By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Rohnert Park Public Safety Department is in disarray, its fire division commander said Monday.
The division lacks support from managers and the City Council, it is hampered by senior officers resistant to change, and it is beset by low morale, Fire Commander Jack Rosevear said.
“The department’s in crisis,” said Rosevear, who took over the fire division in June 2008 and plans to run for City Council this year. “I’m not exaggerating. It’s not a matter of perspective, it’s the truth.”
Rosevear, who has said he will retire in August partly to save the jobs of younger firefighters facing potential layoffs, made his concerns known in an unusually public manner, delivering a statement to The Press Democrat and the weekly Community Voice newspaper.
He said his motive is to shed light on problems within the department — which provides both police and fire services — and lay the groundwork for necessary improvements.
“I’m not after payback, retribution, vengeance, anything like that. I’m after success,” he said.
City officials unanimously rejected the substance of Rosevear’s concerns, but were varied in their reactions, expressing responses ranging from irritation to bewilderment to praise of his performance.
“This is all a personnel issue that he’s putting in public,” said Mayor Pam Stafford. “This council doesn’t deal with disgruntled employees, that’s not our purview.”
Public Safety Director Brian Masterson, Rosevear’s boss, said, “Jack did a good job for us…he made some positive changes and I would say he was supported by all the members of public safety.”
He added: “I’m a big believer that people have the right to express their opinions however they want to do it and certainly Jack has voiced his.”
Vice-Mayor Gina Belforte said, “I can honestly say I don’t know what he’s talking about…I haven’t had any reason to believe there’s been a problem with fire.”
In his statement, Rosevear said the city’s firefighters and police officers are “the finest and most courageous” he’s ever worked with, then laid out a blistering catalogue of charges. They include:
– “A small group of senior police officers” have tried to undermine him through a steady whispering campaign because they resent changes he made that reduced their overtime;
– City leaders and Masterson prioritize police services over fire services;
– Budget-related decisions or proposals — particularly related to layoffs — made by city leaders and supported by Masterson have contributed to low morale within the division.
Rosevear said younger firefighters have left or are planning to leave the department because they fear being laid off. And he said he was told twice since June 2009 that he would be laid off, which firefighters opposed because they thought it would hurt the division.
He said Masterson supported that proposal by then-City Manager Dan Schwarz, illustrating how police services are favored over fire services.
“At Rohnert Park, law enforcement is the dominant arm. Everything comes secondary to that, including fire,” Rosevear said. “So if there are decisions to be made, law enforcement staffing would be weighed first before fire.”
Masterson disputed that on several counts.
“I didn’t support laying off anybody,” he stated, while also saying that layoffs were an understandable recourse for a city teetering on bankruptcy.
Masterson said he transferred police officers to the fire division in early 2009, a plan implemented with Rosevear’s support. Since then, more police officers have been laid off than firefighters, he said.
“We’re not in a crisis,” Masterson said. “We were in a state of flux last year because we weren’t sure what was going to happen. It was stressful for everyone.”
Asked whether Rosevear’s statements surprised her, Stafford suggested the fire commander was playing politics.
“You know, he’s running for City Council, of course,” said Stafford, who is running for re-election.
“If there was not a council seat open I would be speaking out in this same manner,” Rosevear said. “I’m only running because I see a pending disaster, and I have been personally caught up in the disaster as an employee and as a resident.”
Stafford said Rosevear is alone in his concerns.
“Personally, I don’t think his position reflects the department, I think it reflects him,” she said.