ENCINITAS — A local group has publicly chastised the city’s fire department management for not being transparent in its practices and policies.
According to Encinitas Taxpayers’ Association board member Steve Meiche, the department is poorly run at great expense to the residents.
“This is a case of transparency and open government not just misconduct,” Meiche, a longtime Leucadia resident said. He recently outlined on the Leucadia Blog several acts of negligence and misconduct by the department.
“We want the city to address our concerns and show that a proper investigation was done, corrective actions were taken and what measures are being done to ensure that acts like these don’t happen again,” he said.
However, his efforts have fallen on deaf ears. According to Meiche, Fire Chief Mark Muir has yet to respond to his assertions that disciplinary actions and corrective measures for violations of policy have consistently been neglected by management within the department.
“The majority of Encinitas firefighters are dedicated and doing a good job,” Meiche, who is a firefighter and paramedic for Los Angeles County, said. Muir did not return telephone calls for this story.
“I met with the firefighter union president and he was open and honest and assured me that the incidents of misconduct were addressed and handled although he had no documentation to prove it,” Meiche wrote in an e-mail to this reporter. “He also assured me that the Encinitas Firefighter rank and file are looking out for the best interest of citizens.”
In fact, Michael Goralski, president of the Encinitas Firefighters’ Association, said he spoke up because he “thought the department’s image was being tarnished” by the allegations. Goralski, who has been a firefighter for 16 years, having served 10 in Encinitas, said “the situations are being handled.”
He added that management is running a fair department. “I think our chief is pretty open with our line personnel (first responders),” he said. “When it comes to policies and procedures, he gives us an opportunity to speak our minds, even if we don’t always agree.”
Goralski said mistakes are bound to happen in a department this size but that corrective actions are taken. “The individuals (who violate policy) are put on a performance plan, which includes probation and evaluations to make sure those individuals stay on the right track,” he said.
“My opinion is the chief is protecting his political future and throwing the firefighters under the bus by not addressing the issues,” Meiche said.
Dr. Lorri Greene, a parks and recreation commissioner and a friend of Muir, disagreed with Meiche’s assertions that the department is poorly managed. “I think that Steve Meiche has said things and doesn’t have all the information,” she said.
Greene said a deadly fire on her block in approximately 2004 was her first introduction to the professionalism within the department. “I have never seen such a professional team of firefighters,” she said. “I’ve been friends with Mark Muir for many, many years. I have nothing but the highest respect for this man.”
She said Muir’s professional achievements speak to his ability to move up the ranks.
“I’d question where he gets all of his information,” she said of Meiche. She said that while she supports transparency in government, “personnel files are different.” However, Meiche said he is only interested in understanding what kinds of violations have been committed and what measures have been taken to correct them, not in the names of the firefighters.