An attorney representing Santa Ana firefighters said he will meet with the Firemen's Benevolent Assn. next week to decide whether to file a lawsuit in response to a request from City Manager Robert C. Bobb that all members of the department sign "declarations of employment."
About 70 firefighters voted "overwhelmingly" to pursue the lawsuit at a Wednesday morning meeting, Battalion Chief Jim Dalton said, repeating the vote of about 90 of their fellow employees taken Tuesday. Before a lawsuit can be filed, association attorney Seth Kelsey said he will meet with the board of directors to discuss other options, which could include further meetings with Bobb.
The association placed newspaper advertisements last week, stating that all 204 firefighters were available for employment elsewhere and could "no longer tolerate the morale-wrecking tactics" of Fire Chief William Reimer and Bobb. In response, Bobb sent letters to each of the firefighters, asking them to declare whether they were staying with the city or resigning.
Kelsey said the request violates his clients' civil rights, and he advised them to return the declarations with the statement that they were doing so "under duress."
City Atty. Edward Cooper said that he reviewed Bobb's letter and decided that it "does not violate anybody's civil rights." He pointed out that Kelsey has already filed three lawsuits against the city on behalf of the association, and added that he isn't "surprised to see the association filing another frivolous lawsuit."
The firefighters cite numerous departmental problems, including allegedly heavy-handed discipline, a lack of communication between management and employees, frequent and unclear policy changes and the recent conversion of paramedic service to an all-civilian corps.
While the firefighters ponder their next move, Santa Ana police officers also are taking their complaints to the public with an advertisement published in the Orange County edition of The Times and the Orange County Register. The ad says that the city's police are among the lowest paid in in the county in comparison with cities with similarly high crime rates, and also that the city isn't negotiating in good faith on a proposal for a four-day work week.
Kelsey, who also represents the Police Benevolent Assn., said the two advertisements reflect grave problems with the city's management of its Police and Fire departments. "There is a management style in Santa Ana that is so pervasive toward public safety employees that it manifests itself in the number of grievances and lawsuits we file," he said.