Ex-Fire Chief, Often Under Fire, Resigns

Times Staff Writer

Former Rancho Santa Fe fire chief Arthur Peter Fox, who was chastised by a grand jury and suffered a no-confidence vote by his firefighters, officially became a lame duck Tuesday, ending a tumultuous six-year tenure and a 30-year era of Fox family rule.

The fire district's three-member board decided in closed session that Fox would receive 75 days of severence pay during which he can stay in office to assist new chief Arden (Pete) Pedersen assume command.

Fox, 45, a chemical engineering graduate of San Diego State University, said he plans to become a manufacturer. He succeeded his father, James Arthur Fox, as fire chief in 1981.

"I'm in the process of patenting an item that I invented. It's completely unrelated to the fire industry," Fox said. "I can't say what it is or someone will steal it from me."

Fox said he and his wife, Tammy, began planning two years ago for him to switch careers. The fact that the county Grand Jury and firefighters have been critical of him is "purely coincidental," he said.

The grand jury in April criticized Fox for alleged mismanagement in running the Solana Beach fire department, saying that he showed favoritism, asked on-duty firefighters to do personal errands and conducted poor training. Fox headed fire service for both Rancho Santa Fe and Solana Beach until the Solana Beach Fire District dissolved its joint operating agreement on fire protection with Rancho Santa Fe. Before the vote, Solana Beach firefighters passed a no confidence vote in Fox.

Consultant to Department

Nineteen of the Rancho Santa Fe Fire District's 23 firefighters also expressed no confidence in Fox as their superior in a vote taken last month. The district's six dispatchers also voted no confidence.

"When I took the position there were several goals I had, (and) I met those," Fox said. "I decided I was ready for a new challenge and part of that was bringing in Pedersen."

Based on his annual salary of $62,940, the 75 days of severance pay amounts to $13,113. Fox was also asked to be a consultant to the department once his job ends in October, although no salary has been set.

"I told a couple of firefighters about it (Fox leaving) and they were pleased," said Nancy Roberts, a field representative for the San Diego County Employees Assn. "It means that they can put this all behind them and look forward to the future. The vote of no confidence expressed it pretty well."

On Aug. 3, Fox stepped aside as chief and was succeeded by Pedersen, a battalion chief and training officer for the fire department in the City of Orange.

Fire board chairman Ray Griset, a long-time friend of the Fox family, said after the closed-door meeting Tuesday: "I'd like to ask Peter to stay on for 75 days and help Chief Pedersen make the transition. We're very happy with the situation.

"I want to make clear that (Fox's) resignation had nothing to do with stories in the press or letters that we've had from the firemen's association," said Griset, 77, who has been a board member since James Fox was hired in 1957.

'His Own Decision'

"It was his own decision," Griset said. "The board has always been very supportive and appreciative of what he's done for the department.

"(The employee dissatisfaction with Fox) is because a lot of people don't like their bosses. Any chance they get to jump on him, they do."

Pedersen, the new chief, said he was happy with the results of the meeting.

"I'm very enthused about my future with the district," Pedersen said. "It will be very helpful for me to have a sufficient transition period into this job. I've been picking Peter's brain. There are a lot of areas in administration that I'm not familiar with."

Pedersen said he did not expect a split in authority in the next three months while Fox is still on the payroll.

"I'm the boss now," he said.

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