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O.C. supervisor asks county fire chief to resign over critical audit

Officials and employees of O.C. fire agency are concerned about accountability, discipline and leadership
O.C. Supervisor Todd Spitzer calls for fire Chief Keith Richter to step down

A management audit that surveyed officials and employees of the Orange County Fire Authority found “serious issues” within the agency regarding its accountability, discipline and leadership.

Employees interviewed for the audit said leadership is lacking, disciplinary actions are inconsistent and promotions often go to those who fall in line with the chief.

The report also said that bullying, harassment and retaliation are perceived to be common within the authority.

In response to the audit, one county supervisor, who also sits on the fire authority's board of directors, said he would call for the fire chief's resignation.

The audit, made public this week, was completed by Costa Mesa-based Management Partners, which was retained by the fire authority in November 2013 at a cost of $99,500. In addition to reviewing numerous documents and issuing two online surveys, the company interviewed staffers and board members.

Keith Richter, the fire chief, said there were some troubling issues but nothing that couldn't fixed.

“I don’t think the agency is broken,” Richter said. “We learned a lot of things we didn’t necessarily know about that will help us improve.”

In its report, Management Partners submitted 29 recommendations. Richter said most would be implemented by the end of the year.

“The last five years have been a struggle with budget issues, having to do more with less resources,” Richter said. “I think those things impact the morale of the organization.”

The agency was recently in the news after an audit found that half the hazmat inspections it billed businesses for were never actually conducted. Richter said that in addition to the bad press, recent labor negotiations have negatively affected morale.

The fire agency, which serves 23 cities and unincorporated Orange County, is governed by a 25-member board of directors. It also has an executive committee that offers guidance on day-to-day operations.

Of the 532 employees who participated in a survey, just 17% agreed with the statement “Morale in the department is good.”

Employees also said that discipline is not timely or consistent.

“We were told that disciplinary issues are not dealt with swiftly, the degree of discipline is sometimes perceived to be inappropriate,” the report said, “and often when an individual is disciplined, the union is able to have the discipline overturned because standards have been inconsistently applied.”

The fire authority's board of directors is expected to take up the report and discuss the 29 recommendations at its meeting Thursday.

Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who is on the board, said the recommendations are important, but at the end of the day it’s about holding Richter accountable.

Spitzer said he would call for Richter's resignation.

“I am calling for the chief’s resignation, I’m asking him to voluntarily step down,” Spitzer said. “The organization is much more important than any one individual and this cannot be about him, this needs to be about the long-term sustainability of the Orange County Fire Authority.”

 

 

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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