpenter also referred to his corporate management and nonprofit experience.
He joins incumbents Jack Nelson and Rex Ianson on the roster, along with former council candidates Chuck Bernstein and Carolyn Clarke.
Mr. Carpenter said he is "very concerned that the firefighters' union is going to attempt to take over the board with this election." The incumbent's withdrawal "left an easy opening for the union to control three seats."
From his perspective, a board composed of current member Rob Silano, incumbent Jack Nelson and newcomer Carolyn Clarke would yield control to the union.
Mr. Carpenter has already declined to interview for an endorsement from the San Mateo County Central Labor Council.
"Since there will (hopefully) be a new firefighter's contract negotiated with the Fire District during the forthcoming term, I can understand that it is in the labor union's interest to have Fire District Directors who you think will serve your interests," Mr. Carpenter wrote in an email to the labor council on Thursday. "Similarly, an endorsement by a labor union for an election that will be immediately followed by labor negotiations carries with it the appearance of a conflict of interest."
Mr. Carpenter described this year's election as pivotal for protecting taxpayer interests. "While I have deep respect for our individual firefighters, I cannot say the same for their union which, disregarding the district's fiscal health, demands an excessive pay, benefit, and pension package," he wrote in a campaign announcement.
Written statements from Ms. Clarke and Mr. Bernstein indicate that labor issues, with raises as a key point of contention, will be at the forefront of this year's election. The fire district has been in protracted negotiations with the firefighters' union for more than six years.
According to Mr. Bernstein. the current board has managed to resist pressure from the firefighters' union to push expenditures higher, only by a 3-2 majority. He expects the district's share of retirement benefit costs to increase by $3.5 million during the next seven years, which he foresees as leaving the board a choice between reducing headcount or cutting salaries to avoid service cuts.
Like Mr. Carpenter, Mr. Ianson and Mr. Bernstein both said they won't attend the labor endorsement interviews, and not accept union campaign support.
The remaining two candidates are taking a different path. Ms. Clarke told the Almanac that she will attend the labor council endorsement interview. Mr. Nelson said he will, also, but noted that it does not translate to an automatic endorsement.
"If I am offered their endorsement, I will give it the serious consideration it deserves and go from there," he said, noting that some second-time candidates refuse to accept labor endorsements. As a current board member, Mr. Nelson said he declined to comment on wage and benefit issues since negotiations are ongoing.
"The goal is to bring to a successful conclusion to this event, that is win-win for all sides, establish labor peace and with a unified effort move the fire District forward for years and fire boards to come."
Mr. Nachtsheim, a member of the Menlo Park fire district board of directors since 2009, said he decided not to seek re-election because he didn't have time to properly run a campaign this fall. "Things have been a little different at the fire district since Harold (Schapelhouman) was injured," he said.
The search for interim personnel and disruption of management continuity has left the director working "three to four hours a day" on district business, leaving little time for campaigning. Otherwise, Mr. Nachtsheim said, he would have sought re-election.
While he hasn't formally endorsed anyone yet, he said he thought that Mr. Ianson would bring some needed continuity to the board, while Mr. Bernstein's financial background would be of value.