Modesto Regional fire chief still on the job, despite resignation rumor

etracy@modbee.com kvaline@modbee.comJanuary 30, 2014 

— Embattled Modesto Regional Fire Authority Chief Randall Bradley remained on the job Thursday, days after his supporters said the fire authority’s board had asked him to resign.

In an email to his staff Wednesday, Bradley wrote: “As of today, I am still the fire chief with all of the authority and responsibility of the position. If that changes in the future, there will be a very professional transition that will ensure the organization remains mission focused, and the person filling the position will have all the information needed to assume this very important leadership role.”

As of Thursday night, no special meeting had been called by the fire board regarding his employment.

The issue has created a buzz, from letters to the editor in The Bee to comments on social media, with the conversation centered around talk of a power struggle that started when Bradley was hired in July, though one MRFA board member said that is not the case.

The authority was formed in 2011 when Modesto, the Stanislaus County Fire Warden’s Office and the Salida Fire Protection District entered into a joint-powers agreement. Its board of directors is composed of one representative from each agency.

When Modesto Fire Chief Mike Kraus retired in 2012 as MRFA’s chief, county Fire Warden Gary Hinshaw filled in. From the beginning, there was an understanding Hinshaw would be an interim chief because he, also, was on his way to retirement.

Hinshaw spent roughly his last two months burning off unused vacation time, and Salida Fire Protection District Chief Dale Skiles served as acting chief during that time.

Former Modesto City Councilwoman and fire board member Stephanie Burnside said Skiles was one of the three finalists for the chief’s job. She said she believed Bradley was the most qualified to lead MRFA and liked that as an outsider, he would not be partial to any of the three agencies that formed MRFA.

Bradley, 51, came to Modesto after four years as chief of the Moraga-Orinda Fire District in Contra Costa County. He also was chief of the Lawrence Livermore Fire Department for six years and deputy chief of the Alameda County Fire Department for two years.

Burnside said her fellow MRFA board members – Salida Fire Protection District board member Tom Burns and Stanislaus County Supervisor Bill O’Brien – wanted Skiles for chief, but she would not support that. Burnside said the board wanted the vote for chief to be unanimous. She said the board held several closed-session meetings until the board members agreed on Bradley.

“Since he has been hired, the board has done everything possible to hinder his success,” she said.

O’Brien disputed Burnside’s account.

“The vote to appoint Chief Bradley was unanimous, and all members of the MRFA board welcomed him to lead this agency for the city of Modesto, the Salida Fire Protection District and the county,” he said by email. “Chief Skiles is the county’s fire warden and assistant director of emergency services, and is doing an excellent job in that position. Chief Skiles is not now and never has been the issue or cause of anything.”

Skiles, Burns and Bradley have not returned phone calls or emails seeking comment.

Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh said this issue may be symptomatic of the larger issues facing MRFA. He said Modesto, Salida and Stanislaus County all have concerns with how the merger has played out. For Modesto, he said, the issues include providing more than 80 percent of MRFA’s funding and staffing and having just one of the three votes on the MRFA board.

During his remarks at El Concilio’s monthly luncheon meeting at its Modesto office Thursday, Bradley hinted that his time with MRFA may come to an end. He was one of the two scheduled speakers, but did not deliver his prepared remarks. Instead, he spoke about the controversy surrounding him, according to three people at the luncheon.

Bradley told the gathering of about 60 people that while some had questioned whether he would attend the luncheon and he did not know whether he would be retiring soon, he still was fire chief as of Thursday, said Yamilet Valladolid, El Concilio’s Modesto site manager.

Bradley spoke about growing up in humble circumstances in French Camp and being the first in his family to attend college. He spoke about leaving the Moraga-Orinda Fire District in an affluent community to come back to the Northern San Joaquin Valley so he could make a difference on the challenges the Valley faces, from poverty and unemployment to health care.

“He got emotional a couple of times,” Valladolid said.

Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at etracy@modbee.com or (209) 578-2366. Follow her on Twitter @ModestoBeeCrime.

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