Event Highlights Two Important Takeaways for Residents
Following widespread community uproar and the Moraga and Orinda town/city councils each registering their unanimous rejection of the notion (or even the initial exploration) of a MOFD merger with Confire, the MOFD Board on Wednesday decided to shelve the issue entirely.
Community opposition to the idea was universal, with hundreds of letters from community groups and individual residents pouring in to town officials and the MOFD prior to the meeting.
Director Baitx, who placed the item on the agenda following a suggestion by the firefighters union president, asserted that his intent was misunderstood and apologized for not being clear about it. In addition to about a dozen residents and town/city officials speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting, the union president and a couple other union reps also spoke.
Their comments were instructive: the union president's messaging wasn't entirely consistent with his comments in previous meetings when the item was introduced, while one other union rep - who stated the firefighters were neutral on the exploration - made a rather curious argument that Baitx should be credited with listening to constituents by placing the item on the agenda (seemingly ignoring that residents of Moraga and Orinda are Baitx's constituents, not the union or the firefighters).
The Orinda Firewise Council provided an excellent summary of the meeting (a recording is on YouTube, with the item beginning at 2:03:15 here), a portion of which is provided below:
"To quickly recap: the firefighters' union president, Vince Wells, raised the question of whether MOFD should consider explore dissolution into Con Fire at the March 17th board meeting. Subsequently, Director Baitx requested that the item be put on the May 19th meeting agenda. Former [Orinda] mayor Laura Abrams described passionately and articulately the conflict of interest Director Baitx has as a firefighter in East County and a member of Local 1230. The firefighters in MOFD are also in Local 1230 and all of them share Vince Wells as their president. Therefore, Baitx should not be participating in any negotiations having to do with the union and should not have been allowed to put the merger item on the agenda. Baitx broke the meeting protocol by requesting to make a statement before the public forum began. Vince Wells and Baitx backpedaled, claiming that they only wanted to perform due diligence by getting information. However, neither Baitx nor Wells have a reason to consider the dissolution of MOFD. It is not broken and does not need fixing." - Orinda Firewise Council
This entire event ought to highlight two important takeaways for residents:
The potential for - and reality of - conflicts of interest and dual/misplaced loyalties needs to be closely monitored and addressed.
MOFD's charter or governing documents merit revision so that any dissolution or merger would require the approval of Moraga and Orinda town/city councils at the very least, if not the majority vote of residents who would be impacted.