Long Beach : Fire Official Disciplined for Rally Appearance

A high-ranking Fire Department official was disciplined this week after two Westminster councilmen complained of his involvement in a political recall effort there.

Deputy Chief Gary Olson was told in a personnel hearing Monday that he used poor judgment when he appeared at a weekend rally in Westminster, supporting the recall, in a Long Beach-owned vehicle, Fire Chief Harold Omel said.

"The city attorney ruled that (Olson) wasn't misusing a city car, but his actions were inappropriate," Omel said. Officials would not disclose details of the disciplinary action.

Westminster Councilmen Tony Lam and Craig Schweisinger, two of the targets of the recall effort, had asked that Olson be fired. "He appropriated taxpayer dollars (by using a city car), even if he thinks he hasn't," Schweisinger said.

Olson appeared at the rally in his red, unmarked city vehicle, which was assigned to him for the weekend because he was on call. Shortly after the rally, Olson was called in to help put out the Seal Beach Pier fire. About 60 off-duty Long Beach firefighters also participated in the rally.

The recall effort--aimed at four of the five council members--was initiated after the city reorganized the fire department last year and laid off six firefighters.

"I think (Olson) used bad judgment, but he didn't do anything wrong," Omel said. "It's his constitutional right to be involved in politics during his free time."

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