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Lawyer to Advise Santa Ana Firefighters to File Suit Over City Manager’s Letter

Times Staff Writer

A lawyer representing the Santa Ana Firemen’s Benevolent Assn. says a letter from City Manager Robert C. Bobb to all firefighters asking them to state whether they intend to resign is illegal and that he will recommend that his clients file a lawsuit in response.

Attorney Seth Kelsey said he “will advise the members of the association to bring a class-action suit against Robert Bobb and the City of Santa Ana for deprivation of their civil rights, including freedom of speech.”

Bobb mailed the letter to the 204 employees last week after the association published an advertisement stating that association members were all “immediately available for employment elsewhere.” The advertisement also lambasted Bobb and Fire Chief William Reimer for “morale-wrecking” tactics.

Toll on Morale

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“We are dealing with mature people here. I have to take this seriously,” Bobb said last week, adding that the letter was intended to give him an idea of how many people to hire to replace those who wished to leave. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

Association representatives argue that years of uneven discipline, a lack of communication between management and employees and the recent conversion to an all-civilian paramedic corps has taken its toll on department morale and increased the amount of stress claims and grievances against the city. In addition, more than 30 firefighters and paramedics have left the department in the past two years, some taking pay cuts and demotions to work elsewhere.

Kelsey said he interprets the advertisement as a public relations ploy, intended to bring the turmoil within the department under public scrutiny. “The advertisement is a classic example of hyperbole,” he said. “You exaggerate for the purpose of getting someone’s attention.”

The firefighter’s association will hold a general meeting this morning. Kelsey said he will distribute a form reply to Bobb’s letter that states that the request is illegal and violates association members’ constitutional rights. He said he would recommend that his clients sign the form and return it by Friday, which is the deadline for replies. Bobb has said that he will assume that anyone not replying by that date is resigning.

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Although Chief Reimer ordered firefighters not to comment to the press while on duty, some off-duty department employees Monday said they believe their colleagues will follow Kelsey’s suggestion.

“I believe the majority of people will sign” Kelsey’s reply, said civilian paramedic Geoff Hull.

Battalion Chief Jim Dalton said firefighters were reluctant to talk about the situation not only because of the chief’s gag order, but because Bobb’s “letter has scared a lot of people.”

Kelsey said a class-action lawsuit would seek not only to prevent the employees from having to respond but would also seek damages.

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